I am breaking my radio silence from Germany in order to say that I have no idea what to say. Transitions are exhausting and at times, consuming. Then, suddenly, I realized it’s actually been almost a month and in the midst of what felt like doing nothing except finding my way around, I have actually experienced many things.
Many scattered things, perhaps. This work (which is more an endeavor than actual work) is a new adventure for almost all parties involved. So my schedule has not been set and most of my work so far has been making contacts. It has been frustrating on a level of wanting to be helpful while also navigating cultural differences and enlightening as I come to better understand the routes of refugees and the process of Asylum.
I often visit a center for refugees operated by volunteers from several Chemnitz churches called the Bridge. Five days a week refugees come and learn German. These refugees are mostly from Afghanistan, speaking different dialects of Persian. A few have come in the last days from Syria, Libya, and Morocco.
I also frequently visit one of the refugee camps in Chemnitz for Christian prayer on Sunday nights and to help in the preschool once a week. Here the refugees and migrants are held in former army barracks from the time of the German Democratic Republic (Soviet years). The people come from Syria, Georgia, Serbia, and Kosovo. Many children pick up German quickly, translating for parents and others from their countries but many people have no common language.
You can imagine the cacophony of languages. Dialects of Persian and Arabic mixing with Serbian, German, and English. Desperate attempts to translate force conversations through many languages. In the preschool the only mutually understood word is often a resounding “Nein!” from either teachers or small children.
In the coming weeks I will visit the nearby towns of Halle, Zwickau, Needledorf, and Dresden in order to experience the programs these congregations have for refugees and help them develop them further.
Around the world attacks continue to happen. There remain reasons to flee and daily, new obstacles to reaching safety. Those in positions of power continue to decide the fates of those without.
Yet, as we celebrate Easter and Christ’s Resurrection we are reminded that death and despair are not the end of the story. I have been reflecting on the glimpses of compassion and shared humanity I have witnessed and experienced. The budding friendship with an Afghani woman who recognizes that I am also alone in a country that is not my own. The patient joy of conversations full of comradery yet halting in a myriad of broken languages. The joy of child who laughs at your Arabic but is kind enough to say “You speak very well”. Such moments sometimes seem to be the only thing we have against the lies that doom will prevail. Yet we must not underestimate the power in such encounters for they dispel a variety of myths and affirm our shared humanity.