AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
As most Americans were intently watching election results trickle in this past Wednesday, the world quietly marked the 33rd anniversary of the November 9, 1989, collapse of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of communism in Eastern Europe. Although these two events may seem unrelated, the United States and the West more broadly may still have much to learn from the battle against Soviet tyranny. Specifically, while historians are quick to discuss the failures of Soviet leadership and the successful policies of the Reagan administration, they often miss the essential role that people of faith played in winning what was ultimately a spiritual battle for the souls of millions.
The Cold War was a conflict of two worldviews. One put the human collective and the state at the center of public life. The other acknowledged the sovereignty of God and the dignity of the individual human person in the political, economic, and social arenas.
While the Soviet regime ruthlessly attempted to subvert the Christian faith, small home churches still met in secret to share in fellowship and share the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of these churches in East Germany eventually proved instrumental in organizing pro-freedom campaigns and bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
One such story begins in Leipzig, in late December 1982. Three high-school students, Markus, Kerstin, and Stephan were surprised with a small gift of a New Testament after arriving home and emptying their bags. Young people rarely attended church in East Germany, and the church leadership was often an echo chamber of the Communist Party and the STASI (the East German secret police). It is unclear who placed the packages in their bags or how they escaped unnoticed.
The gift would eventually lead all three to become engrained in the local underground church movement, including an association with a clandestine Catholic priest. They were catechized, baptized, and taught fundamental truths about the faith, including how to pray. To mislead the police, the catechisms occurred during outings in the lowlands, swimming in the White Elster or Markkleeberger See, or during the basketball games that sometimes followed a shared dinner.
But as mysteriously as the small group of mature Christians appeared in these three young people’s lives, they disappeared. One summer Saturday in 1985, the students, as always, gathered at a park. But the friends were missing and never reappeared.
At that time, the young people already understood how to defend their souls against Communist slavery through their character of straightforwardness, kindness, and decency – from honesty and diligence in their studies to truthfulness in the minor aspects of their lives. Stephan, Markus, and Kerstin established a small and leaderless network, with every member equipped to lead, as was necessary when the secret police arrested Markus in 1988.
The principles that made all of them leaders were their disinterest in being credited for their actions and their in-depth conviction that they were instruments of God on Earth. They knew their goal was to point other people to the right path in their life and leave them free choice. Their mature Christian friends instructed them how and where to find the truth – including in the U.S. radio broadcasts like Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, or TransWorldRadio.
Less than four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the three friends listened to an interview with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who said that “believers would triumph over those who try to crush freedom of conscience.” President Reagan assured listeners worldwide that the “Most awesome military machine in history” – referring to the Soviet army – “has no match for that one, single man, hero, strong yet tender, Prince of Peace. His name alone can lift our hearts, soothe our sorrows, heal our wounds and drive away our fears. He gave us love and forgiveness. He taught us the truth and left us hope.” President Reagan was, of course, referring to Jesus Christ.
President Reagan also shared that “the most crucial moment of his day” was his “prayer time in a room near the Oval Office.” This remarkable statement by the U.S. President inspired Kerstin, Markus, and Stephan to reach out to their friends, colleagues, and even to the nearly starving Red Army soldiers and guards at the nearby Soviet military base in Wurzen. They offered homemade meals with an elegantly wrapped mini-size Gospel of Luke in Russian, which they brought from the Russian Orthodox Church in nearby Dresden. These encounters often resulted in tears of repentance by the soldiers, moved by the genuine and selfless kindness they experienced for the first time in their life.
They also responded with compassion to the hostility of the STASI, who would often arrest and harshly interrogate members of the underground churches. For instance, in prison, one man moved the chief director of a STASI station with his testimony of faith so much that the officer found a legal excuse to shorten his four-week sentence to a few days and released him before Christmas. Sadly, this was not the case for everyone, and some underground church leaders were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences far from home.
That distinctive network of like-minded friends motivated and empowered peaceful moral resistance throughout their region of East Germany. It broke the shackles of fear by depriving the STASI of the most dreaded weapon – a power to isolate and throw people into oblivion. By doing their shopping, taking care of children, elders, and the sick, assisting in housework, offering financial help, and acquiring information about the imprisoned, the network built a bond of solidarity within the families of political prisoners.
The participants of these underground church networks would refer to this movement as the “cracking of the spiritual Berlin Wall.” This phenomenon almost undoubtedly contributed to the decision of the Red Army not to intervene when the physical Berlin Wall fell as the residents of Leipzig launched their massive peaceful demonstrations for freedom.
People in the West today can only imagine how unbearable life must have been for a righteous person under such an oppressive and morally corrupt system as the Soviets imposed on Eastern Europe. Though Americans thankfully still have the freedom to attend church and share the Gospel, they are nonetheless faced with cultural and government institutions which are increasingly hostile toward their worldview and their faith. Critical Race Theory, radical gender theory, and other left-wing ideologies are designed to isolate individuals and put them in a position of psychological slavery to an all-powerful state.
For Americans who may be disheartened at the results of the elections on Tuesday, they would do well to remember the words of President Reagan nearly forty years ago. No matter the challenges you may face or the seemingly overwhelming tide of cultural forces arrayed against you, prayer and unwavering faith in the power of God to overcome all obstacles are the most powerful tools one can possess.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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