“As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…”
On the bookshelf in my church study is a well-worn little songbook of photocopied pages. The cover has a drawing made with an ink pen. The entire book is bound with tape. It is among my most prized possessions.
The year was 1983, the 450th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. A group of us from the United States was traveling through what was then East Germany, visiting many of the places where Luther lived and worked. Among the stops was the city of Leipzig where Johann Sebastian Bach created some of the finest sacred music ever written. After a tour of churches where Bach had worked, and an organ concert, we found ourselves at the end of the day sitting down to dinner in the hostel where we would spend the night. A group of young people served our tables. Among them, however, one stood out. I had noticed her earlier when we entered the lobby. She was standing off to one side smiling, eyes bright, greeting us in German and obviously glad to see us.
The others, rather stern faced, went about their work in a rather perfunctory fashion with hardly a word to any of us. Later I discovered that working here was considered to be a very good job for young people and those who got these jobs were usually members in good standing of the communist party. A group of Christians from America represented tourist dollars but that was about it, as far as most of these young people were concerned.
As we sat talking at our tables after dinner our group leader, Pastor Herb Brokering, came over and whispered quietly in my ear to follow him. As we walked down a long hallway Herb motioned for me to keep silent. He looked around to make sure no one was around then quickly opened the door to what turned out to be a very large linen closet. Herb motioned for me to follow then closed the door behind us. It was pitch black. I heard him fumbling for the light switch and when it finally went on, there, sitting on a small stool was the smiling young girl who had greeted us earlier in the evening. We sat down and Herb, who spoke fluent German, introduced me to the young girl. Her name was Gerlinde. On her lap was a guitar and a small, worn songbook.
Gerlinde began to speak as Herb translated. When she heard a group of Lutheran Christians woud be staying at the hostel she was overjoyed. She was a Christian and was praying for an opportunity to share something of her faith with us. But there was need to be careful. The others who worked there were not Christian and some were quite hostile to the faith and would be quick to report her. But she was willing to take the risk. Here is the text to the first song Gerlinde sang to us that evening.
Gerlinde and I took turns singing songs of the faith with her guitar- quietly to be sure – for the next half hour. Herb translated her singing into English and mine into German. Finally, sensing we had stayed about as long as we dare, the three of us prayed together and got up to leave. Gerlinde, her eyes filled with tears pressed the little songbook into my hand. One by one we quietly slipped back into the hallway.
The next morning, our group gathered in the lobby after breakfast to await our bus. Herb and I were talking together when, suddenly, Gerlinde walked through the lobby carrying some linen towels. The three of us made eye contact and smiled. The temple had grown a little more.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”