During our recent travels in Europe one of my favorite stops was Leipzig, Germany, which is in the former East Germany. It was a center of much opposition to the oppressive government of East Germany and of the former Soviet Union. It is a city of contrasts—beautiful old architecture next to Soviet era box style apartment complexes and buildings. The people there have a powerful cultural and spiritual legacy, which is very inspiring to me.
Before relating a story about Leipzig I will tell a story about a Lutheran priest in nearby Rippicha, named was Oskar Brusewitz. Oskar was 15 years old in 1944 at the end of World War II when he was captured by the Russian army and became a prisoner of war. Upon release he worked as a shoemaker until he attended a Lutheran seminary in the mid to late 60s. He was ordained a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Rippicha in 1970 and served there until 1976. His opposition to the East German government and Soviet Union increased, and he performed numerous acts of peaceful protest. Opposition to his activities grew both by the government and within his own church, and he was scheduled to be transferred to another rectorate. At this point as the culmination of one final protest he entered the public market in front of the church and set himself on fire. Although officials from the Ministry for State Security doused the fire, he died four days later from his burns. In his suicide note Oskar wrote of a feigned deep peace, which had also intruded Christianity and a mighty war between light and darkness.
As I study ancient things I am constantly struck by how the same principles and patterns occur over and over again in every culture and time. From before this world, when there was war in heaven to now and into the future, in any sphere that contains those other than the innocent and the sanctified, forces of evil always arise to control, oppress, and eventually destroy. Where evil exists there will always be a mighty war between light and darkness—light fighting for self-preservation, including the preservation of the innocent and vulnerable, and dark fighting to stamp out liberty and extend oppression in order to get and maintain gain. This path of darkness leads to a point of no return in a culture in which secret combinations for the pursuit of gain and power so infect and dominate that there is no way out other than exodus or destruction.
Leipzig was the center of a peaceful revolution that started small and grew to become a significant component of a movement of common people in Eastern Europe that was too much for the Soviet system to contain. This movement was, in effect, an exodus as people walked away in large numbers and in a unified way from a system of oppression, leaving that system bereft of its oppressed, and thus of its power.
As early as 1982 people began to gather at a church in the center of Leipzig called Nikolaikirche to pray together every Monday evening. Over the next seven years this practice spread to other churches, and the people involved increased in both number and political expression. At some point these Monday prayer services in Leipzig evolved into peaceful political protests in the square outside the church that would include a walk to the center of the city with everyone holding lit candles.
By October of 1989 these gatherings had grown to very large numbers. On October 2 the gathering in Leipzig was broken up violently by the police while the people emphasized non-violence, at this time and others in which the police resorted to force, chanting “No violence”. This action by the police had no deterring effect, and the number gathered at Nikolaikirche on October 30th was approximately 300,000, all with lit candles, walking in solidarity to the center of the city. On November 9th the East German government announced that citizens could travel to West Germany, and large numbers of East Germans climbed onto the wall in Berlin, joined by West Germans in celebration. Germany was reunified on October 3, 1990.
So much power is generated when the powerless masses in a community or nation gather and unite in purpose. Unfortunately, this does not occur often, which throughout history has by its absence given power to forces of violent oppression. Often there is in the words of Oskar Brusewitz a feigned deep peace instead of a peaceful revolution—an acceptance of the status quo in exchange for ease rather than a recognition of and living in truth. And yet great influence for good is always possible and can always develop from humble, small beginnings with those willing to carry their own lit candle as darkness of one kind or another descends.