“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace. If you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. If you seek liberalization. Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” – Ronald Reagan
AFP Photo / Gunther Kern
Reagan spoke those words at the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987. Glimmers of light were beginning to appear through the cracks in the Iron Curtain. Many of us were fascinated at what was happening in Europe.
My generation grew up in fear of those who lived on the other side of that Iron Curtain. We were told that they were evil. They were the enemy. They hated us. Without giving it a thought, I accepted that the figurative Iron Curtain and the literal Berlin Wall were good things. They protected us and prevented bad things from happening to us.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I made my first trip to Romania in 1997 as part of a church mission team. I vividly remember landing in Bucharest and being struck with irony that I was “on the other side of that curtain.” A place I never thought I would be. I returned home two weeks later a changed man. What changed in me? I learned that the Iron Curtain was costly. It had cost me these three things.
Twenty-six trips there have taught me much. Romania is a cultural island, different from her neighbors. Like America, her people struggle with ethnic prejudices. Vlad Dracul was real, he was nothing like the movies and most Romanians are weary of having to explain that fact to silly American tourists. When I stopped focusing on my home, I began to understand theirs. I have a deep appreciation and love for their culture because I understand it. As Marie Curie once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” That wall prevented me from understanding the people on the other side.
I have friendships with Romanians that are impossible to describe; deep, abiding relationships. Some are like family to me. Technology makes it easier to stay in touch, but I still miss them greatly. It’s hard for two people to establish and maintain a friendship if a wall exists between them. Walls cost us friendships and that is a high price to pay.
That Iron Curtain – or Cortina de Fier, as my Romanian friends call it – fell in 1989. Freedom brought opportunity. It provided those on the eastern side of the wall with a chance to participate in democracy. To speak up for change, as many Romanians have done in recent days to fight corruption in government. The wall coming down gave me the opportunity to share my faith and build relationships there. Opportunity is lost on either side of a wall.
Are walls needed? In some cases, yes. But, they always come with a price. I hope that you will consider that price before you build a wall between yourself and someone else. I also hope that you will make today great! Just good days, folks!