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Candles Behind the Wall

by Barbara Von Der Heydt

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Some incredible things have happened in our lifetime, but often it’s difficult to gain the right perspective on them. When you’re immersed in the culture of the history that you’re studying, you might not have the proper distance to understand, say, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

But I don’t think that’s the reason why most moderns lack perspective on the fall of the Iron Curtain—a lot of the blame for that can be placed at the feet of the media. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the media got more excited about the O.J. Simpson trial than they did about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because the fall of the Iron Curtain undermined so much of what the media had taught about the Cold War, they viewed it as something of an embarrassment, and swept it under the rug. Doing otherwise might require admitting that President Reagan’s “Star Wars” Initiative turned out to be pretty good strategy.

Barbara von der Heydt, the author of Candles Behind the Wall, understands how significant the Soviet collapse was. More importantly, she acknowledges a hitherto unnoticed catalyst of this collapse: committed Christians behind the Iron Curtain. She says that as she interviewed people who had lived in Eastern Bloc countries during the collapse, “a story of the revolution emerged, a revolution that was spiritual as well as political. I discovered that in many cases the Christians were the moral leaders of the peaceful revolution: they set the tone for it, and they were decisive in keeping the confrontation nonviolent. Their courage and leadership galvanized a far broader movement.”

Much of the rest of her book is concerned with telling their story. As she allows individuals to speak, we receive a poignant reminder that following Christ can still be costly. My favorite story is that of Alexander Ogorodnikov, who sums up his decision to remain in the Soviet Union and live out his faith this way: “We have to prove our words are not empty, and we have to prove them with our blood and our flesh. It is a great privilege to suffer for Jesus Christ. Pardon me for these lofty words. But I cannot refuse this privilege.”

by Jeff Baldwin