The battle for Europe

June 8, 2024

Commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy this week carried a poignant warning for those Europeans preparing to vote for their new European Parliament. 

Kings, presidents and other world leaders – notably including Volodymyr Zelensky but not his Russian counterpart – joined the handful of surviving veterans in recalling the sacrifices made by over 4000 Allied soldiers who lost their lives during the landing, and many more over the ensuing months as they fought their way towards Berlin. 

Those sacrifices won for future generations of Europeans the ‘four freedoms’ of speech, of worship, from want and from fear, as articulated by President Roosevelt during the war. Yet these freedoms are being threatened again – from inside and outside the European Union borders, as several speakers in Normandy reminded the world. 

Even as they spoke, many Dutch headed to the voting booths to flirt with an anti-democratic, autocratic, isolationist and nationalist party. Other Europeans have followed, even voting for parties with scarcely-concealed antisemitic sentiments, revealing how much these costly freedoms can be taken for granted. Too often, even Christians are among such voters.

Over the next few months, we will hear of the eightieth anniversary celebrations of the liberation of Paris (August 25th) and of Brussels (September 4th), along with commemorations of liberations and battles (Arnhem, September; the Bulge, December/January) up through France, Belgium and Holland, eventually culminating in the fall of Berlin and V-Day in Europe next May.

Liberation – what does it take?

Twenty years ago, in June 2004, I wrote the following in a weekly word about a dimension of this liberation campaign that calls for intentional engagement of believers in the public domain:

Leon Uris writes about this (liberation) phase of the Second World War in his book Armageddon, describing the efforts not only to drive back the Nazi forces town by town, but also to begin to restore civil life and services in the liberated or captured territories. As the D-Day invasion forces were being quietly built up across southern Britain early in 1944, a shadow army was also being secretly assembled, wrote Uris. Hand-picked soldiers received orders to report to special centres for secret assignments. Not because they had distinguished themselves as great fighting soldiers, but because in their civil life, they had been civil servants, fire chiefs, hospital superintendents, bankers, mayors, school headmasters, even magistrates.

Their task was to be flown across the English Channel, and dropped or landed just behind the advancing Allied forces. They were not expected to fire any guns, blow up bridges, throw hand-grenades or drive tanks. Theirs was the task to begin to rebuild daily life for the citizens of the liberated or captured cities and towns. Public utilities need to be restored. Public order and safety needed to established. A new social order had to be set up eventually embodying the democratic values of the Allied nations. Trusted local civilians needed to be found to whom the responsibilities of running the local government and public services could be handed over.

That task was perhaps easier in the occupied nations of France, Belgium and Holland where the underground resistance could help identify trustworthy candidates. Rebuilding and the handing over of responsibilities to local authorities was much quicker than in Germany itself, which remained occupied for many years.

A parallel situation still (existed) in Iraq one year after ‘liberation’, where it has been obvious for the watching world that military conquest is one thing, civil reconstruction is another. And yet the one without the other is impossible.


There’s a lesson here for missions. Frontier missionaries and evangelists are like the paratroopers and front-line infantry, claiming territory inch by inch, or ‘soul by soul’. This category of missionary is often singly focussed on ‘planting the flag’, by making converts and planting churches. Task done, they move on to the next place.

But the full task has not been accomplished by evangelism and church planting alone. Nowhere does Jesus actually instruct his disciples to go and make converts and plant churches! He tells them to go and make disciples and to seek first the kingdom of God; and that he would build his church. Now, bringing individuals to faith in Jesus is essential, as is the starting of new fellowships. But the task of discipling nations involves setting up a new social order embodying kingdom values.

For that we need, in addition to evangelists and church planters, those working in all sectors of society to see God’s kingdom extended into every sphere of life: including civil servants, fire chiefs, hospital superintendents, bankers, mayors, school headmasters and magistrates! As well as artists, engineers, business men and women, politicians, musicians, athletes, shopkeepers, gardeners, carpenters…. and so the list goes on.

The one without the other is impossible.

And the battle for the liberation of Europe is still raging.

Till next week,

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