A lot has been going on this week and it is difficult to pick out one thing to write about, and not be an absolutely boring with the details.
This has been the first week for Anke being at work in a Roman Catholic Kindergarten in Weingarten; a predominately immigrant area in Freiburg. The children have had some friends over for a sleepover, and other friends from school have stopped by for an afternoon. I have been enjoying the opportunities to get to know people in the parish on a more personal basis as I visit them in their homes, or places of work.
Now it seems that my train rides into the city are filled with familiar faces of those who are regular commuters, and those who are from the church. It feels like home. On one occasion while seated with a neighbour on the train and speaking English to each other a young man seated nearby seemed to be listening to our conversation. After a while the fellow asked us where we were from and if he could speak English with us. As it turned out he was from Gambia and was surprised to hear from me that I knew where it was in Africa. I had to explain that I have lots of friends from different African nations and presented him with my business card hoping to make it clear that I am a minister in the Anglican Church of Freiburg. What happened next was interesting, as the young man’s reaction felt a bit hostile. As he got angry I understood that he was a Muslim and that he was not interested at all in my Christian religion. We spent the train ride talking about family, differences in culture and things we miss from our home countries. As we departed the train together, the young student told me that he would be happy to give my card to friends who are Christian and are searching for a church in the area. Now, the student and I see each other on a regular basis as we commute into the city and we greet each other as friends.
Just a few stops away from the main train station in Freiburg there are areas which recall in name only the ancient history of the place like Hexental, or Witch Valley. In the past there were witch hunts and burnings because of the religious ideas, the xenophobia, and many other reasons. Glad to say that we are not doing the same in today in Germany.
Most of my Friday was spent with a couple of familiar faces from the church as we participated in what I would call a fire safety course, but the German sounds more sophisticated as a, Teilnahmebestätigung Brandschutz.
Being held in one of the University lecture rooms with 15 other people that ranged from students to professors we were taught, both the theory, and the practical aspects of fire safety. The reason for my venture into this area is that the parish is planning their yearly weekend away at a French retreat centre and the French laws require someone in the group to have such a fire safety qualification. The class was taught in English by a parishioner, Wolfgang, (who is also a professor and volunteer fireman).
Several things really impressed me about the day, of which I will mention a few here. One was the level of commitment of the faculty to their personal role of safety to the building and those who work and study in the building. Another aspect which I enjoyed was the way in which we all were able to learn the material through lecture, short practices, written exam, and practical application. One part of the process that I learned more about over lunch with Wolfgang and one of the post-doctoral students, Xi, was that the volunteer fire department made sure to include some Arabic speaking Syrian born members to the class as part of a system of training those who are in refugee encampments. Great effort was made to translate the German to English, and hence the English to Arabic so that the classes can be of practical use to those Arabic speakers in the refugee housing in the local areas.
There is a particular welcome and pride in Germany that I see every once in a while which gives me great hope for the people and the nation. That there are people who want to immigrate to Germany, live, work and have families in Germany is taken very seriously by natural Germans. Even the small acts of including people, like me and people from other countries, into the care and concern of others through First-Aid and Fire Safety are steps along the way to a more generous society.