Jan. 5, 2017
Literally “a good slide” is the sentiment expressed by many Germans as they wish each other a safe and gentle “slide” into the New Year. It’s interesting to note how different people view the beginning of a new calendar year, as they reflect on the months behind and imagine what the future holds.
Things have been quiet here over the Christmas holidays. It has been gratifying to hear the question from more than one person, and in various ways: “why has there been no blog lately?” When there is little feedback, one never knows if one is journaling in a diary or sharing experiences with others. In other words, THANK YOU for reading!
As with much of the western world, Christmas has become a time when people take time off work, students are out of school and many government offices shut down. Many of us (speaking as a teacher) love the opportunity to slow down and really enjoy this time of year. We often take time to cross-country ski, eat too much and (full confession on my part) go Boxing Day shopping. But this year was different. We were able to share Christmas Eve with our youngest daughter, which was great, but we missed our extended family, our church community … and certainly the snow!
But we also had our Friedenshaus family on our minds. How would they celebrate this time? As many of the refugees are Muslim, there were no religious celebrations. But some have joined in on the secular celebrations, exchanging gifts and gathering for common meals. In fact, one Muslim family was very happy to host us for lunch on Christmas Eve and even had gifts waiting for us!
For these reasons, we were happy to begin our classes again this week with schools still closed and many people on holidays. A few of our students were visiting friends or relatives in other cities, but many seemed happy to be back wth us and appreciated the opportunity to practice German again.
The New Year also brings the return of the Asyl Cafes. These are still good places to connect with other volunteers and find others who are looking for opportunities for community. Marla was able to connect with an 18 year old refugee yesterday. I’ll let her continue:
“Michael (not his real name) sat down beside us and we introduced ourselves. It quickly became clear that his English was better than his German … here was my opportunity to have a conversation. When I told him we were from Canada he said he “Ich weiß” (I know). Then he went on to say that he had spoken with our tall friend who teaches in Switzerland a couple of months ago. He remembered Rob Friesen and their conversation! Pretty cool. Anyway, Michael is alone in a new country with no immediate family still living. His days are spent waiting for news that he can stay here and begin a German course. He learns a little on his own online and plays lots of video games. Michael is a Christian, and he shared that despite having lots of time he is finding it hard to pray. When I ask him what it is like for him to look into the future, he responds: “like running into a big black wall.” When Michael left he said he would come to our class next week. I said I would pray for him. I also invited him to read Psalm 139:
Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise; you discern my thoughts from far away….. Where can I go from your spirit……. If I take the wings of the morning and settle in the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me….. If I say “surely the darkness will cover me,” even the darkness is not dark to you.”
We certainly notice the darkness here in the winter. Without the snow cover on the ground, it seems even darker at night. Michael’s comment reminded us again that many people face a darkness that is more encompassing than the seasonal lack of light. But, we have noticed the days getting longer and this morning, we are happy to see the sunshine and blue skies out our balcony (see below). Truly, God’s love for and presence in the world can offer hope in this new year.
German word of the week: der Böller – the firecracker. This was not a word in my vocabulary till New Year’s Eve here. In addition to “Feuerwerk” (fireworks), the “Böller” are noise makers which add to the excitement. Now, fireworks are nothing new to us, with many people celebrating with a few back in Canada. But here, EVERYBODY shoots off fireworks in their backyards, front streets and even off of balconies (as Marla and I discovered cycling home late at night). It was a crazy night, full of noise and smoke, but also quite disturbing for some people who have fled war torn homelands. Most of our friends were able to recognize the joy in the celebrations and even join in, but many needed to stay inside and avoid the reminders of a painful reality that friends and family are still experiencing for real. Nonetheless, a strange experience for many.