Recently we were relaxing after the service in the blooming garden behind the church when some German women wandered in through the gate from the street. Presumably they came to look at the large mural on the neighboring building depicting life in that area when it was still quite rural by today’s standards.
They noticed the Iranian congregants as they picked cherries from the laden tree, played ping-pong, and sat around chatting over tea and cookies. We all enjoy this time after the service to visit and enjoy the peacefulness of the church garden together.
One of the German women then commented that those men picking the cherries shouldn’t be doing that as the cherries don’t belong to them. When told that they had all just finished a worship service together at this church, she said she didn’t believe they were Christians because they didn’t look like it, and she proceeded to point out which of the men she thought especially didn’t look like Christians.
Then they left.
We were shocked but thought of how some of the congregants have mentioned feeling discrimination and suspicion aimed at them as they walk the streets of Berlin. There are a lot of immigrants in this city. Europe is dealing with huge immigration issues, which had a significant impact on their recent elections.
There is no easy answer to the immigration issues, but we are still challenged to not dismiss one another or jump to conclusions about another person’s beliefs or motivations especially based on appearances.
We have much to learn from each other.
A few weeks before Pentecost the German congregation and the Iranian congregation had a joint worship service. Ryan preached on the role of prayer and the service was conducted in English, German, and Farsi. Hymns and worship songs from both congregations were sung. It was good exposure for everyone despite the linguistic challenges.
We hope these services can happen more often, though we found ourselves tired from trying to operate in bits and pieces of three languages! As we saw barriers break down, small conversations happen, greetings, and friendly interactions as people reached out to each other, we were inspired and thankful.
We have much to learn from eac
Earlier this spring Alethia was able to go with Aziz, our Iranian colleague who serves as a social worker, to visit a couple of the immigration “camps,” or dormitories. There many asylum seekers and those otherwise waiting for their immigration status to be resolved by the German government spend their days and weeks and months waiting.
Each family in the building has one small room with bunk beds and either a kitchenette or a bathroom, but not both. A communal kitchen and bathroom are shared, depending on the dorm setup. A dorm proctor is on duty at the front door to keep an eye on the building and those coming and going. These buildings seem generally safe and clean places to be, but the conditions are cramped and meager, which is especially difficult for larger families.
It was a privilege to hear the stories shared by these families as they offered a glimpse into their lives and experiences of how they came to be here in Berlin. These families offered us their personal stories and the emotions and reflections that are embedded. We offered them our ears, minds and hearts and time to hear what they said and did not say. We couldn’t offer concrete hope that their situation will be successfully and quickly resolved, but we could offer tangible connection and care.
We have much to learn from each other.
One aspect we enjoy with the Iranian church community is the fun fellowship gatherings they have on most holidays. The most recent event was a BBQ in the garden at the church on an unusually hot afternoon. We enjoyed playing ping-pong, badminton, an unfamiliar version of dodge ball, and chasing the shade as the afternoon progressed and the heat intensified.
Everyone brought their own food, but as we have learned, this culture shares what they have with a degree of insistence. This time we were prepared with homemade American-style cookies, which were popular once tasted. It was a blessing to look around at this group of people eating together on blankets in the shaded garden, sharing food and words, and feeling that as the weeks pass we are becoming more accepted and part of this community.
The more our presence is accepted, the more they try to help us learn Farsi as well as try to use some English or German with us. The more our presence is accepted, the more we learn about each person and family and the more they learn about our family. Relationships and friendships are slowly being formed, and the learning that goes with that is a joy.
We know that each one of you is far from Berlin, but we also feel your prayers, and for that we are thankful and sense you are present with us. Each note, card, email, and contribution we receive reminds us of your presence with us and renews our motivation and energy for our work here.
God’s mission is not about one person, or one family, but the work of many, and you are very much a part of our story and learning here in Berlin. We are just getting started here and look forward to the continued learning opportunities. We hope you are as excited as we are for the possibilities and for the ways in which we have already seen God hard at work in this place.
To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.