The Soviet Empire and my part in its downfall

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. What are you doing to celebrate?

For those too young to remember, 1989 was a remarkable year. At the start of the year, the shadow of a nuclear war between the world’s two superpowers, the USA and USSR, was as dark as ever; at the end of the year, the Soviet Bloc was all but gone. It was a year of revolution and hope.

What happened? The short and simplistic answer is the Soviet Union ran out of money. (A better answer was given by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, see below.) Having bankrupted themselves with Communism, the Soviets were no longer able to impose their military might on Eastern European countries.

Poland and Hungary were the first to realize this. In the spring of ‘89, Poland held free elections, Hungary tore down its electrified border with Austria, and the Soviets did nothing to stop them. It was a stunning act of nonintervention that led to the liberation of 40 million people.

Before you knew it, other countries such as East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, had followed suit and come out from behind the Iron Curtain. And then on one dramatic evening in November, this happened:

The Berlin Wall opened and then fell and 40 years of Soviet terror and nuclear brinkmanship came to an end. The Cold War was over. To quote one observer it was the end of history. Authoritarianism had lost, and liberal democracy had won.

What does this have to do with me?

In May 1989 I was fascinated by the events unfolding in communist countries. In Tiananmen Square, 100,000 students gathered outside the Great Hall of the People in a protest against corruption. I wanted to join them. Like those students I was young, inspired, and I had just finished exams. By going to Beijing I believed I could make a stand for freedom. I’d help make history.

With two weeks of vacation in front of me, I started making plans to join the protest in Beijing. However, the Lord told me very clearly not to go. I was disappointed. I got hit with a big dose of FOMO. But the wisdom of the Lord’s restraint was revealed a week or so later when, on June 4, 1989, the Chinese government sent in the armored vehicles and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of workers and protesters in parts of Beijing.

By the grace of God I had not been killed by the PLA, but I wept for the people of China. Freedom was breaking out around the world, but in Beijing the iron fist of Communism was tightening.

At the end of 1989 I finally did make it to China. I smuggled Bibles across the border, I rode the hard sleeper across the country, and I got to visit Tiananmen Square during the period of martial law. I also got to share the Bible with underground Christians and debate economics with dyed-in-the-wool Communists. It was a life-changing experience.

After three weeks I left China, but China didn’t leave me. A few years later I moved to Hong Kong, became a permanent resident, and put down some roots. For ten years I had the privilege of pastoring a bi-lingual church and leading Chinese people to Jesus.

I hope you will indulge me for posting a different sort of article, but I have my reasons. They say those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In Chinese schools today, there is very little mention of the “June 4, incident.” Many people deny it even happened. I want my kids and your kids to know that the freedom we enjoy is not a sure thing, and that others have died in the pursuit of it, especially in Eastern Europe.

I know some today are worried about terrorism and trade wars, but thirty years ago the world was a darker place. If we are freer now, it’s because of brave Poles and Hungarians who acted and one courageous Russian who didn’t. Unlike his predecessors and Chinese counterparts, Mikhail Gorbachev did not send in the tanks when the flowers of freedom began blooming in Warsaw and Bucharest, and thank God he didn’t.

This week I will be remembering the students and workers who were suppressed for daring to make a stand. The protesters did not prevail in 1989, but China did begin to change. With possibly 70 million Christians, Communist China has become one of the world’s largest Christian nations. And it’s all thanks to those Bibles I smuggled into the country.

Of course, I’m kidding. But I do believe the gospel that brings freedom is bringing freedom to China and many other places. (Sidebar: Did you know that Escape to Reality has readers in restricted access nations such as Syria, Iran, Oman, Pakistan and, Saudi Arabia?)

Many people look back at 1989 as a year of unfulfilled promise, and they have a point. But there is still much to be thankful for. Consider this statistic: When the Soviets ruled Eastern Europe, they killed as many as 12-20 million Christians. How many Christians have been executed since 1989?

For sure, Christians are still persecuted in many parts of the world, including China. But there can be no doubt that in the last three decades the world has become more free, especially in Europe. In the day-to-day busyness of our lives we may not appreciate the long march towards liberty.

Yes, we still have a long way to go, but this week is a good opportunity to remember how far we have come.


Join the grace revolution by supporting Escape to Reality on Patreon. There you will find bonus materials, exclusive content, and stories of how this message of grace is bringing freedom to people all around the world.

23 Comments on The Soviet Empire and my part in its downfall

  1. Thank you for remembering…

  2. Matheus Almeida // June 4, 2019 at 4:38 am // Reply

    Heeey Paul. I’m graduating in History in a brazilian university. Reading and knowing about these events are extremely important and unfortunately many people ignore them. In Brazil, we have a (right-wing) government that denies the terrible things that the military dictatorship did in our country. The saddest thing is that Christians are supporting and even oppressing other classes, just as one day the Catholic Church did it. It is too sad to see Christians being persecuted, and sadder still to see Christians persecuting. But I hope that the revolution of Grace will transform the Brazilian church and other countries with governments equal to ours.

  3. 20 milion christians killed by Russians? They were getting rid of enemies of the regime, not targeting christians as such. I wonder your data are true. And how many innocent people Americans killed over the years all around the globe? While fighting for “democracy”, “freedom”, “human rights” etc, of course?

    • Not Russians, but Soviets, and yes, Christians were often wrongly identified as enemies of the state and persecuted as a result. Make no mistake, the Communism practiced in the USSR was thoroughly murderous, right from the revolution. The figure comes from here.

  4. really enjoyed reading this and thank you for taking risks for the Gospel. I just finished reading “God’s Double Agent” by Bob Fu and he goes through his amazing journey from being an anti-communist atheist to a Christian who attended and barely escaped the massacre at Tiananmen Square after being there right before it happened, to an underground church leader and ultimately a religious refugee who’s exposing a lot of the true conditions under the communist government, having faced his own forms of persecution, as well as his family. Where persecution thrives, the body of Christ grows stronger and more prolifically.

  5. Clayton s. Eveland // June 4, 2019 at 8:00 am // Reply

    Its a hard learned lesson, but when government replaces God you can be sure misery will follow. I live in the U.S. and there are quite a few people that want to experiment with socialism while behind them there is a live feed showing people eating out of garbage cans in Venezuela. A product of a corrupt education system is indeed people that don’t know history. Paul, thank you for your work in China. I am now reading “Letters from Jesus” Wonderful! I always look forward to your posts. Thank you and God Bless you.

  6. In the 80s soviet empire became a place very nice to live. Unfortunately it is just now, when we realized it having a chance to compare to capitalist democracy.

  7. Ted & Georgie Nelson // June 4, 2019 at 10:45 am // Reply

    Thanks Paul. Most of evangelical Christianity is looking for doom & gloom, saying “things are going to hell-in-a-handbasket, things have never been worse”. These are mostly people who never lived thru that time, and/or get their theology from current events.

  8. Mr Dan Camp // June 4, 2019 at 2:42 pm // Reply

    Excellent, brother. We are together for China.

    • Thanks Dan. Just been watching old news footage with the kids. They go to three different schools all of which have substantial numbers of Chinese students and not one school mentioned the significance of the date. Well, they sure know about it now. We watched East Berliners crossing to the west, the student protests in Beijing, and Tank Man.

  9. tonycutty // June 4, 2019 at 6:09 pm // Reply

    Yes. I am one of the people who says, ‘The only lesson we learn from history is that no-one ever learns the lessons of history’. Sad but true, and not helped by politicians who conveniently ignore said lessons even when they are clearly pointed out to them by those who know.

  10. Paul, thanks for mentioning Poland’s first partially free election held back in 1989, my very first vote cast as an 18 years old “adult”. That was my part in abolishing communist rule in Eastern Europe 🙂 Greetings from the UK

    • That must’ve been something, Chris. Do you remember who you voted for? Wasn’t that the election when the communists candidates realized they weren’t as popular as they thought?

  11. Jenny Beauchamp // June 5, 2019 at 3:36 am // Reply

    Thanks for sharing Paul and thanks to God for using you then and now!
    Abundant blessings in Christ.

  12. Worlanyo Degboe // June 5, 2019 at 5:53 pm // Reply

    This post evinces the popular saying that freedom is not free.
    Jesus bought us with a price. Indeed the happening of that year welcomed a new wind.

  13. Great article Paul and interesting to hear of your previous endeavors! Not very sure that I totally concur with your comment that ‘in the last three decades the world has become more free, especially in Europe?’. I confess to ‘pondering’ whether the so called ‘liberties’ we see being enforced by man made organizations, laws and on society in the Northern hemisphere are actually removing many of our real ‘freedoms’ which were previously established on Godly principles (like the US Constitution for example), not increasing them? It would seem to me that the more Christians are physically persecuted the stronger they become, but that the Great Deceiver has sought to dilute the Gospel by breaking down the fabric of society, the family and more, not through physical imprisonment or attack as in the past (per Christ warning in Matthew 10) but through mental imprisonment techniques via a list of evils too long to list here? This perhaps explains to me at least, why this rising tide of sin is countered by an even greater supply of ‘super abundant Grace’ for those that will receive it? Just a thought! Apologies for long post.

    • homwardbound // June 8, 2019 at 10:09 am // Reply

      Thanks for your post in this tragedy and tragedies that have been going on it seems forever. Ever since Adam and Eve,
      Yes the warfare I see it too, man playing God, using good to get their way of others to follow them, and even think we are following God. Not that anyone is not. I just see the traps of thought(s) as well.
      How they at least have messed me up along the fight to be saved.

      All or nothing gets in the way, not allowing anymore learning even from Father in Spirit and Truth, having dogma in their way, at least I see that has happened to me.

  14. homwardbound // June 8, 2019 at 10:15 am // Reply

    Discerning and seeing people right or wrong stand for the cause of freedom, peace and love.

    Thanking God all in all. As the body can and is destroyed, the Soul can not be touched but by God himself, even as the enemies use thought to get us off the bus, and think we not loved by God, when we are, otherwise why would Son have gone to the cross?

    I decided I believe God does just love us all by that one act alone, going willingly to come back to life to give us new life in Spirit and Truth, not of flesh and blood, even though alive as in Acts 17:28

    God holds us up in these unredeemed bodies we are in that Satan uses to trip us up, not seeing Romans 8:3

    Thanks Paul for each of us that led in spirit and truth not of the first born man as I need to remember that daily

  15. There was this coment that said, that soviets didn’t kill christians, but enemies of state who happened to be christians. Well.. in fact soviets (comies all over the world) killed allot of people left and right for all kinds of reasons. Big piles of bodies. Big piles. And they killed christians for being christians too. At least untill WW2. Comies even destroyed churches. Aftert that relations with orthodox church became more complex. Don’t forget, that one of the points in original Communist Manifesto states killing God as to thing to do, so communism can be built. Literally. And none of todays communists have canceled that old Manifesto. Are they still up to the task?
    As for me.. 1989 i was a kid standing in the Baltic Way. Biggest nonviolent action in the World, that took place in Soviet Union in order to show the rest of the nations, that 3 Baltic nations want nothing to do with soviets. That we want to leave and that we will leave it. Few years later the giant on clay feat fell apart. And Solzhenitsyn is right – it fell apart, because they forgot God. Because they started to build the Soviet “dream” with Manifesto, stating that they will kill God.

  16. “Yes, we still have a long way to go, but this week is a good opportunity to remember how far we have come.”
    My reaction was different, I see how the world (the west in particular) is entering into a crisis of identity and purpose. China is more powerful than ever and just as ideologically possessed, Christians are facing increasing persecution there again.
    Western nations are flirting hard out with neo marxism, there is growing polarization and sustained attacks against freedom of speech. Western corporates, schools, universities and governments are censoring history and doing their best not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the Chinese government.
    Anyone that understands history should see the dark clouds on the horizon.

    • There are always dark clouds on the horizon, but anyone who is of a certain age will remember there used to be mushroom clouds on the horizon, and those are worse. 🙂

      • Yep, point taken, and that came up in conversation with my children recently regarding the climate change controversy. The cold war had a huge effect on me as a child in the 80’s, it was hard to feel positive about the future (or the environment) when nuclear annihilation seemed so disturbingly possible. I remember sitting up at night as a 10 year old begging God not to let it happen, possibly after a movie played on NZ television called “the day after”, that movie had a huge effect on me.
        Ever since then I have tried to understand these things. When you break it down ideology is the driver, the very essence of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, death always follows. The ideology that drove the cold war is rising again, in a different form maybe, but it will be no less deadly and could ultimately cause the use of nuclear weapons. I’ve seen many Christians embrace this ideology confusing it with grace, it isn’t, it is just an attempt at managing good and evil independently of the Truth.

      • It seems we have had similar conversations with our children. “Climate change?! Pah! Back in my day we had nuclear holocausts!” I remember that TV movie, and another named Threads. I marvel at what people showed to children back then. It was terrifying stuff. At school we used to practice hiding under our desks in case WWIII started – our desks!

        Yes, manmade ideology is always the driver and just when one is exposed as fraudulent, another corrupt one emerges to take its place. Forty years ago people were terrified of the USSR, then Japan, now China. Who’s next? Albania? CS Lewis said something about the future getting both better and worse at the same time, and I tend to agree. Take China, for instance. It is far more powerful than it was back in 1989, but it also has 100+ million Christians. That’s quite encouraging.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.