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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

March 18, 2008

The "gun lap" revisited

Filed under CoG Potpourri

Those who read UCG’s publications may remember a "Good News" article published some months ago, titled "The Element of Surprise". Written by UCG’s President after a visit to Berlin in January 2006, the article described how things in world affairs sometimes happen quickly – and unexpectedly.

For 7 of the 24 years that I have lived in Europe I was privileged to serve as pastor to the brethren behind the Iron Curtain. During those years I made some 40 multi-day pastoral trips behind the border, mostly to East Germany, but also to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In addition, for five of those years I made a bi-weekly drive from West Germany (through East Germany on the autobahn) to West Berlin to visit members and conduct Sabbath services. I lived 50 miles from the East-West German border, and the daily reality of the Iron Curtain made German unification seem quite remote, if not impossible. So much so, in fact, that when asked on one occasion by WCG Editorial in Pasadena about the mood in West Germany re: the possibility of unification, I suggested that we be careful not to write about things that were totally unrealistic.

Just two short months in 1989 changed all that. In the summer East German citizens besieged two Western embassies in Budapest, literally forcing their government to agree to allow them to emigrate to West Germany. Hungary opened its border to the West later that summer. Mass demonstrations followed in Leipzig in September, and when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev refused to go along with a proposal to use lethal force to quell the Leipzig demonstrations, the game was over. Two months later the East German government opened the border to the West, in effect issuing a death sentence on its own existence. German chancellor Helmut Kohl acted quickly in the "4 plus 2" talks (France, Soviet Union, UK and USA plus the two German states) to get a final peace treaty officially ending WWII. On October 3, 1990 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) ceased to exist.

In retrospect contemporary historians believe that Helmut Kohl had a window of opportunity of about three months to get an international agreement on German unification. With someone other than Mikhail Gorbachev at the helm in Moscow, the outcome may have been different. In a private "deal", Kohl also reportedly agreed to a demand by Francois Mitterrand to give up the powerful German D-Mark for the euro in exchange for France’s approval on German unification.

Something that seemed impossible for years happened unexpectedly and quickly – hence the "element of surprise". The right players were on the field at the right time.

When you read the New Testament, which of these two statements seems to be the correct one re: Christians and the question of how much time remains?

1. Those Christians are admonished who fret over getting the Work done because in reality there is a lot more time than they think.

2. Those Christians are admonished who grow complacent in personal overcoming and doing the Work because they think they have more time left.

The perpetual "gun lap" scenario of earlier years was foolish. Experienced distance runners will confirm that you can’t run a distance race as if the entire race were a "gun lap". Decisions to forgo normal educational opportunities, etc. are also nowhere sanctioned in the Bible, at least while we are in "normal times" – which we still are.

On the other hand, the fruit of thinking that we have plenty of laps left and our position in the race doesn’t matter could be just as foolish.

In addition to the possibility that those in North America (or elsewhere outside of Europe) may have an incomplete picture of things in Europe because of inadequate local news coverage, there is always the "element of surprise", regardless of what the state of affairs may seem to be.

According to the apostle Paul, we are running a race. In our race we don’t know when the "gun lap" will begin or how long it will last.

In most distance races a "pack" of runners emerges in the lead, strung out for some length of the track. Where would you want to be under our circumstances? Somewhere near the back of the pack, thinking you can compensate for your poor position by a hard kick when the gun sounds? What if the race ends before you finish your surge? (That does happen in real distance races, by the way.)

Being at the front of the pack, setting the pace and not worrying about the finish line seems to be a better strategy, at least to me.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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