This week, as I have thought about the despair that many people in America have been feeling for the last several months, I have been thinking of something our daughters experienced a little over 11 years ago before either of them were married. Our daughters were in Leipzig, Germany, with two friends. On October 9, 2009, the four girls went sightseeing in downtown Leipzig. They were completely unprepared for what happened that day. Thousands and thousands of people gathered in the streets. The numbers were so large that these four American young women were caught up in the crowd. They had to move along with the crowd and try to stay together the best they could. The crowd was too thick to do anything else. Our daughters and their friends noticed that individuals in the gathering crowd were picking up cups with candles inside. The four of them picked up candles, too.
The scene was like nothing any of them had experienced before. This great throng of people was quiet. They weren’t chattering and screaming like people at an American football game or concert. They were simply gathering and walking quietly with candles.
Finally the girls were able to find out what this was all about. The people of Leipzig were quietly celebrating and reenacting an event that had happened there exactly 20 years before. What happened in Leipzig on October 9, 1989, was the culmination of something that had begun seven years before.
In 1982 the people of Leipzig were living under the harsh Communist government of East Germany. Christian Führer was serving as the pastor for Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche in German). He began to organize Prayers for Peace every Monday evening at St. Nicholas. Many times attendance was less than a dozen people.
Three years later, Führer put up a sign that read, “offen für alle,” which is German for “open for all.” More and more people began to come to the Monday evening prayer meetings. Both believers and nonbelievers came. Attendance grew until the building could not hold everyone.
The East German government began to harass some of those involved. In May of 1989, authorities set up barricades to keep people away from the church. On October 7, authorities arrested several people in front of the church. Two days later on October 9, 1989, tension was high. Soldiers and police filled the streets. People who participated in the prayer meetings were frightened.
On that October night, 8,000 people crowded into the church. Among them were members of the East German secret police. After a one-hour service, the people exited the church. When they did, they found the downtown plaza filled with people holding candles. The throng began walking peacefully around the city. Police marched with them, ready to attack them. The quiet protesters were terrified that the police would attack, but they never did. They simply let them march.
A journalist was in Leipzig that night and captured what was happening on film. As East Germans around the country found out what had happened that night, more and more people around East Germany started protesting their government.
Exactly one month later, the Berlin Wall, which had separated East Berlin from West Berlin since the early 1960s, was opened. People began physically to pull down the Berlin Wall. People flooded out of Communist East Germany into free West Germany. Communist governments began to crumble in country after country. Before long, the unimaginable happened. East and West Germany were reunited into one country for the first time since World War II.
For those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, the idea that the Berlin Wall could come down, that East and West Germany could be united, and that Communist governments would fall was almost more than we could ask or imagine. Communism was the great fear of my childhood, just as COVID and political unrest are fears today.
An article from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall included these words: “Chancellor Angela Merkel [of Germany] said the fall of the Wall had shown the world that dreams could come true.” I thought, “No, the fall of the Wall shows that people were praying.”
People prayed for the safety of people on the Underground Railroad. They prayed for an end to slavery. People around the world prayed for Germany. They prayed for the downfall of Communism. Let’s join together in prayer for America. God listens.
Now to Him who is able to do
far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,
according to the power that works within us,
to Him be the glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus
to all generations forever and ever. Amen.