Sammy and two colleagues, Fred Bishop and Fred Starkweather, infiltrated a large communist youth gathering in East Berlin in 1973. The communist young people were being trained to win the world to communism and atheism. However, the threesome led a couple hundred youth to Christ, which thrust them into a ministry behind what was known as the Iron Curtain. The following article is taken from chapter thirteen of God’s Secret Agent. It tells of the beginning of a secretive and dangerous ministry that lasted in Eastern Europe until the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
“The Communist Youth World Fest officially opened on a Sunday evening. I thought I would never again see as many people as I had the day before, but that night proved me wrong. As far as the eye could see, there were young people, policemen, and soldiers. Even from the third-floor windows of surrounding buildings you couldn’t see the ends of the throng. My eyes were wide as I tried to take in the scene, and silently I prayed, Lord, there are just three of us. How? How?
Suddenly I was not so much overwhelmed with the impossibility of the task as with the burden God had laid on my heart. This wasn’t just a massive crowd; it was tens of thousands of young people who needed Christ.
I realized that there would never be an opportune time to try to preach in this situation, so there was no sense waiting for one. Bands of young people from different cultures all over the world congregated in small pockets, singing, dancing, doing skits, playing instruments. Except for all the security, it was like a giant rock concert.
I was stunned to see a young person wearing a sticker that read One Way: Jesus.
I asked him in German, “Are you a Christian?”“Oh no,” he said, “I found this on the ground.” As I shared with this young man what his sticker meant, a friend joined him and I witnessed to them, using the “Four Spiritual Laws.” It didn’t surprise me to hear the typical response: ‘We’ve been taught there is no God, but this is interesting, and we want to hear more.” What did surprise me was that our conversation drew a crowd. Without our realizing it, our ministry at the Communist Youth World Fest had officially begun.
It was a hobby at such international gatherings to get the autographs of foreigners. Everyone within earshot could tell my German was heavily influenced by my American heritage, so kids gathered around, hoping to get an autograph from someone from the States.
When there was a break in the conversation, kids pressed forward and asked us to sign their kerchiefs. I pulled Fred and Fred close and told Fred Bishop, “Write in German, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life/ before you sign your name.” I told Fred Starkweather to write, “Man’s sin has separated him from this plan,” before signing his name. I wrote that Jesus was the only bridge over the gap left by sin and told how to receive Him.
Curiosity over what we were doing drew more and more kids, and we sat there furiously writing the Tour Spiritual Laws” on more than two hundred scarves. I felt the presence of God and became more and more bold as we answered questions. I was continually reminded that God had told me to preach and that His glory would be my rear guard. The time had come. There would be plenty of opportunities to share one-on-one. I had been called to preach.
I pulled Fred Bishop close again and said, “Stand here and don’t say a word, no matter what I do.”
“What do you mean?” he whispered. “What’re you gonna do?”
“Don’t worry,” I said, and with that I shoved my face near his and shouted at him in German, preaching the love of God and the forgiveness of sin through the death of Jesus Christ. Fred stared at me as I continued, covering the “Four Spiritual Laws,” giving my own testimony, and then starting all over.
I was so loud that nearly a hundred kids crowded around to see what was going on. When I sensed I had their attention, I pulled away from Fred and preached to them. Kids seemed interested and spiritually hungry. Even when we took a break after about an hour to get a bite to eat, young people sat with us in the restaurant, eager to know more. It didn’t seem to me that they just wanted to debate. It was as if, for the first time in their lives, they heard something appealing about a personal God they had been told didn’t even exist.
I knew that one of the reasons we drew such crowds was that the kids at first assumed we were American radicals. After the Russians and the North Vietnamese military, American Communists were among the most revered at the Fest.
I can’t describe our joy on our way back across the border late that night. All we could do on the train was sing and praise God. We had worried and wondered and prayed over how God would open the doors for us, and He had shown us that He was in charge.
We stayed up until about two in the morning, sharing with Tex all that had happened. I was so keyed up I could hardly sleep. But I wasn’t sensitive to Tex’s reaction. She was thrilled with what the Lord was doing, of course, and she was excited about the possibilities. But why couldn’t I see how she might feel to get only secondhand reports when she had always been such an integral part of the ministry? The clock couldn’t move fast enough for me. I wanted to get back to Alexanderplatz.
Fred and Fred and I felt like revolutionaries in the midst of the communist camp. We spent much of the next day in prayer to prepare for the evening at the Fest. I spent some time with Tex and Davey, but it was hard for me to concentrate on anything but the Fest. Here I was in the middle of the most thrilling and important ministry of my life, on a super-spiritual high, yet I was incapable of giving proper attention to my family. Any day could be my last on the free side of the border.
I was not being the husband and father I should have been. Later I would get some small idea of how neglectful I had been, but it would be some years before I learned the deep lessons I needed to learn in this area. The problem was that I didn’t even know I had anything to learn.
Fred Starkweather felt led of God not to carry any literature or stickers across the border that evening. So Fred Bishop and I loaded ourselves up, and the three of us began the long process of being checked through the border. When we finally reached the guards, they pointed at one of us to be searched: Fred Starkweather. My heart leaped! Truly God was with us and would bless us again that night!
Although the crowd in Alexanderplatz was every bit as large as it had been the night before, things were a bit quieter. There didn’t seem to be any natural openings for witnessing, and I felt impatient and uncomfortable. “Guys, listen/’ I said, “I think we need to get off somewhere and pray.”
Fred Bishop said, “Let’s kneel right here and pray.” Ten feet from us stood six communist soldiers. “We could go to prison,” I said. “I thought we’d already settled that,” he said.“If you really feel led,” I said, “let’s do it.”
We knelt in the middle of Alexanderplatz, with thousands of communist young people milling about. Fred Starkweather prayed first, and people around us fell silent. Then Fred Bishop prayed. I was trembling. Feet shuffled closer to us, and I could feel the eyes of dozens of delegates. I kept my eyes shut tight.
When it was my turn to pray, my voice was weak and shaky, but I was afraid to quit. This had to be the longest public prayer in my ministry. It took all the boldness I could muster to say those last four words: “In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I knew a crowd had gathered, but I hardly noticed it as I rose. It seemed to me that the Spirit of God came upon me in such a way that I was lifted from my knees. Before I was even fully standing, I began to preach the gospel and continued for four hours. That was a miracle in itself because I didn’t know four hours’ worth of German!
Few times in my ministry had I felt the presence of God as I did that night. He met my needs as I spoke, quickening every word of German I had ever learned or heard. I don’t know where Fred and Fred got to, but as the crowd grew, I continued to preach. I shared my testimony, the straight gospel, the love of Christ, the need for confession of and repentance from sin, the “Four Spiritual Laws,” and as much about the blood and power of the resurrected Christ as I could.
Suddenly the communist soldiers broke through the crowd, and I thought of Tex and Davey, of Siberia, and of my precious freedom. As the soldiers reached me, I hesitated, waiting for those fateful words, “You’re under arrest.” I forgot the promise of God that His glory would be my rear guard.
When the soldiers began firing questions at me, they were not at all what I expected.
“Who is Jesus?”
“How do you know He’s real?”
“How did He come into your life?”
The crowd picked up on the questions, asking the same things, everyone seeming to talk at once. A young man called for silence. “I don’t believe in God!” he shouted. “But this man has something to say, and we must listen! Let’s spread out and sit down so everyone can hear!”
I fielded questions, full of the joy of the Lord. There was no place in the world I would rather have been. These were non-Christians, ignorant of the things of God. A love for them welled up within me, and I felt an immense assurance that now, as never before, I was in the center of God’s perfect will for my life.
This was not merely something I did that God decided to bless. Nor was it something He allowed as part of His permissive will. No, this was a divinely planned event to which I had been called. I believed it was a preaching opportunity that would not come again in the twentieth century.
I do not generally put much stock in actions based on emotions, but I felt such joy and love for these kids that I burst with compassion for them. I loved them so much that I knew it had to be of God because humanly I didn’t have the capacity for loving on such a scale. God was loving lost souls through me. Although they were dedicated followers of a philosophy opposed to Christianity, He loved them.
Their hearts were hungry. Their minds had been filled with the lies of Satan from the time they were born, and I wanted to give them all of Jesus that was in me. After four hours I could hardly talk anymore. My words wouldn’t come fast enough to convey my thoughts. One boy asked me a question, and I missed part of it. As I strained to hear him better, I noticed a young girl with a beautiful smile. Immediately I wondered if she could be one of the underground believers I had heard so much about. She caught my eye and translated into English the boy’s question. Now I was convinced she was a sister in Christ.
When I was finally exhausted and the crowd began to break up, some stayed around to ask pointed questions: “How do I receive Jesus?” “How do I pray?” “I want to believe; what does it mean to believe?”
As I stood talking, the girl came up and whispered, “My name is Use. I cannot talk to you now. If I am seen, I will be in very much trouble. People are watching who could mean trouble for you. Can I meet you tomorrow?”
“At the fountain at 6:30,” I said. I looked for Fred and Fred, but I couldn’t find them. As I walked the perimeter of Alexanderplatz, fatigue and the emotional drain hit me. I was spent. I saw thousands running and singing and dancing and looking for causes, for purpose, and I understood what the gospel writer meant when he said that Jesus saw the multitude and felt compassion for them.
All I could do was weep. For an hour I walked in a daze, unable to contain the depth of my feeling for these young people. How can we reach them, Lord? There are just three of us and 400,000 of them. God reminded me that Gideon’s army was not big either. I felt that God would do with us what He had done with Gideon if we would remain committed to Him and trust in Him.
While threading my way through the crowd, I came upon Fred Bishop preaching! A little farther away, Fred Starkweather was preaching too. The crowd had gotten so large when I was preaching that Fred and Fred had gone to the edges and gotten Communists to interpret for them!
Fred Bishop was arguing with a black man, and when Fred saw me, he asked me to take over. “I’m bushed,” he said.
“Where is your Jesus?” the man said. “I can’t see him.”
I turned to a boy and girl holding hands. “Do you believe in love?” I asked.
They giggled and nodded.
“Then where is love?” I said. “Show it to me. I can’t see it.”
The man said, “You Christians hate blacks.”
I said, “Eight years ago I would have hated you just because you are black. Now I can say honestly that I love you in Jesus Christ.”
He was taken aback.
“Do you love people?” I pressed.
“Do you love Communists?” I said.
“Of course. I’m a socialist myself.”
“Do you love capitalists?”
“That’s the point,” I said. “Communists love Communists and capitalists love capitalists, but only a believer in Jesus Christ can love every person. Only a person who knows God can even begin to understand love.”
The first night of the Fest was the happiest of my life, but the second topped even that. After telling Tex all about it and praying for every face I could remember, I finally fell into an exhausted sleep. The next day we would meet Use, the underground believer, and who knew where that might lead?”