EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–For my generation, the fall of the Berlin Wall was astonishing, even stupefying. We had lived our lives in the shadow of communism. In the two years before I was born, Winston Churchill had introduced “Iron Curtain” to our vocabulary and President Truman had announced a policy of “containment” to counter the Soviet threat.
When I was in junior high, we all got dog tags at school so that, in the event of a nuclear holocaust, authorities could identify our remains. One of my neighbors built a fallout shelter, and in my ninth-grade civics class, we sat breathless, listening to radio coverage of the Cuban missile crisis, wondering if the launch of Russian ICBMs was imminent.
Later, as a young infantry officer, I joined in map-based war games built around defensive stands at Germany’s Fulda Gap. And later, I rode alongside captured Russian tracked vehicles as they descended on a U.S. armored unit in the desert hill country of California’s Ft. Irwin. We were playing high tech-laser tag, preparing for battle with Warsaw Pact forces on the plains of Europe.
We Christians read of Brother Andrew’s efforts to smuggle Bibles into Russia, of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s tortured life in the “Gulag Archipelago” and of Baptist pastor Georgi Vins’ imprisonment. Menace was seemingly everywhere, not only in Russia and Eastern Europe, but also in client states spread throughout the world. Egypt’s Nasser and India’s Nehru had signed aid and arms pacts with Russia, and Russian missiles and fighter planes had attacked our pilots in Vietnam. We wondered if it would ever end, if not in our lifetimes, then some day.
And then it was over. Just like that. The house of cards collapsed.
Within a few short years, I found myself in situations I never dreamed of — singing “Amazing Grace” with Russian evangelists inside the walls of the Kremlin; walking with Baptist pastors through Ceausescu’s empty palace in Bucharest; preaching in community centers in the Russian cities of Ramenskoye and Istra; witnessing to Russian army officers in the Moscow subway.
In 1994, I interviewed several Southern Baptist prayer leaders — Begg, Blackaby, Drumwright, Hunt and Willis — for SBC LIFE. Just before we began, we were reflecting on the spiritual state of the world, and one of the group brought up the collapse of the Soviet Union and cracks in the shell of Chinese communism. Together, we marveled at this change of affairs, and then came a comment I’ll never forget: To paraphrase, “There have been two powerful opponents to the open spread of the Gospel — totalitarian communism and totalitarian Islam. One down. One to go.”
This was spoken by a prayer leader, not a military strategist. No talk of invasion or economic sanction, but a word of praise for the omnipotent sovereignty of God and a prophetic word concerning the wages of contempt for Christ and His Kingdom.
So I cannot think of the fall of the Berlin Wall without considering the grievous totalitarian grip that Islam has on the lives of so many people around the world. Everywhere you turn, a new menace surfaces, whether in the streets of Mogadishu or in a service center at Fort Hood. When will it ever end? How could it?
We used to ask that question about the brutal division of Berlin.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston Baptist Church in Evanston, Ill., and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.