Yesterday, our family was able to be a part of the bittersweet victory of the very sweet Wunderlich family, who were reunited after receiving a notoriously terrifying ultimatum from the German government to surrender their children to the public school system or lose them altogether.
It was a surreal experience yesterday to stand for the Wunderlichs: to spend the morning making protest signs in the German language with my school-aged children; to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the warriors of the homeschool movement in Europe; to meet the hollow-eyed moms whose children have already been taken away from them for their crime of homeschooling; to see my own ten year-old daughter consumed by a passion her very own, tirelessly carrying her homemade sign and intentionally making eye contact with every passerby to get their attention; to wait with bated breath for news of the court’s decision; and then to suddenly see the smiling faces of a mother and daughter in the second-story window, fervently praying and hoping that their smiles meant good news; to join in a chorus of happy tears at the news that “The children can go home!” from Dirk’s best friend, sprinting from the courthouse to tell the praying protestors; to admire the rosy cheeks of the four bewildered Wunderlich children, happily reunited with their parents; to hastily hug their “warrior-faced” fourteen year-old, and to hear her laugh nervously at my crazy American gregariousness; to listen carefully as this tired mother and father conceded with fire in their eyes that their children will go to school for now, but that this fight is not over.
Certainly, there is reason for rejoicing because this family is back together under the same roof! But please do not allow your consciences to be alleviated much by this spot of good news–because in Dirk’s words from yesterday afternoon, the German government literally held their children as hostages for three weeks in order to force these parents to comply with the State’s requirement that they send their children to public school effective immediately. The State has also taken away the Wunderlichs’ passports (which is a violation of international law, by the way), making it impossible for them to leave Germany to homeschool their children elsewhere–because the German government incredibly and boldly equates homeschooling with child abuse/neglect. I really hate to be a kill-joy, but my heart is grieved at their bittersweet victory, friends. You see, it has become apparent to me in these past few weeks, as I’ve dived heart-first into this, that families like theirs and the Dudecks and the Schaums and the hundreds of others who are homeschooling underground in Germany, are in the middle of a brutal war against the ruthless tyrrany of the German government for what is a most basic human right–the right of a parent to train his/her own child according to their own beliefs and conscience. The abuse of government power which has been flaunted by the German authorities against the Wunderlich family should jolt us all out of our daily grinds and call us to attention, whether we are homeschoolers or not.
Look, I get it. Homeschooling is not meant for everybody, and you don’t feel called to do it. Perhaps you even secretly acquiesce with the sentiment that homeschoolers are in fact a little weird. (Yeah okay, maybe we are. But normal is overrated!) Why on earth are these parents so adamantly opposed to sending their kids to schools quite possibly similar to the ones you feel just fine sending your kids to? You’re a God-fearing parent who would never put your child in any kind of mortal spiritual danger, of course. Why can’t they just be satisfied anyway with sending their kids to be witnesses to the world by day, and then instilling into them their own religious or philosophical values by night? What’s the big deal? Let’s be completely honest here: perhaps you’re even a tiny bit offended by the mere existence of parents who feel that sending their own children to public school is a bad idea. I mean, simple logical deduction would bring you to the conclusion that they probably don’t approve of your decision to not homeschool your children, right? As someone on the inside of the homeschool world, and out of respect for you, I admit to you: there are those among us who feel that way. But it’s not nearly so many as you might think, and the saucy ones like me stand up to those who condescend you, I promise. (For among you are some of my most trusted friends, whom I would trust with my own children above any homeschooling family I know, actually.) So please allow me to apologize for the self-righteous among my tribe that have hurt you. I am truly and deeply sorry if there has been someone along your path who has intentionally made you feel like sub-par parent (or Christian) because you do not feel called to homeschool your children. But please, I beg of you, do not allow these trespasses against you to passive-aggressively hush your own conscience and voice toward what is happening to these homeschool families you are hearing about. Please, I beg of you, rise from the quiet complacency and say something, do something because we are part of a greater tribe together, especially together.
Now may I speak to my people? Maybe you are a homeschooling family living in the land of the free, and you basically think we’re overreacting to what’s happening in Europe. Perhaps you just don’t see the need to sound the alarms because, after all, it is not likely to affect us. Thankfully, we American parents are still free to raise and educate our children as we deem fit in the United States of America. But can I just tell you that yesterday I looked into the red-rimmed eyes moms and dads who have the same hopes and desires for their children as you and I do? But their government calls them child abusers for wanting to educate their children at home. Their government harasses them with fines and threatens prison and systematically kidnaps their children in order to scare them into surrendering to the State, in order to bully them against following their own consciences and convictions. I spoke to a German mother who has spent the past 4 years sneaking back and forth between Germany and Spain so that she can continue to homeschool her special needs child. These people are not so unlike you and I: they love the Lord and they adore their children, and they want their families to be close-knit and they want to spend their mornings cuddling on the couch with great books. For the love of God, stand up for them. Do what you can (and then more!) for them. Might I remind us that it was not so long ago that men and women in our very own nation had to fight the same kinds of battles to earn for you your right to homeschool your sons and daughters? Freedom is not always free, as we all know.
I am so very thankful for those near and far who fasted and prayed and called the German consulate and the city offices in Darmstadt. I would never dare to minimize the power of prayer as a powerful weapon against such injustice; in fact, I would argue that without prayer, our “actions” yesterday would have been fruitless! I really believe that. Dirk told us afterward that the phone calls and emails, as well as the demonstration and presence of the media outside the courtroom, all worked together to sway the judge’s decision (against the advice of the Youth Welfare Officers, by the way), to allow the children to return home to their parents immediately. Apparently, the international community has been quite vexing to these German offices in the last 3 weeks–AWESOME!!! So thank you for your participation, in whatever capacity you were able to offer it.
You may be shocked to learn that there are several hundred American homeschool families here in Germany, in the very unique (and uncomfortably humbling) position that we are allowed to openly, freely homeschool our children here where it is prohibited by our neighbors to do so–because of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). When we received a personal plea from Dirk Wunderlich for homeschool families in Europe to please attend the demonstration yesterday during their custody hearing, we (and more effectively, HSLDA) heralded an invitation to every homeschool group in Europe, via Facebook and otherwise. Perhaps foolishly, we promised Petra Wunderlich that we would be there with at least 50 American homeschool families to show our support for them and to help them get their children back. I honestly thought we would have at least that many families with us. I have to admit that I was both a little embarrassed and a little disillusioned that only five families came though.
I know that people had good reasons for not coming. I suppose that I cannot impose upon anyone else my own conviction that I should have moved heaven and earth to be there for the Wunderlichs yesterday. I heard that there were many who were afraid of jeopardizing our own strange brand of freedom to homeschool here in Germany, or didn’t feel it prudent or wise to be a part of a demonstration against the German government, as we are ultimately guests in this nation. I really do believe you prayed, and that you have good hearts and intentions and that you would have done more if you had felt that you could have. Please understand that, first and foremost, I am not trying to shame you or insinuate that I am in any way better than you. But my heart has just been inexplicably grieved the last few days for this family and for so many others who are going through the fight of their life. And we are right here! We had the profound chance to help this family in such a simple, tangible way. I have prayed and grieved and lost sleep over how to communicate this confusing grief I’m feeling, and the thing that just keeps coming back at me over and over again is this…
What if this had been your brother or your sister?
What if this had been your brother or your sister, who had their children violently taken away from them simply for doing what they earnestly believed that God has called them to do?
If this had been your brother or your sister, would you have done more?
But alas, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich are your brother and your sister. I know this is a crushing, all-consuming conviction if you choose to accept it. But these are your brothers and your sisters who are being persecuted for following their convictions right in front of your face. And we are in the very unique position that we can actually and physically be an encouragement to these families.
It seems to me that the cultural tide has been turning pretty steadily against the favor of those who strive to follow Christ closely. Can you really not imagine that someday your own rock-solid, most precious convictions might conflict with the ever-shifting sand of the laws of the land? God forbid, but if and when such measures are required of you, I hope and pray that your brothers and sisters in Christ across the world (and especially in your own backyard) will be willing to pick up their feet and stand with you and for you, despite the risk and cost to them.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
–Pastor Martin Niemoller, 1946