A quick update before I start on this recent blog. Thank you for all your positive comments, vibes and prayers after my last post, I am feeling much more settled and am enjoying my stay in Germany. My language skills have not improved much but, hey ho, one step at a time, as the song goes.
Unfortunately I am struggling to get any pictures uploaded onto my blogs using my tablet so they are not as colourful as I would like. 😦
This blog is about separation again but it is not a personal to me separation. I have been impressed by a few individuals who have been separated from their loved ones in a variety of ways and their determination to not let it get the better of them. Something I am slowly learning and developing.
This week I have been staying in Niesky. It is a lovely town very close to the Polish and Czech borders
The town began as an extension to the overflowing Moravian settlement of Herrnhut in 1742. Sr. Erdmuthe Zinzendorf came to a the wooded area that had been donated by sympathetic aristocracy and declared the village would be called ‘Niesky’ which means ‘low’ in the Czech language, she was referring to the geographical location of the area which is a low, flat valley and also a theological meaning in that we are all “low before God”.
The town was built in the style of a Moravian settlement around a rectangular field and by 1756 the church had been built. There was also a missionary school built in Niesky and it was from here between 1870 and 1910 that men and women were trained before being sent out into the world in service to the church. These brave people were trained theologically before being separated from their loved ones knowing they may never see them again. The conditions some of the early missionaries faced are well documented in the Moravian diaries. Boarding schools, such as Fulneck and Ockbrook were established to provide a substitute family alongside education for the children of such families.
It was in one of these schools, during a mathematics lesson, in Niesky that the famous Moravian Star was invented at the beginning of the 19th century. The star hangs in churches and homes during Advent and is an icon for the biblical message ” Jesus Christ is the light of the world “. Today the stars are made and sold in Herrnhut and vary in size and colours all with 25 points. The smallest being just 5” across. The largest star ever built is still hung in the church in Niesky and has an incredible 145 points!
Whilst here I have visited some members of the congregation with the minister Br Axel von Dressler. One elderly man described his life as a 12 year old boy at the outbreak of the 2nd world war. Schools were forced to teach Nazi propaganda and families were encouraged to report each other over any discrepancies of that teaching.
Following the end of the war the Russians took over where the Germans left off. Families were once again divided and separated, this time permanently. Fences and walls were erected across the country and all communication with the West was banned in this new Communist country. Occasional visits to family events, weddings, funerals etc. were allowed but only one family member could leave at a time, this ensured that they came back!
This man told me of how children at school were asked by their teachers “What does the clock look like on your parents TV?” The answer they gave determined the families fate; the wrong clock meant they were watching western TV!
Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35. NIV). I have heard this week of all these things trying to restrict and subdue the word of God but failing! “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height and depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.” (8:38-39. NIV)
This is one powerful statement and one which I have read many times but being here, in a former communist occupied country, it takes on whole new meaning. One of freedom and liberation, of a faith that would not go away despite the dreadful efforts of the Stasi.
I am so proud and humbled to hear these stories of quiet courage and solidarity. I feel so lucky, but possibly take the freedom of my faith for granted. Plenty of room for further reflection. Thank you.