Just before Christmas in 1985 Mary and I visited the DDR – the former East Germany. We went there to visit Luther sites. We were hosted by a wonderful German family who have become lifelong friends. In 1985 they of course had no idea that just 4 years later would see the tearing down of the wall and the reunification of Germany.
No doubt events in the former Soviet Union and Poland played a part. But the main catalyst in Germany was the ‘Peaceful Revolution’ centered on St Nicolai Lutheran Church in Leipzig. For some years there had been a monthly service praying for peace. A group of young people along with the pastor agreed to have the prayer service weekly. (To this day – every Monday at 5PM) As dissent to the regime grew, more and more people gathered to light candles and pray at the church. By early 1988 the number of worshipers grew to 600 and was starting to attract the attention of the state authorities.
In May 1989 the police tried to barricade off the church. But people were able to find ways through. Church leaders were summoned to the town hall and requested to postpone the services. They did not heed that call. Also western news crews were permitted in parts of the city and they showed the young protesters being harassed, and some were arrested. The church made strong use of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount through this time, including Jesus’ teaching of non-violence.
Those being arrested were instructed to shout out their names. Others recorded their names and put them on large banners outside the church. When the banners were torn down by the police, they worked out ways to put them up higher. City workers were ordered by the authorities to take away candles and flowers that had been placed outside the church. They did, mainly, but they also cleaned up some of the candles and lit them. The day of reckoning came on October 9, 1989.
The St Nicolai church and the other Lutheran and Catholic churches in Leipzig became the starting point for a demonstration by 70,000 people. They held up placards – “We are the people,” and, “No violence.” There were numerous police, soldiers with heavy weapons, but not a shot was fired. Two of our friends took part in this protest. They were frightened to join it. The father of the family was part of the city council. It was especially courageous for him to stand against the regime. He wrote that he could sense that night that the regime was crumbling.
The Berlin Wall was to fall one month later. The communist regime had tried many ways to discredit and diminish the Christian Church, and were taken by surprise by candles and prayers. Many of the people who took part in the worship were not Christians themselves, but St Nicolai Church leaders and people welcomed all to participate. I personally am very moved by this story of patience, of courage, of prayer.
One writer calls the Peaceful Revolution a miracle of biblical proportions, and so it is. The 30th Anniversary was recently commemorated in Leipzig with candles and prayers, and extra candles were lit because of an attack on a Jewish synagogue earlier that day in the adjoining city of Halle.
Christians follow Jesus to stand against all that demonizes and diminishes. That is always the call, and the prayer.