(A true story)
The train screeched to a halt. I shook my friend, Christi, lying asleep on the bench beside me, “Wake up, we’re here.” We looked out the cloudy window and saw a sign on the platform, Wilkommen zu der Deutsche Demokratische Republik. The DDR, communist East Germany, a place which, even in 1972, twenty-seven years after WWII, still struck a chord of fear in the hearts of many. This was a country where people were killed while trying to escape, were persecuted for their faith, were trapped away from the rest of the world. Christi and I had graduated from high school just a few months earlier. We were nervous, but also excited to be traveling through this well-known communist country.
We had boarded the night train in Munich, bound for Berlin, the divided capital of a divided country. “Guten Morgan,” a gruff voice sounded from the door of our otherwise empty compartment. A soldier stood looking at us, his rifle in hand. “Passports,” he stated sternly. We rummaged anxiously through our backpacks and handed him the passports. He stamped and returned them. Then with a quick, “Danke,” left.
“Wow!” I exclaimed in relief, “That was kind of scary.” Christi nodded, “Yeah!” Relaxing a little, we considered sleeping again. It was 2:30 AM now and still another hour-and-a-half until we reached Berlin. We heard footsteps above us and knew guards were searching the top of the train for people trying to escape. Hearts pounding, we settled back.
A deep voice came from the doorway, “Guten tag.” The same guard, now accompanied by two others, waited. Christi and I glanced at each other, eyes silently questioning, “What did we do?” The three soldiers entered the compartment, slinging the rifles off their shoulders, leaning them against their legs as they sat down on the bench opposite us.
I had just completed two years of high school German and replied, “Guten tag”. An exchange of pleasantries ensued, “How are you?” “Fine, and you?” Enquiries of, where are you from and what are you doing here, followed. The soldiers were relaxed, but Christi and I remained cautious. Casual conversation continued, sometimes punctuated with laughter at my attempts to correspond with such limited language.
“What is that?” One soldier questioned abruptly, pointing at a button on Christi’s jacket. “Why are you wearing that?” The button they looked at said, in German, “I am for Jesus.” We exchanged glances, uncertain how to answer. The stories of Christian persecution in East Germany were well known. Proselytizing was a criminal offense. There were now only East German personnel on the train; we were alone. I looked at Christi and knew she was praying. I prayed also, specifically asking that my German would make sense when I talked to these soldiers.
With a deep breath I started simply, “We love Jesus.” “Why?” one man asked brusquely. Before I could answer another pronounced, “Jesus is just a story. It’s not true.” Swallowing hard as I looked at the guns resting by the soldiers’ legs, I started to explain the gospel. Christi found corroborating verses in a German New Testament to let the men read for themselves. One soldier seemed particularly interested, asking serious questions and listening intently. I was speaking German more quickly than I thought possible and Christi busily looked up scriptures for the men to read.
The train slowed. The soldiers reached for their guns, preparing to leave. I offered the German New Testament for them to keep. The two said, “Nein, nein,” shaking their heads, but the other soldier quietly took it and put it in his pocket. His comrades looked the other way. It was illegal for this soldier to take the Bible, and for us to give it to him, but the exchange was done. Friendly farewells were passed around and the three soldiers left.
Christi and I were astounded!! We had just spent an-hour-and-a-half sharing the gospel with three armed, East German soldiers. We may never know what happened because of that night. Would the soldier read the Bible? Would he believe?
Whatever happened, we had done our part:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”1
Now it was up to God:
”So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”2
1 1 Peter 3:15b NIV
2 1Cor3:7 NIV
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