A tribute to ‘God’s Smuggler’

A tribute to ‘God’s Smuggler’

Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, says the world needs more Brother Andrews: people who courageously slay giants and break the bonds of injustice, even when they are wearing the clothes of those in authority.

Brother Andrew with his famous Volkswagen, with which he smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. (Photo: Open Doors International)

Brother Andrew, the much loved founder of Open Doors, died last week, aged 94. 

He was known for his inspirational memoir, ‘God’s Smuggler’, which became an international bestseller, with more than 10 million copies distributed in at least 35 languages.

Millions have read about his hazardous border crossings, the KGB pursuits, and his courageous journey behind the Iron Curtain to smuggle Bibles. 

Like many others, I was inspired by this man, his courage as a radical disciple of Jesus, and his genuine love for people, which took him across many boundaries that others dared not cross.

I was a teenager, and a new convert, when I picked up a Persian translation of his book, whose title in Persian was ‘The Gospel Behind the Iron Curtain’. 

Perhaps it was my inherited fighting spirit as an Iranian Kurd, having experienced the perils of war as a young boy, and now my newly found Christian faith, that led me so easily to absorb Brother Andrew’s take on radical discipleship and bridge-building.

What I do now in advocacy for persecuted Iranian Christians owes much to the example I found in Brother Andrew.

Serious about radical discipleship

In ‘God’s Smuggler’ we meet a young boy who demonstrates his daring and audacious character when carrying out acts of resistance against Nazi troops occupying his country. You can almost sense Brother Andrew’s excitement when he recalls his acts of sabotage:

“Everyone in the village was amused when the lieutenant’s staff car began to give him trouble. His sparks were fouled. His engine stalled. Some said there was sugar in the lieutenant’s gas tank; others thought it was unlikely.”

A Soviet poster warning against the “religious tricks” of a man in a blue Volkswagen. (Photo: Open Doors International)

Later, when he joined the army, after a couple of years of fighting, he said:

“Everything we did, those two years, whether on the battlefield or back at the rest camp, was in extremes. When we fought, we fought as madmen… Gradually I gathered around me a group of boys who were reacting as I did, and together we invented a motto that was posted on the camp bulletin board: ‘Get smart – lose your mind.’”

It is no surprise that one of his favourite characters in the Bible was David. In one of his other books, ‘No Guts, No Glory! Slaying Today’s Giants,’ he draws lessons from the life of David on how to confront the fears – cultural, political, even religious – that intimidate so many Christians in different spheres of life. Like David, Brother Andrew enjoyed taking on Goliath-sized challenges.

His close friend, Johan Companjen, the founding president of Open Doors, said: “Brother Andrew always liked to do unique, often impossible things. If a project was possible, he was not interested. ‘Everybody can do that,’ he would often say. However, when he heard the word ‘impossible’ he was very excited.”

Despite his obvious gallantry, Brother Andrew shouldn’t be viewed as reckless, as he balanced his valour with practical astuteness. 

It was for this reason that he changed his name from Anne van der Bijl to simply ‘Brother Andrew’, in order to protect his identity when he smuggled Bibles in his famous blue Volkswagen. 

‘God’s Smuggler’ is full of exciting stories of how he outwitted many guards – of course with the help of prayer, as he stresses.

But Brother Andrew was prepared not only on practical levels, but also theoretically. 

The two words, ‘God’ and ‘Smuggler’, don’t sit comfortably together for a lot of Christians. For many, the ‘smuggling’ of anything is seen as unethical. 

That is precisely why in his 1977 book, Brother Andrew spoke about the “ethics of smuggling”. Using biblical examples, he made a case for smuggling Bibles into places where it is dangerous, or even illegal, in order to follow your conscience. He argued that some situations call for obedience to a higher law.

It was his obedience to this higher law that turned the adventurous teenager with a fighting spirit into a hugely influential figure and celebrated Christian hero. In recognition of his lifetime of service to the persecuted Church, and passion for spreading the gospel, Brother Andrew was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1993. Four years later, he also received the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Religious Liberty Award.

Serious about bridge-building

Not many faith leaders are able to build bridges with people of other faiths, let alone among the many different Christian denominations.

However, Brother Andrew had a unique ability to make this happen; to “break through the lines”, in the words of the Apache native-American tribe who welcomed him as a ‘Blood Brother’.

As part of the ceremony in the 1980s, of which Brother Andrew was immensely proud, he was given an Apache name which, when translated, meant simply: “He who breaks through the lines.”

Brother Andrew with his friend, Rev Haik Hovsepian.

Brother Andrew also displayed this ability in his dealings with the Muslim world, which became the focus of his work following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1994, during a memorial service held in London for his friend, Rev Haik Hovsepian-Mehr, an Iranian church leader brutally murdered for his advocacy work, Brother Andrew said: “There will be no change in our work in the world and the confrontation with Islam, until we as believers in Jesus Christ begin and learn to spell ISLAM as: I Sincerely Love All Muslims.”

He had, on several occasions in his life, demonstrated this principle. Pastor Hanna Massad, founder of the Christian Mission 2 Gaza, recalls: “When no Christians were willing to speak to the leaders of Hamas in Gaza, Brother Andrew was the first person to do this, without compromising his faith… Brother Andrew was not afraid to go visit them and reflect God’s love to them. He said that if we did not go to them with Christ’s love, they would come at us with their weapons. He gained the right to speak to them because of his genuine care and love for all people.”

Our world needs more Brother Andrews: people who courageously slay giants and break the bonds of injustice, even when they are wearing the clothes of those in authority. We need more Christians who embrace the impossibles and are prepared to confront the cultural, political, or religious Goliaths of our time, precisely because of their obedience to a higher law.

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