RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–I clearly remember watching the evening news, spellbound as jubilant Berliners danced upon the Berlin Wall the night of Nov. 9, 1989. East Berliners were flowing through Brandenburg Gate, and a news correspondent asked the expectant crowd soon to board a train from East Berlin to West Berlin, “Who is responsible for this new day of freedom?” They began to chant: “Gorby! Gorby!” in honor of the Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev.
I remember turning to my wife and saying, “They don’t have a clue,” and opening my Bible to read Revelation 3:8: “Behold I have put before you an open door which no one can shut….” (NASB). The sovereign Lord of the universe determined to open 12 time zones to a residential Christian witness 20 years ago this week. Indeed the world was changed!
Less than a year later, I traveled from a pastorate in northeast Texas to lead a small evangelistic campaign in northwest Poland in a public building. A Baptist taxi driver drove me to Berlin my second weekend to preach at the International Baptist Church. We drove through Checkpoint Charley the last night that it was manned with heavy security.
The next day I took a borrowed hammer and joined scores of people dismantling the wall. With every blow, I whispered a prayer that the Lord would likewise tear down the spiritual barriers prevalent in most of the countries located behind the Iron Curtain. Within six months, my wife and I would be the first missionaries appointed to Poland as Polish-language church planters, and we would see firsthand as the Lord began to make cracks in the impenetrable darkness.
Later that year, 1991, the International Mission Board set an immediate goal of appointing 130 career missionaries, 340 International Service Corps workers and more than 1,000 volunteers to the former Soviet Union. Led by George and Veda Rae Lozuk in Moscow, dozens were soon appointed and most of the “Iron Curtain countries” had been entered by the mid-1990s.
The early days were filled with optimism and greater openness, which led to substantial strides in starting new churches in many countries. The advance slowed with the awareness that the streets would not turn to gold and that economic and societal hardship would precede substantive steps forward.
Twenty years later, the new has become routine and “the old days” are discussed by the elderly playing chess in the public parks. Some of the former Warsaw Pact countries are now in the European Union. Many borders once patrolled by thousands are open to all drivers who are welcomed with attractive signs.
Although the Gospel has impacted the 12 time zones, black clouds are on the horizon. The Russian government is crafting extremely restrictive legislation, influenced by the favored Russian Orthodox Church, which would severely restrict the evangelistic work of evangelicals and virtually outlaw the work of international missionaries.
As we pray for the next 20 years, it is good to remember that He is still the one who opens a door that no one can shut.
Mark Edworthy serves as a global strategist for the International Mission Board’s European peoples affinity group.