JUNE 19, 2006

Does Praying For World Peace Have Any Effect?

The Berlin Wall – Part 1
Julie Eby-McKenzie

Last Sunday, Connie preached about praying in faith and expectation for the big things, for the entrenched and seemingly intractable problems of our world. As part of that sermon I told this story.

In 1989, Tim and I moved to Claremont to work in campus ministry with the students at Pitzer College. Together with a small group of students, we began to meet to pray. There in a small classroom five or six of us prayed for each other, for the campus and for the world.

You may recall that the late 80’s saw the thawing of relations between the US and the communist Eastern Bloc. As children raised under the shadow of the cold war we were excited and somewhat apprehensive about these changes. Our little prayer group felt we were to pray about this, specifically to pray against the stranglehold communist countries had on their citizens. The most tangible symbol of this was the Berlin Wall, a blight of wall, anti-tank constructions, other barriers and armed soldiers with guns at the ready to stop or kill any East Germans from trying to get to West Berlin. And so we prayed for those countries, and we prayed the Berlin Wall would come down.

The rest, of course, is history. The border was opened in November of 1989 and the wall itself began to be torn down. We rejoiced as we watched people dismantle it brick by brick. We were also filled with humility and gratitude, realizing that God had allowed us to enter in with him into this work, his work. We were emboldened to continue praying for the Soviet
Union and the other communist countries, watching with awe as they began to transform.

After I told this story in church, Dick Young pulled me aside to tell me another part of the story. Our little group always assumed we were just a few of many praying for these events, but we had no idea what was really happening…

The Berlin Wall – Part 2
Dick Young

I was also moved on Sunday by Connie’s message on World Peace and the reality of prayer. Julie’s testimony, as well as her mention of having crossed over into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie in the early 80s, sparked some very clear memories of a conference that I attended soon after the reunification of Germany where the speaker was a Southern Baptist Seminary professor who had been in East Germany when these historical events transpired.

Very few in our churches are aware of the spiritual dimension to the fall of the Police State in East Germany, nor of the role that praying Christians had both within East Germany and around the world. The East German Prayer Movement actually dates back to 1983 and a German Lutheran Pastor in Leipzig, Christian Führer, who opened his church every Monday evening for prayer vigils. The original concern was to pray for World Peace because of the rising nuclear threat.

By 1989 four churches in Leipzig were involved in the weekly prayer meetings, and since it was prohibited to have public political demonstrations, the members of these churches of different denominations would light candles and walk silently through the center of the city from their own church to one of the other churches that was holding the prayer vigil. As many as 50,000 people would be involved weekly in these vigils.

This prayer movement was seen as a direct threat to the dictatorial system, and on October 9th the East German government actually ordered the police and soldiers to shoot the protesters. When one of the churches opened for the prayer vigil that evening, two thousand communist party members actually rushed in to take all the seats – the church simply opened the balconies for the usual prayer meeting attendees and the communists had to sit through the vigil.

Many in former East Germany believe that prayer actually silenced the guns. That Monday evening 70,000 people marched peacefully through the city holding their candles. The next Monday it was 120,000, and the next 500,000!

In November almost one million people marched through the capital, East Berlin, and the police defied the orders to shoot. The Dictator, Honeker, resigned and left the country. The few leaders left in the Communist Government of East Germany actually turned to the leaders of this prayer movement as they sought a solution to their country’s crisis. The rest is history and we all know about the wall coming down.

All who lived through those days are still impressed by the remarkably peaceful transition, not one life was taken! And while there were many political and social aspects to the protests and to the transition to democracy and reunification, the most remarkable is the power of prayer, especially the prayers for peace. I am convinced that Julie’s prayer group at Claremont received God’s direction for their prayers, they were participating with many of God’s people in Germany and around the world (we will probably never know how many), as directed by God’s Spirit, to truly bring Peace on Earth.