Sharing a message of the importance of freedom.
If the socialist structure of East Berlin would have been half as strong as Michael Furchert’s Christian beliefs, the fall of the Berlin Wall and unification of Germany may have never happened.
by Kelly Grinsteinner
“I grew up in a family of Christians. My father was a pastor and my mother a Sunday school teacher,” said Furchert, who grew up behind the Berlin Wall. “But family was only one part that influenced me. My parents never made the decision for me. If you are a Christian in East Germany, you go through ridicule and discrimination. The decision had to come from my side. Otherwise, I would not be strong enough to hold these convictions and survive the ostracism.”
“The strength came from my family background, but my decision and my own beliefs came the moments I was confronted with the reality to make a choice.” Furchert’s crossroads came at age seven. Expected to participate in communist organizations and activities in school, Furchert was forced to decide whether to commit his future to that ideology or follow his Christian beliefs.
“It would just have been easier for me to keep my belief silent in my heart,” he said, “The thing is that with the Christian faith, attitude and morals, you cannot go along with the communistic attitude. I knew I would have to stand up to it. It was an ungodly country, system and government. They were trying to do everything to get people away from God, saying there is no room for Him and that He does not exist. They said religion was for the weak and simple-minded.”
Determined to take a stand against the God-denying dictatorship of Communist East Germany, Furchert suffered hardships, humiliation and many disadvantages the system imposed on him. I made a choice to adhere to my Christian beliefs and discrimination started and disadvantages came up,” he recalled. Refusing to join the compulsory communist organization in school and in society, Furchert was denied the chance to participate in events and activities. He did not receive a school uniform, couldn’t be part of weekly class meetings nor attend the graduation ball. He was ostracized by his peers for bringing disgrace to his class and school because he did not fulfill the communistic picture.
“I could not get my driver’s license. The persecution was hidden. Nobody said it was because of my beliefs, but you had to join a communistic organization to get one. You had to take shooting classes and a shooting test. Then you had to sign papers to dedicate your shooting skills to fight for communism to get a license,” said Furchert. “I had to make another choice. I could not compromise my faith just to get a drivers license. I had wanted to be the first to ride a motorcycle to school and get recognized for it, but that never happened.”
Furchert was also denied the privilege of taking part in the Youth Consecration ceremony, one of the most important aspects of a teens life in East Germany. The ceremony symbolized the transition into adulthood. “To do so, you had to dedicate your life to communism. I could not take part in this. I did not become recognized as an adult person. I was the only child in the class now,” he said. “Communism was in everything you wanted to do. It touched every part, every aspect of life. You could not go to university or college or study. There was no next reality for me. I’d never get a higher level of education.”
The trials and tribulations Furchert had been through did not sway his beliefs – they made him even stronger. Unbeknown to him, the persecution would not last forever. With the fall of the Berlin Wall 10 years ago this past week, East Germany and Furchert’s life underwent many changes.
“It was incredible because the wall was a reality when I was growing up — an unquestionable reality that I knew would never change,” he said. It was so unexpected that people could not believe it. They were rushing to the wall just to get a glance of the West. We thought it would only be open for one day. We could not believe it could be a final decision – it never crossed our minds. When we realized it was open, families at the wall fell into each other’s arms. After being deprived and living in a dictatorship, we felt alive.”
Yet along with freedom came some unexpected changes and loss of identity for the East, said Furchert. The society of socialism, where strong control was exercised over people’s lives and they were taken care of, had turned to capitalism, bringing in marketing, competition and too many choices. Unemployment increased, crime increased and there was a loss of respect for individual identity,” he said.
As change was not only taking over the only society and culture Furchert had known, he also made some life transitions. “Life changed for me a lot because I gained the freedom of traveling,” he said. “I did a lot of catching up on freedom of traveling and the same with freedom of religion. I could now live my faith openly and publicly. Leaving a life without freedom behind, Furchert’s love of travel, taste of freedom and strong faith brought him to the United States. A fan of western movies, he also wanted to see the countryside and scenery. First setting foot on American soil in Los Angeles in l995, Furchert let his faith lead him to where he was needed. He found work for a few months at a rehabilitation center and then returned to Germany.
During a visit in spring of 1998, Furchert simply began telling people of his life story, “My story was nothing special. It was just my life,” he said, “Then I realized people felt moved, inspired and challenged by my testimony. It challenged others to really appreciate their freedom and liberty. To not take it for granted, and to use it for good choices. And to challenge their Christian beliefs and to take a stand for it.”
Furchert, who returned to the United States last March, has been granted a rare opportunity of official work permission. Taking his story to various schools and parishes, Furchert delivers a powerful message and displays his musical talents.
“This is my challenge: to appreciate freedom as a priceless gift that needs to be protected and to make good choices — ones that will not bring you into captivity where ever that freedom takes you.” He said. “Do not take Christianity for granted, nor take salvation for granted. Stand up for it and live it.”
Focusing on those who will listen and fulfilling a calling from a higher power, Furchert said he plans to continue sharing his message as long as there is a need and as long as he is allowed to. “It is not easy. I miss my family life. I miss Germany. But I do believe I am here as a calling because people need to hear this message of challenge and inspiration,” said Furchert. “If you realize it, you don’t ask what you get out of it. You do it because you realize it is needed and you make the sacrifices needed to make it work.”