Several conversations and visits plus of course our most recent Presidential Inauguration that has caused such disruption and divisiveness in our country cause me to take stock of all that I am grateful for in my wonderful homeland of America.
First, let me introduce you to Herr Schmidt (no picture, sorry) whom we visited last week. He is in his seventies and not able to get out of his apartment very often because of a recent stroke. He had no problem speaking though and gave us an hour long version of his life story as well as a lovely looking meal (I declined) of pork, potatoes, peas and carrots with gravy all over it fixed by his wife, Frau Schmidt, who would peek her head through the door of the kitchen once in a while but never joined us.) This was all in German and so I just got bits and pieces shared by my very able German translator:)) When in his twenties, he escaped to West Germany and lived and worked there for a few years. He decided that he missed East Germany and wrote them a letter to see if he could return. They sent him a letter, welcoming him back and said, of course!! When he then crossed the border into East Germany in Kiel, just north of Rostock, they arrested him. He showed them the letter which they promptly tore up. He was in prison for twelve years. Initially he was to only be there for four, but they kept extending his sentence. Politics have been a great disappointment to him both Eastern AND Western.
Friday, we went to a training meeting for missionaries in Berlin. We had just enough time to drive by the Brandenburg gate, but because of time constraints and no available parking, we weren't able to stop for pictures. The Brandenburg gate was built in the 18th century and is located right near where the Berlin wall was; it was on the East side of that wall and became a symbol of freedom and of oppression both at the same time. Several American Presidents have spoken there among whom are John F Kennedy, Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton and Obama. This little snippet is shared by Wilkepedia where you can look to learn more about it if you wish:
A Soviet flag flew from a flagpole atop the gate from 1945 until 1957, when it was replaced by an East German flag. Since the reunification of Germany, the flag and the pole have been removed.
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In 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited the Brandenburg Gate. The Soviets hung large red banners across it to prevent him looking into East Berlin.
In the 1980s, decrying the existence of two German states and two Berlins, West Berlin mayor Richard von Weizsäckersaid: "The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed."
On 12 June 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan spoke to the West Berlin populace at the Brandenburg Gate, demanding the razing of the Berlin Wall. Addressing the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan said,Here is a picture of our flying trip past the gate in the morning as well as marks in the pavement where the Wall once stood and one of our missionaries, Elder Keller standing in front of it when he was able to visit that evening. You have to stand on the East side in order to see it properly since the horses face the East.
So hard to imagine, that a wall could have stood here dividing a country! See the marks?
So, then we move on to yesterday when we had Vladimir from the Ukraine and his family here for dinner after lunch as well as Daniel from Ghana who I shared about in an earlier blog. Vladimir fled to Germany a few months ago after the political parties changed in the Ukraine as he was a part and active in the opposing/losing party. If he had stayed, he would have been thrown into jail or killed. Now he is fighting with a lawyer (same one as Daniel's) to be able to stay here since Germany says you aren't really a refugee since your country is not at war, there is no political unrest and there is no danger. He begs to differ.
I look at the faces of his darling children and he and his wife....so happy and kind and loving. Yet, over them hangs the threat of possible prison or even death if they are not allowed to stay here. But, they have hope and are learning German and planning for their future here. Vladimir worked in construction for 16 years as did his father and grandfather. Their ultimate hope is to return to the Ukraine if and when the reigning political party would lose the next election in three years or the election after that. They both still have parents and family members of course back in the Ukraine.
I cannot look at those faces without tearing up. My heart weeps for them, and we pray daily for them that they will be safe and well and that all will work out.
All of these events and visits have caused me to reflect upon how very blessed we are in America!! Yes, we have a new President.Yes, many do not support or like him and are marching and protesting against the man they feel should not be in that office. They are allowed to march. They are allowed to say whatever they want without threat of being thrown into jail or being killed. Maybe we all need to take a step back, lick some wounds and be grateful that our great United States which has ALWAYS been great is a free land.
What have Herr Schmidt and Vladimir and Daniel discovered? Politics have been a great disappointment to them both Eastern AND Western. They have found that their source of joy and peace is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, showing that man's ideas and ways and politics are imperfect and ultimately will disappoint us at some juncture. But God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever never will.He will never turn His back on us.
I am so grateful for these lessons I am learning that cause me to pause and reflect and thank God for the privileges and freedoms I enjoy and hope that in some small way, we can ease any pain or homesickness that our dear friends who have fled their homelands might be feeling. There is suffering all around us. Isn't part of what makes America great that we can ease others' pain? That we can reach out with love to one another and resolve differences? Let us all unite in a spirit of love and friendship. That spirit of love is what has made and can continue to make America great!