When LICHT IM OSTEN (LIGHT IN THE EAST) was founded in Wernigerode in 1920, the consequences of the First World War were still clearly to be felt. They had their hands full looking after the numerous refugees and many prisoners of war who were living there far from home.
From Russia alone, 2.5 million prisoners of war are still to be found in Germany. Even during the war there is spiritual awakening amongst these people, and when after the war repatriation is delayed due to the disorder in Russia, there is a real revival in the camps. Many preachers of various denominations are active evangelising there. When the scale of the work makes it necessary to give the organisation a structure, Jakob Kroeker and Walter Jack found the missionary society LICHT IM OSTEN.
Donations from Sweden - there has been a similar Mission to the East there since 1903 - and from a group of friends in Switzerland, make it possible to buy the house "Gottesgabe" (God's gift) in Wernigerode in the Harz, which, until 1927, not only houses organisation and mailing departments, but where Bible courses in Russian are also held.
According to reports from Soviet Russia, over 2000 churches are founded by the Russian brothers who have found faith in the camps and have then returned home. This leads to our mission principle: We do not send out German missionaries to Russia but we support indigenous Christians of diverse denominations in their missionary ministry. As Walter Jack put it: "It is better that churches be founded by the Slavs than by us. But, wherever a few sparks begin to glow, we want to fan the fire with the word of God and our prayers."
To begin with, the communist rulers only persecute members of the Russian Orthodox Church, other denominations having relative freedom, and from 1925 onwards, every Soviet citizen has the right to own a Bible. LICHT IM OSTEN uses this opportunity to send a large number of Bibles, as the hunger for Bibles is incredibly great. In one letter "several million Bibles" are even requested. Unfortunately, in 1929 this window is very soon shut again by Stalin`s cruel laws on religion.
Until World War II, the missionary society has to be very inventive when taking the Gospel and relief aid to the Soviet Union. In letters, literature is sent on light weight paper, and even up to 1941 a mailing company can send inconspicuous relief aid parcels to the labour camps. At the same time LICHT IM OSTEN begins to provide the 10 million Russian emigrants in the whole world with Christian literature.
During World War II, numerous believers, soldiers of the German army, take Russian Bibles with them, passing them on to Russians. It is also possible to smuggle evangelistic literature into the camps for Russian prisoners of war. Sometimes there are even revivals, and about 23,000 Russians are baptised in secret.
When the Red Army closes in on Wernigerode in 1945, the staff of LICHT IM OSTEN burn all documents as fast as they can - first and foremost addresses, so as not to endanger Christians in Russia - and flee to southern Germany. For this reason there are very few documents dating from the missionary society's early years. On 1 September 1946, the missionary society can start work again in Stuttgart-Mühlhausen. Involved in the second "first hour" are Joachim Müller, Jakob Kroeker, Hans Brandenburg, Jacob Dyck and Erna Sichtig as secretary. Just as 26 years before, committed Christians from Scandinavia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, from England and other countries again ensure that the Gospel and relief aid can be sent to the East. And again there are about two million Slavs left in Germany in need of the Gospel. Many of them emigrate to Canada, the USA, South America and to the rest of the world, thus indirectly strengthening the world-wide activities of LICHT IM OSTEN. In 1956, after 28 years, the first Bible can again be sent by post to the Soviet Union
In the same year, LICHT IM OSTEN moves a few miles further on to Korntal. Here the missionary society finds at last a home base, thanks to the Evangelische Brüdergemeinde (evangelical brethren church) in Korntal. There has been a keen interest in mission to the East here since the mid 19th century, when Pastor Eduard Wüst of Korntal was sent to the Swabians who had emigrated to southern Russia. Within Korntal LICHT IM OSTEN changes its address twice more before moving into the building in the Zuffenhauser Strasse.
In the sixties and seventies it becomes increasingly more difficult to legally take Christian literature to the East. But many young Christians of different nationalities, travelling as tourists, help to take literature to the East hidden in specially prepared camping buses, caravans and other vehicles. Time and again there are setbacks, when vehicles and their load are confiscated, and even an East German pastor betrays LICHT IM OSTEN to state security.
But all this cannot stop the path of the Gospel - and today the eyes of many former "Bible smugglers" shine when they tell of what they met with and how they were protected.
An important ministry during the cold war is, beside the radio and literature mission, informing the public in the West of the situation of Christians imprisoned and under pressure in the communist states, in connection with calls to prayer. Christians in the East know that they are upheld by this, even in difficult times. The collapse of the communist system is also a turning point for the missionary society. The unthinkable suddenly becomes reality, bringing unforeseen freedom.
The work of the missionary society now involves planting churches; here, great emphasis is placed on supporting indigenous missionaries. Alongside our main activity as a literature mission, new media and the radio are also used to spread the word of God. In this way, people can be reached in the remotest areas, and mission amongst the blind is made possible. But LICHT IM OSTEN wants to help people in Eastern Europe and central Asia both in their spiritual and their material needs. Regularly, relief aid leaves Korntal for the East. This underlines the credibility and sincerity of our cause and supports our local missionary work.
In many Eastern European and central Asian countries today, thousands openly profess their faith in Christ. Missionary societies, Bible schools and LICHT IM OSTEN partner missions, new church associations and radio stations have been founded. Articulated lorries loaded with Bibles and Christian magazines regularly leave Korntal on course for Eastern Europe. God alone knows what blessings they hold.