Twenty years ago today was probably one of the most significant historical events of my generation. For those too young to remember at the time, or now younger than twenty, it is hard to imagine the sense of incredulity, relief and euphoria felt around most of the world, especially in Germany.
This truly was the day the Lord had made–a modern-day miracle! Yes, Christians had prayed for years for the persecuted church. Few however had dared to pray for the collapse of communism. Many had believed it to be the anti-Christ and thus destined to continue as the Evil Empire.
Even when Gorbachev began to open up the communist world to change with Perestroika and Glasnost, at least one visiting speaker in our YWAM schools warned that he was even more dangerous than Stalin because he had lulled the West into a false sense of security.
But that’s all history now, and the fragility of communism is apparent to all who look back with the luxury of hindsight.
Last week, Mikhail Gorbachev turned up at the Brandenburg Gate along with George Bush sr (with cane) and Helmut Kohl (in wheelchair). Bush was full of praise for his former Soviet counterpart, saying that historians would recognise ‘Mikhail’ for his rare vision and unfailing commitment to reform and openness.
Two years before the unexpected events leading to the collapse of communism, Bush’s predecessor, Ronald Reagan, standing by the Brandenburg Gate, had famously challenged the Soviet Chairman, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.”
Bush acknowledged last week in Berlin that the historic events had been set in motion not in Bonn, or Moscow or Washington but rather “in the hearts and minds of the people who had too long been deprived of their God-given rights”.
“The people were the heroes,” agreed Gorbachev, who, at 78, was clearly still the most vital of the trio.
(As a reward to ‘the people’, U2 offered a free celebration concert in Berlin last week, which–irony of ironies–was partly obscured to the public by a wall, a ‘safety measure’ erected by MTV. )
While many explained the cause of the sudden collapse of communism to be Reagan’s tough stance, and others to the internal weakness of the Soviet system, it was refreshing and appropriate to hear tribute to the role of the people.
Secular observers often have ignored the role played by the Christian faith of many who dared to oppose communist oppression. One exception is the widely-recognised significance of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979. When a million Catholics attended the open air mass in Warsaw, Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement received papal support and ‘people power’ was on the rise..
Two years later, I had my own ‘epiphany’ in the Polish capital while speaking at a student conference. Referring to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, I suddenly saw that communism, like all the other empires, was also destined to pass away; that only God’s kingdom was unshakeable. The next morning at breakfast in the hotel, Walesa and some supporters entered to sit at the next table to me. Despite my ‘revelation’, I didn’t dare think I could be looking at the future president of a democratic Poland. That, of course, is all history now.
Across the border in communist Lithuania, a battle had gone on between the authorities and the people for years preceding those heady days in Warsaw. Crosses placed on a shrine on a hill in memory of those who had died in exile in Siberia, were regularly cleared away by police. Repeatedly new crosses would appear. Finally, the people won, and today more than a million crosses still stand on this hill, a reminder of this battle of faith (photo 2).
I have written Weekly Words about this and other stories, including the prayer and peace movement in Leipzig and other East German cities (photo 4); and the handful of parishioners in Timisoara whose vigil outside their pastor’s house triggered the Romanian revolution (photo 6); (see www.ywam.eu/weeklyword/2009, 30mar, 6jul,10&17aug).
Other events of ‘people-power’ not overtly faith-linked included a border-to-border human chain in the Baltics (photo 3); and the pan-European picnic with its unplanned ‘breakthrough’ in which hundreds escaped across into the Austrian border (photo 5).
Yes, the people were the heroes, particularly the people of faith. Truly, the world had much to celebrate twenty years ago.
Today, we should not forget the lesson of these world-changing events: that nothing is permanent, except God’s Kingdom. And that means secularism’s days are numbered too.
Till next week,