Saturday October 3 was a feast day in Germany. Twenty-five years ago the Berlin wall came down and the reunification process of the two Germanies could begin. In great numbers the citizens of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) travelled to places they had not been able to go to for some forty years. Many relatives had not been able to meet during that time. Travelling from West to East was difficult, but not East to West was impossible.
In the end things went unbelievably quick. The leaders of the DDR saw that changes were inevitable; they began to lose their grip on the country. But it hit them as a complete surprise that he process accelerated in the way it did.
The ‘Wende’ (turning around) is now 25 years in the past. Last week my wife and I drove to Eisenach. In the past the fabulous Luther-city was in the DDR. There is now not much to remind the visitor of that fact. Yes, shortly before arriving at our destination we saw a sign announcing that we had passed de ‘Ehemaliger Grenze’ (the former border) between East and West. In some places—especially in Berlin—one finds museums where the younger generation may discover how it was. A short stretch of the Berlin wall has remained and is each year photographed by millions of tourists. Driving from the Netherlands to Berlin one passes Helmstedt, where many stop to visit the old border control station.
The Germans faced an enormous challenge in reconnecting East and West. Two totally different system had evolved that needed to be merged into one. There was a wide economic gap that had to be bridged and an enormous backlog with regard to modern housing and infrastructure had to be dealt with. In many cases it was difficult for the people from the East to find a decent job in their reunited country. But by and large Germany has successful in achieving its goals. Therefore, there was more than enough reason for the Germans to be proud of their accomplishments on this special feast day. And other countries had plenty of reason to congratulate the Germans with this great feat. The time of the ‘trabies’ and the terrifying Stasi had receded into the past. And now, 25 years later, Germany has the moral and economic power to welcome a million or so refugees from countries with similar regimes as once existed in the DDR.
The German miracle may be a source of inspiration for other regions in the world that are separated from the rest of the globe by walls and fences of barbed wire, and where citizens are jailed when they happen to have an opinion that displeases their government. It is difficult to achieve reunification and freedom in such situations, but the German example tells us that it can be done. And sometimes it can happen in a very short time.
Thoughts like these give me courage when I think about the situation in the faith community to which I belong. Most comparisons are only partially justified and I do not want to suggest that the Adventist Church suffers from a kind a Stasi-terror. But no one can deny that a wall has been erected between the more conservative and more progressive parts of the church. One of the main issues is the way in which the Bible is read. And there are huge cultural differences. In the South many things are rejected as unbiblical or unacceptable, which the North deems to be OK or even desirable. Significant migration to Western Europe has added to the problems that have arisen. However, somehow we must be able to bridge the differences. The walls that separate us may not become higher and thicker, but must disappear. We need visionary leaders who will lead the way. We need people with the courage to start breeching the walls. There are moments when this seem utterly impossible. That is also what the Germans thought. But in their case, it did happen, even if it seemed that their dream would never come true,
Looking at my church I continue to dream. And I do what I can to, once in a while, cut a small hole in the wall that separates me from so many of my fellow-believers. And in the meantime I pray that the walls may soon come tumbling down!