When I visited Germany for several weeks in January, I was surprised how much of a distinction people still make between the former East and West Germany. Divided since the end of World War II by an 87 mile long wall that went through Berlin, the wall came down in 1990 when Germany was unified. That is kind of old news for us, isn’t it?
“GDR” is a term used often by pastor and professor, Dr. Gabriele Metzner. (It refers to the German Democratic Republic, the former communist Eastern Germany, controlled by the former Soviet Union.) More than 25 years after unification, Dr. Metzner believes the former communist oppression has continued to have a negative affect on many aspects of life, including the development of women leaders in the church:
Gabriele grew up in Lubben, where the famous German hymn writer Paul Gerhardt also hails. Because her family had a public “Christian” identity in the GDR, Gabriele was not selected to attend the local high school or university. Like many others who were penalized for having Christian allegiance, she had to attend school in Potsdam, located more than an hour away from her home. She smiles as she talks about the red lapel buttons she and the Christian teenage students wore in protest, saying, “Jesus loves me”.
Since 2007, she has been a preaching professor at the Evangelical Preaching Seminary in Wittenberg, Germany, the “home base” of Martin Luther during the Reformation. With only ten percent of the population identifying as Christian in the area, Gabriele believes the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is as important as ever. She defines the message of grace in the phrase, “Jesus loves me”, and believes the GDR people especially need to hear it.
(Below, photos of several buildings in Wittenberg discovered on our walk. Graffiti is everywhere - and dilapidated buildings like the one on the right are common. The restoration of the former GDR has been very expensive for the country and is ongoing.)
Breaking through generations of political turmoil and fear is not an easy task for Christians, even in the homeland of Martin Luther. There are stark difference between the former East and West Germany, visible in many ways, including the bland basic housing structures constructed during the nearly 45-year period of the Cold War. In conversations with the leaders in Wittenberg (and former GDR), the context poses challenges for reaching people with the gospel. Dr. Metzner knows the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 will attract an international audience, but she hopes it piques interest among the locals as well.
Photos above: From the Stazi Museum in Leipzig, Germany.