BERLIN, Germany (BP) — On Nov. 9, 1989, East German border guards stood by dumbfounded as streams of East Berliners flooded through Brandenburg Gate into the ecstatic freedom of West Berlin.
Pam and Wayne Jenkins knew things would never be the same. That evening, 25 years ago, the Jenkins family sat in their living room in Regensburg, West Germany, watching the unbelievable events unfold on the evening news. A few weeks later, Wayne traveled to Berlin to stand in front of the wall and see its remnants firsthand.
When the Jenkinses, the first International Mission Board missionaries appointed to German-language work, arrived in December 1982, people were being sent to jail in East Germany for openly sharing the Gospel. Jenkins himself was detained for several hours in 1986 for carrying Gospel tracts in his pockets during a journey to East Berlin.
As Wayne and Pam watched the flood of East Berliners enter West Berlin, they hoped for wide-open doors to share more freely.
Although open evangelism was illegal prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Christianity was not. In fact, there are many who credit Christians — specifically prayer meetings in Leipzig, East Germany, called the Friedensgebet (prayer for peace) — with spearheading the peaceful revolt against the Soviets and the wall. As often happens in times of persecution, in various ways the church in East Germany was thriving behind the Iron Curtain; yet now, with religious freedom, it has struggled.
Jason Dietz, currently serving with IMB in Dresden, Germany, notes, “For over 100 years, [East Germans] have seen so much drastic change brought on by competing ideologies that now a spirit of cynicism and distrust has spread over the population.”
Despite the credit the Friedensgebet meetings received for emboldening anti-Soviet protests, they have had little lasting effect on the invisible spiritual barriers in the former East Germany. Rather than experiencing relief at the religious freedoms now available, people tend to view all structured belief systems with suspect and mistrust, which is proving to be a major obstacle to the Gospel.
Berlin’s political and physical walls have been down for 25 years, yet the spiritual walls are still standing strong. While the church saw rapid growth in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Iron Curtain, the church in Germany — and throughout Western Europe — has steadily declined. When not viewed with distrust and skepticism, the church and Bible are viewed now as merely a good moral code or ethic rather than a living faith.
Missionaries in Western Europe face increasing difficulties in confronting the spiritual walls of materialism, consumerism, depravity and distrust.
“Just because Europe is covered with church buildings doesn’t mean it is full of Christians,” Jenkins laments.
For prayer: that the Holy Spirit will move to complete the task of bringing true freedom to people in the former East Germany, once and for all tearing down the wall preventing them from saving faith in Jesus Christ.