I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately, but not for the reasons you might think. Today is November 9, 2009, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the summer of 1989, I was 16. I watched with great interest the massacre of Tianamen Square. All those people wanted was freedom; and I prayed for that man that stood defiantly in front of the column of tanks. In Europe thousands of East Germans, under the hope of Perestroika and Glasnost began to flood in to the West German embassies in Hungary and Czechoslovakia with the hope of gaining admission to West Germany, and their freedom. It was an eventful summer; I wondered what would be the eventual outcome. I prayed for all of those people. I prayed that somehow they would be free.
Then school started and I sat in my German class every day conjugating verbs, learning to say the weather and tell the time in German and European geography. The one sentence from our geography drills that stood out in my mind was, “Die Hauptstad von Bulgarien ist Sofia.” The capitol of Bulgaria is Sofia. More on that in a minute.
Then November started, and despite their best (or maybe worst) efforts the Communist leaders of East Germany lost control. On November 9th, they issued a badly worded pronouncement that anyone wishing to travel to the West would be granted immediate passage. The aparatcik that made this announcement didn’t really know what he was saying, and announced that even West Berlin would be accessible to East Berliners.
People flooded to the Wall. This wall that had made a city two countries, this wall which had separated families, friends, neighborhoods, political ideologies and the world, was coming down. The pictures and video taken on that night show frustrated and jubilant East Berliners waiting in their two stroke Trabies to get into the West. Finally the guards started to let people thru the gates without checking documents. The East Berliners literally ran into freedom. They ran, they danced, they jumped for joy, they were free!
And we watched it all unfold on the Nightly News in our living room, dumbfounded and wonderstruck to say the least.
The Wall came tumbling down.
My parents just kept saying that they never thought they would see this happen in their lifetime. The next day in German our teacher, Herr Bordwell, could barely contain his tears. It was a happy day for the whole world.
I didn’t realize what this would mean for me personally though. A year later I had the chance to live in Berlin as and exchange student. I stood in the wide swaths of land where the wall had stood and saw the devastation it created, devistaion that it had wrought on Berlin and the rest of the world. I chipped a piece of that wall out as a reminder of what it was. I cried when I went to Checkpoint Charlie and saw the pictures of people who had died trying to cross that wall into freedom. How much did I cherish my own freedoms? Did I really appreciate what blessings I had as an American and as a member of the Church? I decided that I didn’t appreciate them enough and that I needed to do better at that.
Six years later a big white envelope was put into the mailbox at my house. In it was a mission call. I had ideas of where I wanted to go, but no idea where I would be sent. I opened the letter and read its contents: “You have been called to serve in the Bulgaria, Sofia mission.” Quickly my mind flashed back to my high school German class, “Die Hauptstad von Bulgarien ist Sofia”. At least I knew the capitol city of where I was going!
I have to admit I was a bit scared to be going to Bulgaria, after all they had a backwards alphabet and I’d heard rumors that it was kind of violent there. But I accepted the call, and served a mission behind that Iron Curtain, the curtain that no longer existed because a Wall fell.
One day on a cold February in Sofia, the capitol of Bulgaria, we met an old gentleman on the street. We stopped to talk to him and asked him if he believed in Christ. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he could barely get a ‘yes’ out. Then he grabbed my companion and I by the shoulders and said, “We are free to believe in Christ now”.
Free to believe in Christ because a wall fell down. Free to share the Gospel with millions of lost sheep because a wall fell down. Robert Frost once said that walls make good neighbors. I have to disagree with Mr. Frost today. The absence of walls makes for good neighbors, nations and for freedom – the freedom to do what we want, be who we want and to believe in Christ.