And the Walls Came Tumbling…

Time is running. It feels as if it was just yesterday that Germany was reunited as a country. But as of this year, 2009, it is already twenty years ago that the momentous event took place: the wall came down.

For more than forty years our country had been divided into West and East—the Federal Republic of Germany in the West, where I grew up, on the one side of the wall, and the German Democratic Republic, a socialist country with strong links to the Soviet Union, on the other. Berlin, the former capital, was divided as well, and a wall throughout the city separated the two parts. Countless people, who tried to flee to the West, lost their lives at this terrible dividing wall.

It was the best protected border in human history. It was also twenty years ago, in late summer of 1989, that I came as a participant with the German delegation to the second Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Manila. At that time, I was still undergoing chemotherapy treatment. In October 1988, the doctors had detected Morbus Hodgkin, a cancer of the lymph system. It was in its last stage and the doctors told my husband that I would live until Christmas, but that they could not guarantee I would make it to Easter. With this understanding I started the process of chemotherapy; God began to heal me slowly, but completely. After one year, I was in complete remission and the cancer has never re-occurred.

Seeing God’s Work through Women
In the middle of this very hard year of treatment I went to Manila. I did not really know what to expect, but what I experienced there revolutionized my life and ministry. I still remember the sessions vividly: the worship, testimonies, videos, and challenges presented before us. What struck me most was the involvement of women in every part of the program. The MCs at the plenary sessions was a couple, among the main speakers there was a good number of women, and the Lord’s Supper celebration was led by men and women. It was as if the wall of separation between men and women in the Church had finally come down.

I was encouraged, inspired, and thrilled to see that it was possible to share leadership, ministry, responsibility, gifts, and burdens. When my husband, Roland, and I came home, he was asked to be the MC at the German follow-up Lausanne II follow-up congress in Stuttgart. Roland and I led together.

Breaking Down the Walls, Opening Up the Dialogue
In church and mission it often seems as if men and women are working in two separate worlds. Many men do not realize how much women contribute to world evangelism; how women hold minister in the most difficult areas of the world; and how women reach and teach children, other women, and if allowed, men. In church history we see again and again that women were leaders during revivals in the Church. But when structures, power-plays, and institutions came into place, oftentimes women were pushed back into their small corner of women’s work or Sunday school. It is needless to say that these ARE very important areas of ministry and very effective ones as well.

Now that I am the senior associate for women with Lausanne, I am excited to travel and meet wonderful women around the world—strong women who serve the Lord with all their heart, who use their spiritual gifts wisely, and who invest their lives to reach others for Christ.

At the Lausanne 2004 Forum for World Evangelization in Pattaya, Thailand, I happened to sit next to an Indian lady. She told me that her back was hurting. When I asked her what had happened, I expected a story about an accident. She smiled and said, “Last Sunday I baptized about two hundred people and I stood in the river too long!”

For Cape Town 2010 the leadership of Lausanne has decided to embrace what women are doing for the kingdom. We want to break down the walls that separate men and women from working together. We want to break down the walls that hinder women from using their full potential. We want to encourage the whole Church, meaning men and women, to bring the whole gospel to the whole world. That is why we ask all participating countries to send at least thirty-five percent of women in their delegations. That is also why we want to have women as speakers and share in the programme.

My prayer is that in Cape Town we will meet these wonderful women. We will rejoice together, praising our Lord, who came to reconcile the world with himself. In him there is neither male nor female; in him we are truly one!

(This article, in longer form, appeared as a blog for Cape Town 2010.) 

Elke Werner is the senior associate for women in evangelism for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. She also is founder and director of WINGS (Women's International Network in God's Service) in Marburg, Germany. Werner is the co-leader of a vital interdenominational church fellowship (Christus-Treff). She resides with her husband, Dr. Roland Werner, in Marburg.