Heroes of Faith: Brother Andrew

When the Dutchman Andy van der Bijl, better known as Brother Andrew, died in September 2022, many obituaries emphasized his dramatic role in the 1950s and 1960s as ‘God’s Smuggler’. Yet Andrew was a man who did much more than just bring Bibles to closed countries.

Andrew was born in the Netherlands in 1928 to a poor church-going family. His teenage years were spent under the bitter German occupation that limited his education but familiarized him with oppression. He became involved in the Dutch resistance and undertook dangerous actions against the occupying Nazis.

When the Netherlands was liberated in 1945, Andrew joined the Dutch army and, without any faith to stop him, became involved in brutal action in what is now Indonesia. shot, he was discharged, and while he was recovering in the hospital, he began to read the Bible. He underwent a deep conversion to Christ, accepted a call to mission and studied at the Worldwide Evangelization for Christ college in Glasgow.

In 1955 Andrew felt he should attend a World Youth Congress in Poland intended to proclaim the triumphs of communism. Perhaps we should recall that after the Second World War, all of Eastern Europe had become communist regimes under the control of Moscow. Western Europe chose to believe the propaganda that freedom and prosperity continued, and had little interest in the plight of individuals and churches behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. Andrew took a Bible and hundreds of gospel tracts and, looking beyond the facade presented to him, he found isolated and demoralized churches with persecuted believers starving for Christian literature and support from the West. Andrew had found his calling and ministry.

Over the next ten years Brother Andrew (as he chose himself for security reasons) undertook a series of visits to Eastern Europe with Bibles and Christian literature and, most importantly, providing support to oppressed Christians who thought they had been forgotten. Confident that God was great enough to protect him, he often left the material openly visible in his vehicle as he simply prayed, “Lord, when you were on earth, you showed blind eyes. Now I pray, blind seeing eyes.’ Despite difficulties, Andrew felt extremely protected. With increasing financial support and willing staff, he founded Open Doors, a non-denominational mission that supports persecuted Christians.

In 1967 Andrew co-produced God’s Smuggler with John and Elizabeth Sherrill. An inspiring, challenging book, it became a huge success, eventually selling over 10 million copies. The book had mixed effects for Andrew. When the world heard about the pitiful state of Christianity in Eastern Europe, it brought support for Open Doors. Yet Andrew was now labeled as “God’s Smuggler.” With his cover blown up, he found that he could no longer visit the communist world on his own.

Andrew took on the role of organizer and speaker, but now also looked beyond Europe. When he turned to China, where Bibles were scarce, he devised a bold project. In 1981, a million Bibles were secretly landed on the Chinese coast in one night. They spread quickly and contributed to the explosive growth of house churches in China.

In 1989, European communism collapsed and Brother Andrew turned to the Islamic world. He made numerous visits to support suffering Christians, but also to reach out with the gospel to those most hostile to the West. He spoke to extremist Palestinians, members of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Afghanistan and embittered refugees everywhere. As gracious, gentle, and approachable as ever, he made friends, gave away Bibles, and talked about Jesus.

Brother Andrew married in 1958 and was knighted in 1993. In a world where technology changes but persecution continues, Open Doors continues its many ministries in more than 60 countries.

Brother Andrew would have hated to be considered a hero. “I’m not an evangelical stuntman,” he once said. “I’m just an ordinary boy.” Nevertheless, he was a hero and let me name three reasons.

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First, he was a man who combined vision with compassion. Throughout his life, Brother Andrew clearly saw not only the challenges facing God’s Church, but also what could be done to overcome them. Yet his keen eye was always tempered by love. Brother Andrew simply did it out of loving solidarity with suffering Christians.

Second, he was a man who combined conviction with determination. Many of us know what to do, but somehow never get around to it. Brother Andrew did. He would see a need, feel compelled to respond, and then act. In his early years, Brother Andrew, on his daring travels to Communist Europe, faced the risk of beatings, jail, and worse. He later showed a different kind of courageous determination in rejecting physical threats abroad and criticism at home to reach out to those seen as the enemies of the West.

Finally, Brother Andrew was a man who combined action with expectation. Andrew acted with confidence that God would not forsake him. His confidence was not in himself, but in God. He came to believe that God would act to protect and provide, to guide and to hide. And that’s exactly what he found that God was doing.

On this side of the Second Coming, there will always be a suffering church as well as those who seem to be our enemies. We must be the ones who, like Brother Andrew, are willing to reach out to both.

J.John Reverend Canon

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