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XVI: How one Communist became a Christian

Not everyone celebrated the fall of Communism. While most East Germans danced deliriously into the formerly forbidden West, some stood slack-jawed. Communism had promised a life of equality, justice and peace for all. It just needed a little more time to ‘work’. My former school principal wholeheartedly embraced the teachings of Marx and worked tirelessly in leading the next generation onwards. She was the perfect leader – a member of the party and a true and passionate believer in the superiority of socialism. Together we would fight capitalism and build a better world, redeeming our country’s past. Our efforts could even change the whole world, delivering people from exploitation and injustice.

My principal ensured all teachers were politically sound and kept track of students whose parents were members of the one and only party. Our curriculum followed strict national guidelines and most importantly taught from a communist world view.

My principal also functioned as the highest level leader for the Pioneers, a mandatory membership youth organization for kids ages 6-18. The Pioneers loosely resembled the Scouts except with the primary purpose of preparing children to become Socialist party members and leaders. Not belonging to the Pioneers resulted in negative consequences such as limited access to higher education.

Nevertheless, my family decided I would not be a Pioneer. I was the only student out of about 600 in my school who did not participate in weekly meetings etc. The Pioneers had a special uniform, worn to school on special occasions a few times a year. On those days we would stand at attention on the school grounds while flags paraded, we saluted and my principal delivered a passionate speech. It sounded like socialism was the answer to all the world’s problems. At home, Jesus was the answer for every problem. My soul was shaped in this tension of two opposing world views.

My principal knew I wasn’t on her team. She had met with my parents who determined I would not attend school on Saturdays because of Sabbath. Despite her opposing world view, she never reported my non-compliance to the school board. But I was convinced she didn’t care for non-conformers like me.

Then the wall collapsed, destroying the hopes and dreams of socialism overnight. Pioneer uniforms went in the trash, busts of Marx bit the dust. My principal lost her job, identity and purpose in life.

Some time later my parents ran into her. She remembered us, the non-conformers. We invited her for dinner where my parents shared their worldview and faith journey. She listened, curiously. Before long my former communist school principal became a Christian. I am not sure which felt more shocking: the end of communism or my principal standing next to me in church, holding a hymnal. Later she even preached. I could not believe it.

In conclusion:

Despite our best efforts and intentions, our dreams may crumble overnight.

It’s okay to sit with the broken pieces for a while.

We don’t have to sit there alone.

Out of the ashes, beauty will rise.

PS: My principal returned to what she loved most: school administration. (for a Christian school)

Fotothek_df_roe-neg_0006394_017_Pioniere_während_eines_GesprächsThis is part XVI of “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays and reflections of growing up Christian in former East Germany. Subscribe via email to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

10 Replies

  1. One of your best posts. I like the clear thinking and witty lessons. This is good writing, and a fascinating story.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Really? This one took way too long to write and I had a hard time connecting with it-almost scrapped the whole thing. But it’s a story my family has often told so I thought it belongs in the series.

  2. Tara

    I agree with Gary. 🙂 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks for reading/editing it seven times or so…

  3. Heather

    Love it! You are a talented storyteller, Astrid. And I love hearing your story unfold 🙂

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks- I’ll keep telling it and hope I don’t get tangled in the folds-

  4. Manu Heinzmann

    Dear Astrid, love reading your blog :-). Die letzte Geschichte ist ja voll krass und ermutigt einen, nie an Gottes Kraft für Veränderung zu glauben! Kann mich natürlich auch voll gut an all die alten Geschichten erinnern und war, so wie du, samstags (ab der 5.) nicht in der Schule :-)! War super! Nur eine Kleinigkeit war anders: Die Pioniere gab’s für das Alter 7-10 Jahre und ab der 5.Klasse gab’s die FDJ. Bei den Pionieren war ich noch mit dabei, aber FDJ hab ich dann verweigert – it sharpened my personality completely! Don’t regret any decision I made in that time, even though some teachers disliked it deeply.
    Schreib weiter! Du bist dazu echt berufen!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Nice to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

  5. Astrid – EXCELLENT! What a story! One of hope and promise coming out of loss and despair.
    Thank you!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks, friend!

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