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'Singing Luther together' at the Berlin Wall

Communism | A Christian artist remembers

Issue: "Homegrown terror," Dec. 5, 2009

It began on Nov. 9, 1938, with the start of Kristallnacht, the methodical destruction of Jews in Nazi Germany. Sixteen years later the Soviets built a wall in Berlin to divide east from west, communist from free. The work of bringing it down took 35 years and thousands of freedom lovers, who gathered in Berlin on Nov. 9, 2009, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its demise.

"My ministry included taking instruments to Christians in East Germany," said Scott Wesley Brown, one of Christian music's biggest stars in the 1970s and '80s. He has recorded more than 20 albums, mostly for Sparrow Records, and has traveled extensively overseas, especially to East Germany. "And then we built a recording studio in East Berlin because it was easier to record Christian music there than to smuggle it in."

Brown made regular trips to East Germany for more than a dozen years, but he was home in the United States-and glued to his television-in November 1989 when it was announced that the wall was coming down. Then his phone rang: "It was Hartmut Steigler, the pastor I had been working with. He was crying and saying, 'We're free!'" Then Steigler told Brown something they weren't reporting on television. "We're singing hymns. We're singing Luther together."

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Brown said Steigler's words told him that extensive media coverage was downplaying the spiritual dimension. "The East German church was beaten down and couldn't speak out politically," Brown remembers, "but there was vigorous prayer that the wall would come down. They were always praying, always advocating freedom. When Reagan came, the Germans knew he was a Christian and it was a great encouragement. It was as if finally someone understood what they were going through."

Several weeks after the wall fell, Brown traveled to Germany. He and Steigler visited the wall and collected a few pieces as souvenirs. Amidst the parties and celebrations, he learned, there were also spontaneous outbursts of worship, hymn singing, and thanksgiving to God for the fall of the wall and the gift of liberty.

Today Steigler still pastors in East Berlin, and Scott Wesley Brown is a worship pastor at a Presbyterian church outside Phoenix. He keeps the pieces of the wall he gathered 20 years ago: "Every time I think about those days, I say to myself, 'What a blessing to have been even a small part of what happened.'"

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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