Remembering the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall should encourage today’s church to pray for those still in the shadow of other walls.
When Brother Andrew of Christian mission organisation Open Doors was offered a piece of the Berlin Wall as a souvenir, he refused it. He reportedly said, ‘Why would I want a reminder of so much grief and pain and death?’
But last year’s remembrance, throughout Europe, of that wall being torn down by ordinary people with their bare hands in November 1989, after many protests, reminds us once more of the frailty of all human empire and the potency of God’s providence.
The fall of the wall symbolised the end of twentieth century, atheistic communism’s grip on Eastern Europe, as well as the fresh dawn for its nations’ gospel churches that this peaceful revolution brought.
With the defeat of Nazi Germany, Berlin was partitioned by the Allied occupying armies into four sectors: British, US, French and Soviet.
In March 1946, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a warning speech about communism, saying, ‘From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent’.
By 1949, communist Russia had turned eastern Germany into the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a satellite state of the Soviet Union and a launching pad to the West.
The Soviet zone surrounded but did not include West Berlin. As a result, West Berlin remained outside the GDR’s jurisdiction. But overnight in August 1961, to stop East Germans fleeing from East Berlin into West Berlin’s ‘free’ sector, the Soviets built a wall encircling West Berlin.
The West over many years tried to persuade the Soviet Union into removing the wall. This pressure was famously exemplified in former US president John F. Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner (‘I am a Berliner’) speech in 1963. Yet nothing happened for nearly 30 years, until the people themselves pulled it down.
Many have claimed responsibility for helping to bring the wall down. Former US president Ronald Reagan is remembered for his famous ‘Tear down this wall!’ speech, with its challenge to the Soviet Union to do just that, delivered in 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate.
Others have highlighted the part played by the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in changing decades-worth of inflexible Soviet foreign policy.
Celebrities such as David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen have lent their name to the wave of sentiment that brought down the wall, and it has even claimed that German-born actor David Hasselhoff incited the event with his song Looking for freedom, released in June 1989.
But this 25th anniversary presents the Christian church with a golden opportunity to reflect on God’s power and providence at work on behalf of his people.
Christians had, of course, been risking life and limb, throughout the post-war period to bring the gospel to communist Europe, including the GDR. Many were imprisoned — and some received far worse treatment — for their faith. The chief executive of Open Doors, Eddie Lyle, has made the point that the protests preceding the wall’s fall stemmed from a weekly prayer meeting in Leipzig, when believers met regularly to pray for peace.
Writing in an Open Doors newsletter, he said, ‘The apostle Paul understood the link between peace and demolition [when he wrote], For he himself is our peace, who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ (Ephesians 2:14). What happened at that time had the evident hand of God upon it.
God, who is more powerful than anything or anyone in heaven or earth, including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev combined, was the one who brought about the reunification of Germany in 1990.
The threat of communism in the West may have subsided. But 2014 saw troubling developments in Ukraine and, for many people across the world today, atheistic communism remains a threatening reality.
Communist China is not yet free. Its government remembers the events of 1989 with unease. The November 2014 Open Doors newsletter reported on the pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong, saying that Christians have also been at the forefront of this movement.
It said, ‘The communist government in Beijing partly attributed the Berlin Wall being torn down 25 years ago to Christians. This is still in their minds. The fact that Christian leaders now also seem to be at the forefront of demonstrations explains the authorities’ nervousness.
‘This may have repercussions for Christian communities in the Chinese mainland. The government might perceive them to be subversive. Monitoring and crackdowns may increase and ties with foreigners might be even more closely watched’.
As we enter 2015, there are still many closed doors and walls we cannot break down in our own strength. Yet, for millions of persecuted believers, the walls can still come down, because God is the one who builds and destroys, raises up and casts down (Jeremiah 1:10).
We may have to watch and pray for breakthroughs for many years, as the German church did. But we trust in the sovereign God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has all authority and power.