Mission & Outreach Talk, Sunday May 1st, 2017
Last Sunday, May 1st, the Mission & Outreach Committee and Bishop Whalon welcomed Harry Bielskis, a member of the Christ the King Episcopal congregation in Frankfurt, Germany, as the guest speaker for a special talk after the 11am service. Recently deported from the US, Harry shared his story of struggle, loss; faith and recovery with us, and how he now helps others in a similar situation. Here is his story…
“I thought I was an American” Harry “Harald” Bielskis says. That is, until the day the US government began deportation proceedings against him after his arrest for illegal possession of prescription medication. 63-year-old Harry Bielskis, a former bus driver from Portland, Oregon, was deported in 2013 to Germany, the country of his birth—and yet a country Harry had not set foot in since he was four years old, when he and his parents immigrated to the US. After unsuccessfully fighting his deportation order for over a year, Harry arrived in the middle of winter in Frankfurt, Germany, with nothing apart from the clothes on his back, 48 dollars in cash, and a bag full of his deportation documents.
When Harry arrived at the airport, the Catholic Social Ministry gave him a jacket to fight the cold. The German authorities gave him a ticket for the S-Bahn and a Welcome Package. In this welcome package, Harry found documents put together especially for US deportees by the Episcopal Church of Christ the King in Frankfurt. The problem of American “returnees” in Germany is common enough that Christ the King has established a ministry, known as the Heimkehrer, or “Homecomer”, to help such returnees adjust to their new life. Last year, around 200 German citizens were deported from the US; many find their way to the Church of Christ the King.
“I call them the Airport Angels, because they rescued me”, Harry says.
“We are open to all who want to come to us”, Reverend John Perris of Christ the King says. Of the Heimkehrer ministry, the Reverend John Perris says: “These are very honest, real encounters with people in need. And yet in meeting them, not only do we give, but we receive so much, because we experience the risen Christ in our relationship, in a new and different way. And so it is exceedingly rewarding in spiritual terms, aside from anything else.”
Christ the King tries to help the returnees adapt to a country that is foreign to them. The church collects gifts in kind like used furniture, and from time to time even helps out financially until the employment agency sends the first welfare check. The German government funds the returnees’ transport from the airport.
Most importantly, Christ the King provides these returnees with a community that understands what it feels like to be away from one’s own country, and how difficult coping with life in a foreign country can be. For some, the Church has truly become a home away from home, and a second family.
“My mother had this wise German saying: After every winter there is a spring, after every December comes a May. I remembered that when I first came here” Harry says. With the support of his new community, and through his work with the Heimkehrer ministry to help other returnees like him, Harry Bielskis is slowly but surely rebuilding his life outside of the US.
Find out more about Christ the King’s ministry by going to their website here.
This blog post partially reproduces content from the following article published in a Frankfurt newspaper (English translation), and from a video by Episcopal News, which you can watch below.