After the Wall Came Down

No one who was there will ever forget the night the people of Berlin tore down their wall.  When the first East Germans cautiously walked through the check point into West Berlin, a great shout broke out from the thousands of West Germans gathered at the gate to witness the beginning of the end of their nation's division .  West and East Berliners surged back and forth through the new opening to hug, laugh and cry, dance and sing, take pictures, and celebrate.  Cries of "Wir sind ein Volk" (We are one people!) filled the night.

Rumors had swirled for days that the East German leaders were ready to allow residents of East Berlin to leave their homes for extended visits in the west, but no one predicted that this little crack would break open the entire wall.  For nearly three decades, from 1961 to the night of November 9, 1989, the concrete monstrosity known as the Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany through the heart of its largest city.  Built to stop the flow of people moving into West Germany after the Soviet Union folded East Germany into itself, the wall also served to keep westerners and their capitalist influence out of communist East Germany.

A young West German pastor named Thorsten Moll watched the dramatic events on television that night, and heard in his spirit God calling him to go into the former Communist state of East Germany and preach the Good News of Jesus.  East Germany had become a churchless society under communism, and the people were atheist, secular and unbelieving.  Some would see that as an intimidating prospect for ministry and church planting, but Thorsten saw a field of golden wheat ready for harvest.

Thorsten Moll was raised in a shipbuilding family in the far northern coastal town of Eckernförde, Germany.  His protected childhood was one of affluence and a secure social standing, but by the time he entered high school he was abusing drugs and was expelled from school at one point.  

Thorsten's moment of salvation came when he was 20 years old, in a little Pentecostal church where Jesus revealed four important things to him in just a few seconds:  1) the authority of Christ; 2) the inerrancy of the Bible; 3) the forgiveness of sins; and 4) "this is real"!  He says the Holy Spirit filled him with joy, and took the "concrete" out of his heart: that deadened heart was why he took drugs, but at the moment he accepted Jesus Christ his dependence on drugs disappeared.  He knew he was called to preach this Good News, so he set out immediately for Bible training.  

He spent several years in Bible school, including some time at YWAM Discipleship Training in England, as well as apprenticeships in churches and outreach missions.  With his wife Sybille, he opened a retreat center for Bible seminars and prayer weekends.  The couple was busy with their growing ministry, as well as a growing family.  

And then the wall came down!

Within a few months, an elderly pastor in a border town between the two Germanys invited Thorsten to conduct a regional meeting that would include people from both sides, an exciting experience that had a lasting effect on the area.  But Thorsten knew the Lord was calling him further into East Germany, to the city of Magdeburg.  This was not simply a matter of moving to another location to start a church.  While the wall in Berlin was down, the rest of the country was still being patrolled by Russian soldiers, and the Communist party was still alive and active in the government.  It seemed a dangerous place to bring a western family with a Christian message.  Living conditions were poor, food was scarce, and coal pollution made breathing difficult.

While Thorsten considered the challenges of living in Magdeburg, he accepted an invitation to travel in the United States and "live with the prophets" in a Vineyard ministry for a few weeks.  His description of that time is "how he learned to relax in the Lord's presence, while thinking and praying about the future."  His wife Sybille called one day and said, "Let's go to Magdeburg!"  That phone call changed everything.  Sybille's faith to move forward released Thorsten from his worry and freed him to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

To scope out the situation, and to find a home, Thorsten went ahead of the family in 1992 and made contact with the few Christians who lived in Magdeburg.  Someone offered him a flat with a telephone, which he considered a miracle.  However, the apartment had to be repaired and made livable, which took some time.  When the family arrived, they began a house church in the little apartment, attracting attention because the walls were so thin the neighbors could clearly hear the singing and preaching.  Many people came to know the Lord Jesus in that early church, including some Communists. 

Magdeburg had a long history of Christianity, becoming the first Protestant city in Germany after Martin Luther preached there in 1524.  During World War II, the Nazi government established a religious organization all churches were required to join.  Many Pentecostal and evangelical churches refused to join the group, because it subordinated the church to the state, and so they effectively disappeared from the city.  

After the war, Magdeburg became part of the Soviet controlled East Germany, and only three official religious identifications were permitted: Lutheran, Catholic and Baptist.  All other denominations, including Pentecostals, folded themselves into the Baptist church in order to hide and to avoid persecution.   After forty years of secret meetings and invisible church services, the numbers of evangelical and Pentecostal Christians declined dramatically in that city and throughout East Germany.

When the Molls drove into Magdeburg, they found that the only thing they had in common with East Germans was their language.  Everything was different, most notably the attitude of the people, who seemed to be in shock and genuinely puzzled about how life could go on without the government in complete control.  It quickly became apparent that East Germans did not understand how they appeared to their West German relatives.  Thorsten recounts his sudden realization one day that he must stop making the old jokes, such as:  "What does the sun say in the evening?  Hooray, I am in the west!"  

When he and his family first arrived in the city, he immediately understood that the people of that time could remember only being under the Nazi government, or after the war was over, the Communists.  Under both systems the people were under total control of the government, and were constantly betrayed and fed lies. 

One startling incident gave them a clearer picture of how Communism had changed expectations and behavior.  After a couple had visited the church many times, Thorsten asked them if they would like to join the church. They immediately stopped attending, and could not be found at their home.   One day he accidentally encountered them in public and tried to engage them in conversation.  They seemed reluctant, so he asked if he had offended in some way.  Their response was: "You frightened us by asking us to join the church!  For years we were hounded by the Communist party leader in our neighborhood to join the Party, something we did not want to do."

During the first few years after the wall came down, people were receptive to the Gospel message.  But East Germans were shamefully exploited by scam artists, cults and government corruption, making them increasingly suspicious.  By 1995 people on the street no longer willingly accepted Christian tracts or Bibles as they had at first, nor were they as interested in visiting the church.

The Bhagwan cult tried to create a following in Magdeburg and were making progress when Thorsten spoke out against the group, warning the city's citizens in a newspaper article.  Because he knew the group could be violent, Thorsten used a pseudonym, but they still found him and threatened his life.  Cult members even drove spikes into his automobile tires so that the tires would blow out at high speeds.  But he discovered the damage in time to prevent a fatal accident.

As conditions for community evangelism became increasingly difficult, Thorsten began to see the importance of "leaders" in the hearts and minds of the people.  He believes the Holy Spirit created opportunities for him to meet many in government, the media, education, and business and to present Christ to these leaders.  From these encounters grew regular prayer meetings at the state parliament, open panel discussions with politicians and business leaders, conferences, workshops, concerts, television appearances, and ecumenical outreach efforts.  

All of these activities were directed toward one goal: to bring the Gospel to the "mind molders", those people who, by their position in government or society were looked up to by others.  These opinion leaders had a great influence on those that followed them, and as they accepted Jesus Christ, they began to openly talk about their new faith. 

Thorsten's vision for spreading the Gospel is often called "market place evangelism", the practice of meeting people where they are, in business or government or education, etc.   He helped bring Catholics and Protestants together during the Y2K celebration, bringing to the churches of Magdeburg a sense of unity that has lasted for years.  He was instrumental in the Scripture outreach during the Magdeburg 1200th year anniversary events, distributing over 100,000 copies of the Bible.   Thorsten established and continues to lead the monthly prayer meeting at the state parliament in Magdeburg, a meeting which many government leaders attend.  In 2007 he established the "Responsibility and Values" forum that the local media covers.  These meetings present local and world problems, discussing ways Christians can respond.  He co-founded "Pro Mag", a 350 member group of business leaders who work together to promote the city of Magdeburg. His work with Opportunity International led to extensive travel abroad, bringing the concept of microfinance to developing nations in Africa.  

In 2008 Thorsten invited LifeSong Choir of Houston, Texas, to tour Germany with a gospel music program.  I was part of that choir and was excited to learn that our first concert would be in the Magdeburg cathedral, a massive and beautiful church building completed in 1520.  Our contemporary style of music and message of salvation was received well all over eastern Germany, thanks to Thorsten, who prepared the way for us. 

In addition to church planting in cities and towns around Magdeburg, Thorsten established and served as senior pastor for the Father's House, a Pentecostal church associated with the Federation of Pentecostal Churches.  

But in all of these activities and ministries, Thorsten wanted the people around him to know that whether they were under Communism, Fascism, or Capitalism, no ideology could fulfill the need in their hearts for a Savior.  He has lived a genuine, open life before the city of Magdeburg.  He is widely known in the city, and just as widely respected.  His image is not one of a fanatic, but rather a man with the power of God in his life.  Thorsten's goal is to "live the Gospel", wherever that might take him.

In 2016, Thorsten was presented with the Medal of Honor by the president of the Parliament in the state of Sachsen Anhalt, where Magdeburg is located.  In the presentation, Thorsten Moll's efforts to build up the state, initiate ecumenical efforts, and to establish the monthly prayer meeting in the Parliament, were described as "amazing".

When asked what he considers the most important feature of his life, he responds, "Faithfulness!"  He quotes one of his favorite verses, Psalms 18:25: "To the faithful you show yourself faithful."  He stayed with difficult ministries, even when he sometimes wanted to quit.  He brought his family into a distressed situation, but they never went hungry, never lacked the basics of life, and always received funds just when they were needed.  He is a great believer that difficulty creates dependence on God.  

No matter what side of a wall one might be, Thorsten often reminds people that "The safest place in the world is in the will of God!"  His life has proved this to be true.

Thorsten Moll is available for speaking and ministering. He can be contacted via his website: http://www.verantwortung-werte.de

by J. Kathleen Harder

August, 2016

© 2015-2017 by J.K. Harder and P.H. Harder