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Finding true freedom behind the Iron Curtain, German evangelist, author to speak

April 14, 2009

Imagine being the pastor of a small, dying congregation where the youth are virtually gone. 

You feel God’s hand leading you to develop a contemporary worship service and to build a team of young people. The services, marked by contemporary music, uncompromising preaching of the gospel message and calls to discipleship in Christ, draw hundreds of young people. Soon the number in attendance grows into thousands.

This would be a remarkable achievement for any youth minister in the United States. However, this happened for Dr. Theo Lehmann in 1971 in East Germany, amidst constant surveillance of the communist government by secret informers and threats by secret police. 

On April 23, Lehmann will be speaking at Southern Wesleyan University’s Newton Hobson Chapel on the university’s campus in Central. He will address a student chapel in the morning and also give a lecture at 7:30 p.m. The evening lecture is free and the public is invited. 

The evening presentation is a reflection on the book “Blues Music and Gospel Proclamation, The Extraordinary Life of A Courageous East German Pastor,” translated by former Clemson professor Ed Arnold. Arnold and Dr. Lehmann will autograph copies of the book. For each book sold, $5 will be donated to the relief fund for Christians in Orissa, India.

Lehmann was born in 1934 in Dresden, Germany, where he lived through both the Nazi era and the Communist-ruled German Democratic Republic. He was also the best-known scholar of jazz and blues music in the GDR. His doctoral thesis was entitled “Negro Spirituals: History and Theology.” Lehmann authored another notable book, “Blues and Trouble,” with a foreword by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966. Lehman’s fascination with these musical forms expressed so well his own longing for freedom. 

Lehmann was ordained in the Lutheran Church of Saxony. He was called to the urban parish of Chemnitz, where he introduced a youth worship service which grew dramatically despite an atmosphere of persecution. His reputation as an evangelist spread far beyond the narrow confines of East Germany, and he was named to the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Lehmann’s ministry to his country under Communist rule has led some to call him “the Billy Graham of East Germany.”

Lehmann’s dreams were realized when in the fall of 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and Germany united as a democracy. In 2003, he was presented with the Constitutional Medallion of the Free State of Saxony, in recognition of the part he played in the “peaceful revolution” that led to the fall of the GDR.

The author of more than 20 books and composer of numerous songs widely sung in churches and evangelical gatherings, Lehmann today is his country’s foremost evangelist. His life is an extraordinary witness to the power of God and one person’s faithfulness to the gospel message.

Dr. Lehmann’s visit to Central is sponsored by the Spiritual Life Department of Southern Wesleyan University, First Wesleyan Church/ALIVE of Central and the Littlejohn Community Center. For details, contact Rev. Ken Dill at (864) 644-5431 or Ed Arnold at (864) 639-6235.

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