It’s possible to change the world’s political architecture through prayer! The most recent (and most grossly under-reported) example of this is with regard to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This post will be the first in a series where that story gets told, including interviews with those who were in the battle behind the battle.
Kristen and I both read a great book (loaded with pictures!) recently on the Berlin Wall and it’s fall called “Check Point Charlie and the Wall” but regrettably only one sentence in the book spoke of what really took down the wall… “In the top secret document ‘MfS, ZAIG, nr. 496/89′ he confirmed the rapid increase in politically motivated meetings organized by religious institutions and the sharply higher numbers participating in open air demonstrations.” Another book I ordered and can’t wait to read also mentions what I will tell you about more fully here – that book is Voices in Times of Change : The role of Writers, Opposition Movements and the Churches the Transformation of East Germany. (The role of writers and churches?? Uh oh, perhaps this will only encourage my blogging!!!)
I know of only one book (in English, though now out of print) that is devoted to this topic, Candles Behind the Wall. Author Barbara Von Der Heydt writes… “Six candles in Leipzig did more to topple the wall than 6000 missiles in Western Europe.”
The guy behind those six candles is named Rev. Christian Fürher. It is perhaps my only regret on my six weeks this summer in Europe that a meeting between us didn’t materialize. However, we are in communication and a meeting is pending. There are few people alive today who more encapsulate nearly all of my callings; strategic-level prayer, pastoring and politics, Bonhoeffer, the culture war and the Sermon on the Mount. (If only he was a church planter too!)
His name, Christian Fürher, is the first curious thing about him, at least to the English speaking world. When we hear “Fürher” we think of Hitler, but in German the word simply means leader. (Two weeks before Hitler was elected, Bonhoeffer rebelliously said on German radio, “Jesus is my Fürher. “) Christian Fürher was born March 5, 1943 in Leipzig, just south of Berlin. Little did the world know that as one murderous Fürher was ascending in power, God saw to it that another was being born – Christian Fürher – his name, Christian Leader, is quite prophetic in terms of how God used him.
The Berlin Wall (1961-1989) was 65 running miles of concrete, another 79 miles of alarm-equipped electrical fence in the rural areas, 20 earthen bunkers and 302 watchtowers. Unlike other city walls throughout the centuries, the wall was built not to keep people out, but to keep people in. Over 170 people died trying to defect by crossing the wall from East Berlin to West Berlin.
Here I am at one of the only remaining segments of the wall today.
This pic is of a hole in the wall – I’m bummed the view on the other side is blurred. Family members on each side of the wall would gather at these types of places to talk or exchange things. When that got out of hand, even the windows of the buildings facing West Berlin were bricked shut.
A museum and place for old ladies to die OR a grassroots counter-movement
In 1980, Rev. Fürher, started a November teaching series in his church (Nikolaikirche) in Leipzig on the theme of peacemaking. His zeal on the topic was fueled by the rising nuclear threat from proposed Soviet SS20 missiles and American Pershing Missiles. Rev. Fürher took the bold political step and opened the doors of his church to “alternative” young people who were forming protest groups for disarmament. He’s says “I suddenly realized that if we would open our doors for these types, the communists would no longer be able to say the church was a museum, a place for old ladies to die. The church could again become a grassroots counter-movement.”
In 1982, Rev. Fürher started a Monday night prayer meeting at his church – the prayer meeting lasted seven years (until the wall fell). Every Monday night at 5 p.m. a handful of people gathered, and at every meeting the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount were read in unison. These prayer meetings marked a new level of engagement. The meetings were called Friedensgebate (Prayers for Peace).
In 1988, a few protesters were arrested in Berlin and Rev. Fürher dialed up the prayer resistance a notch… he held his prayer meetings daily. Rev. Fürher frequently quoted Bonhoeffer, “the church is only the church when it is there for others.” People coming to pray daily for the release of the protesters quickly reached two thousand in number. Obviously the government was on high alert and they sent hundreds of their undercover STASI agents into the prayer meetings. Rev. Fürher began the meetings and joked about the undercover agents there – everyone laughed except the agents and everyone could easily look around identify who they were by who wasn’t smiling. (STASI secret police had over 100,000 agents and had assembled files on one-third of the East German population!!) Rev. Fürher did not mind the agents in his meetings but said “this is great that the government sent its employees to church and they were forced to listen to Jesus’ teachings!”
In September of 1989, other churches around Germany began to hold similar prayer meetings. At first that sounds like something great to report, and it is certainly. However, as one who has been in some similar battles what I see there is that Rev. Fürher had little help from other churches for six and a half of the seven years of his struggle. In his book, only available in German, he speaks of the discouragement he had to deal with of being the lone radical following the path of the Sermon on the Mount. He comments that he and his church experienced ten years of suffering and defamation prior to this point.
In October 1989, 60,000 people gathered in and around the church which was the largest demonstration ever held in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). All the people came with candles in hand. Rev. Fürher says “the Lord reminded me of this Scripture that says, ‘It’s not by might, and not by power, but by His Spirit.’ The only successful revolution in Germany was a non-violent one. Later the police said they were prepared for everything but not for prayers and candles.”
With two hands on a candle you can’t pick up a stone
The Berlin newspaper reported that the counter-revolution would be put down on Monday October 9 by “whatever means necessary.” Rev. Fürher reports that the day before some doctors came and visited his church to tell him that “hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wound…
…So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen. The police had NOT been briefed for this possibility (candles and prayers). Had we thrown stones, they would have known what to do. They would have attacked. But the tanks had no choice but to withdraw without a single shot being fired…. we had the sense that something extraordinary had happened but we really only understood the enormity of it later… thousand of people with candles. People who have never met before, suddenly a family. They lay their candles at the feet of the armed soldiers and police. The steps of the STASI building, the organization that spied on, abused and sold people out, now awash with candles. It looks like a river of peace and light. …When more than 2000 of us came out of the church – I will never forget the sight – tens of thousands more were waiting outside in the square. They were holding candles. When you hold a candle you need both hands. You have to guard the flame, stop it from being blown out. You can’t hold a stone or club at the same time. And then the miracle occurred. The Spirit of Jesus, a spirit of non-violence, took hold of the masses and what resulted was material, peaceful violence. The army, fighting patrols and police were drawn in, started conversations and retreated.
On Oct. 18, these prayer meetings (protests) led to the resignation of Erich Honecker, the communist East German politician later tried with crimes against humanity. Honecker was contemplating the “Chinese Solution” to shut down Rev. Fürher’s prayer meetings – the Chinese Solution referred to the massacre at Tienanmen Square in Beijing only five months earlier. A leader in the old GDR regime said before his death… “We had planned everything. We were prepared for any eventuality. Any except for prayer and candles.”
Ronald Reagan’s famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate was June 7, 1987 – “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Rev. Fürher contends that the reason Gorbachev didn’t come and tear down the wall is because the request was made “in a spirit of war.” Two more years on contending in prayer were necessary to undermine the real foundations of that wall. Rev. Fürher stood at the same wall (on the other side) and led hundreds of thousands of others to call on God to tear down the wall. God answered and the Belin Wall fell November 9, 1989.
That’s a pic of us at the Brandenberg Gate a couple weeks ago.
The Sermon on the Mount in two words
Later when asked how he was so confident that peaceful prayer protests would work Rev. Fürher commented, “we were not in the least confident. We were afraid day and night, but we had the courage of our convictions. The Bible had taught us the power of peaceful protest and this was the only weapon we had. Resorting to violence makes us no better than our enemies, and then we are no longer blessed.” Obviously he’s strong in the flow of the Sermon on the Mount.
About the Sermon on the Mount he said; “It still moves me today to recall that in a secular country the masses condensed the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount into two words – NO VIOLENCE (KEINE GEWALT!) and they practised what they preached.” Keine Gewalt became their slogan.
In the same way this unjust system has fallen
There was a particular Saturday in 1989 about which Rev. Fuhrer writes: “Fourteen hours, uniformed men beat the defenceless people, who did not retaliate, and took them away in lorries. Hundreds of them were herded into stables in Markkleeberg.” During this period, Markus Laegel was only 13 years old. Today he heads 24-7 Germany and has written here of his memories of that time. Later, at the fall of the wall Markus says he sensed the Spirit of God saying, “in the same way as this unjust system was fallen, so every other unjust system will fall.” He notes that the reason he is doing this 24-7 prayer thing is because he sees his generation has “merely swapped communism for consumerism and they are no more free.”
The street and the altar
This is long enough, but it’s powerful stuff. I have a number of specific questions for Rev. Fürher and I’ll post again on this topic and include his replies. I’ll have to arrange another time/place to meet – perhaps in January. I believe that his story and testimony need to be told in the prayer movement outside of Germany. Here’s a pic of him today in his cut off jean-jacket and white spiked hair, both of which have become his signature look. Also, here is the New York Times article which was a story about his retirement from the church last year. I’ll conclude here with his statement: “I always wanted also to move in the earthly realm. It is not the throne and the altar but the street and the altar that belong together.”