The Power of the
Gospel in a Turbulent World
seventeen years old and trying to balance work with night school and
other personal commitments. As I sat in the church service early one
Sunday morning I listened with growing interest to accounts of plans
being made to organise a Christian outreach to the Summer Olympic
Games (the XXth Olympiad, dubbed the Games of Peace”) in
Munich, Germany. Here was a unique opportunity to get together with
Christians from all over the world and meet at the Olympiad to share
the Good News about Jesus with participants, spectators and
organisers. The whole world would be there.
little money to speak of, but was quietly confident that, if God
wanted me to participate, He would provide over and above my limited
resources. Friends had talked to me about living by faith, trusting
God to provide, but I had never needed to do so; it would be a new
experience. If I stepped out by faith, would God really come through
with the finances? As this was my first overseas trip, was I up to
sharing my faith with a lot of people I had never met?
weeks later, tickets paid for, I looked out of the window of the
Boeing 707 into the early morning mist surrounding Munich
International Airport and felt the excitement of being where I knew
God wanted me to be. Later that day, as one and a half thousand of
us converged on a mediaeval castle in the little town of Hurlach, I
was staggered at the diversity of the participants. Baptists,
Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists, you name it; some denominations
I had never heard of. Dutch, Egyptians, Israelis, South Africans,
Australians, Finns, even indigenous Americans. They came from almost
every nation on earth, spoke many languages, dressed distinctly and
ate different food. Some were very young, others past retirement.
It seemed age made no difference in this endeavour.
of us were bound by a sense that God had called us to Munich for a
purpose that was bigger than any of us, as individuals. We believed
that, like Esther in the Old Testament, He had called us together
"for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
a brief period of training and inspired messages by Brother Andrew
(“God’s Smuggler”), Corrie Tem Boom, Youth With A
Mission founder Loren Cunningham and lesser known men and women of
God we were armed and ready to go out into the streets.
event that stands out most vividly in my mind as I reflect on that
brief moment in all of our lives was not the amazing unity between
Christians of every persuasion at Hurlach (as powerful as that was),
or the opportunity to witness about Christ. Nor was it the beauty of
the German countryside and the electric anticipation of the Games
largest yet, with 195 events and 7,173 athletes from 121 nations; the
main stadium was constructed in site of grassy hills made of debris
from the Second World War).
These all paled into insignificance compared to what was about to
happen. What I will always remember was something more poignant, the
historical turning point that challenged the complacency and festive
spirit of the Olympics and captured the attention of the entire
world, when an act of terrorism exploded on the stage.
in the morning on 5 September 1972, five Arab terrorists wearing
track sweat suits evaded elaborate security and climbed over the
fence surrounding the Olympic Village. Just before 5 am, they
knocked on the door of Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg.
Weinberg opened the door and was instantly killed by the terrorists,
who then proceeded to round up nine Israelis as hostages. Later that
morning they announced to the world that they were Palestinians,
members of a PLO faction known as the Black September Organisation.
They demanded that Israel release 200 Arab prisoners and that they be
given safe passage out of Germany.
tense negotiations, the terrorists agreed to taken by helicopter to
the NATO air base at Firstenfeldbruck. From there they would be
flown to Cairo with their hostages. However, something went terribly
wrong. A fire fight ensued and eleven hostages, all five terrorists
and a German policeman were killed. Footage shown on international
media over the next few days showed scenes of frightened hostages and
hooded terrorists in the Olympic Village and the fiery end that
consumed their conflicting dreams and ambitions.
period of mourning was declared at the Olympic Games. The remains of
the slain athletes were flown to Israel. However, the massacre was
not considered sufficiently serious to merit cancelling or postponing
the Olympics and, after a pause of thirty-four hours, the
International Olympic Committee ordered the games to go on.
the change that we all felt in the city was palpable. Instead of the
festivities, bright lights, music and optimism that had previously
prevailed, there was an air of fear, failure and pessimism. Stunned
residents and tourists asked the same questions. “How was this
allowed to happen? Why us?” were cries heard through the city.
Instead of stalls selling hot dogs and beer and bright banners
proclaiming the games, tanks stood on the street corners and surly
German soldiers with machine guns surveyed the passing crowds.
following day, back at Hurlach Castle, hundreds of Christians
gathered together and prayed that God would show us how to respond.
Our leaders were confident that the right door would be opened and
that, collectively, we were strategically placed to respond to a
great tragedy in a Christian way. But what could we possibly do?
will never forget how Loren Cunningham came to the platform and told
us that the Mayor of Munich had asked churches and Christian
organisations present in the city to organise a march for peace. It
would be officially and financially sponsored by the city. We would
be provided a police escort. In a time of crises, the civic
authorities that had, until then, been cool towards Christian
outreach, asked those same organisations to be at the forefront of
attempts to bring about reconciliation and healing.
in the Christian message
next afternoon, more than three thousand Christians on every shape
and size, marched quietly through the streets in the centre of the
city. The main roads were closed to traffic. Some bystanders were
nonplussed; others wept. Something was happening. The Mayor’s
office provided flowers and paid for banners proclaiming the message
of love. All of the media were there.
hours later, as the sun set over the Olympic Village, thousands of
candles were lit and the hillside formed a sombre backdrop for a
simple service of worship and prayer; the light was visible for miles
around. Athletes and spectators came to watch, observing the simple
but powerful expression of Christ’s love as a counterpoint to
the fear, hate and death that the hostage drama and the official
response to the kidnapping had engendered. Many of us were invited
back to the Olympic Village, where we shared the Gospel with
athletes, trainers and team managers. Journalists and television
crews took a new level of interest in Christian meetings (many of
them spontaneous) now being organised in the Marienplatz and other
public squares in the centre of the city.
met a young German man who claimed he had admired Hitler but was so
shocked by events that, for the first time, he wanted someone to
explain Christianity to him. People approached us in the streets and
coffee shops, in the English Garden (where tourists usually went to
drink and take drugs) and underground railway stations, wanting to
talk, to listen. The ambivalence had disappeared. For several days,
it seemed that the Holy Spirit was opening hearts in the city and
giving a level of access that had not previously existed. People who
had not previously been interested in the Bible spontaneously
approached us asking for answers. A friend wrote a book about the
times, entitled “To Munich with Love”.
power of God’s love
is no power greater than God’s love. In a world divided by
racial, religious, economic and political problems, there is no force
that can transform the human heart like that of the Holy Spirit. I
have participated in numerous international conferences (and helped
plan some), visited the United Nations building in New York, listened
to resolutions intended to bring about lasting change, some of which
have been effective, the majority not so. There are simply too many
agendas and conflicting power interests. As long as we continue to
rely on the same human resources, applied the same way, to fix the
same problems, we will end up with the same results. Munich taught
me that, if the Gospel is real, it is the only durable answer for our
world. Not religion, not denominations, not dogma, not man’s
wisdom, but the power of God.
last evening in Hurlach, as I walked to dinner, I noticed a frail old
lady going in the same direction. Instantly recognising her, I took
her arm and we walked, side by side, and reflected on about the
impact of the Olympics tragedy and the bitterness that had driven the
terrorists. She talked about her early life in Holland.
family was taken prisoner by people such as these”, she told
me, “but with God’s help we learned to forgive them”.
How could people who had lost family members and friends forgive
their oppressors? We had seen the hate and fear in peoples’
eyes. To some, talk of forgiveness seemed futile. Surely that was
going beyond the limit. After all, we tell ourselves, we are “only
lady knew differently, from personal experience. During the Second
World War she and her sister Betsie were sent to Ravensbruck
concentration camp after they were caught hiding Jews who were being
persecuted by the Nazis in Holland. Betsie died in the camp. Their
parents and other family members and friends perished through the
misery of the war or in concentration camps.
story of this family was the subject of a movie by Worldwide
Pictures, called “The Hiding Place”. Hate and love were
set side by side. Humanistic religion and Christian faith were seen
for what they truly represented. Faith triumphed, but at enormous
personal cost that only Father God could calculate. For the
survivors, the hardest act of all was finding room in their hearts to
forgive those who had ruined them.
listened in awe to the story told, the proof that “God is love”
and that the Gospel has real power in a turbulent world. Only the
grace of Jesus enabled this old lady, Corrie ten Boom, to forgive her
persecutors. Corrie told me that, on the darkest nights, her hiding
place was God; without Him she would have given up hope and would
never have been able to forgive her tormenters.
she told me her story, and related it to the rest of the group the
following morning, we were encouraged to rise above the hurt, pain
and frustration that we had experienced, and to allow the love of God
to give us power to go on. That is the kind of difference Jesus
Christ makes in peoples’ lives. That is what makes the Bible
and its message relevant in a global society riven by ongoing hatred
and violence. Miracles do happen!
there is a second movie, Stephen Spielberg’s “Munich”.
This version is about “getting even” by eliminating
every person involved in the Munich massacre. The script appeals to
many, because vengeance is a normal human response. Our first
reaction is often to strike back, to “hit them where it hurts”.
As human beings, we lack the strength to exercise grace and
forgiveness. This is where the Gospel, and the need and power to
change come into play. Only the strength of Christ within can equip
us to rise above the melee of a turbulent world and live His way.