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 till Christmas, but that they could not guarantee that I would make it till Easter. With this understanding, I started the process of chemotherapy and God began to heal me slowly but completely. After one year I was in complete remission and the cancer has never re-occurred.
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, the testimonies, the videos, the challenges presented before us. What struck me most at that time was the involvement of women in every part of the program. The “MCs” at the plenary sessions were a couple, amongst the main speakers there was a good number of women, the Lord’s Supper celebration was led by men and women. It was as if wall of separation between men and women in the church had finally come down.
I was so encouraged, so inspired, so thrilled to see that it was possible after all: 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. Of course, after the example we experienced in Manila, we asked and we were allowed to lead together! And we did.
In church and mission it often seems as if we men and women are working in two separated worlds. Many men do not realize how much women do in fact contribute to world evangelism, how women hold on in the most difficult areas of this world, how women reach and teach children, other women and if allowed, men also for the Gospel. 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 be able 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 invest their lives to reach others for Christ. If I had the time, I would just love to share with you all the wonderful stories of women who serve the Lord and who are doing exactly the work that Lausanne wants to encourage!
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 told me: “Last Sunday I baptized about 200 people and I stood in the river too long!”
For Cape Town 2010 the leadership of Lausanne decided to embrace what women are doing in 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 35 percent women in their delegations. That is also why we want to have women as speakers and share in the programme. I realize that in many countries, the national committees struggled hard to find and to send the 35 percent. But I hope that in trying to find them, some countries are willing to break down the walls, to reach out to their sisters in ministry and to become one body, one task force, on outreach to the world that desperately needs the Gospel.
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!
Elke Werner serves as Lausanne Senior Associate for Women in Evangelism.