In 1955, a youthful Dutch missionary attended a worldwide communist youth congress in Poland, which was at that time part of the Soviet bloc. But he wasn’t a communist: he was a Christian.
His suitcase contained his Bible, a change of clothes and hundreds of leaflets entitled The Way of Salvation, which he planned to give away.
The trip was to change his life and begin a movement that would impact the world.
Behind the Iron Curtain, he discovered churches that were isolated and alone. They were in desperate need of Bibles, support and prayer. He had found a group of Christians who believed the rest of the world had forgotten them.
One evening during that first visit, he was invited to speak at a Baptist church in Warsaw. He tells the story in his best-selling book God’s Smuggler: “At the end of my little talk the pastor said, ‘We want to thank you for being here. Even if you had not said a word, just seeing you would have meant so much. We feel at times as if we are all alone in our struggle.’”
That young man became known as Brother Andrew.
At the end of his visit, as he watched thousands of delegates to the Youth Congress marching in a parade, Brother Andrew asked God what He wanted him to do. He opened his Bible and found the passage which he came to see as a mission: “Wake Up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Revelation 3:2
In subsequent years he was to travel many times behind the Iron Curtain, putting his life on the line to smuggle Bibles at the height of the Cold War. His work went on to span many decades and many nations.
In God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew’s autobiography chronicling those early years, he describes dangerous border crossings in his blue VW Beetle. It became known as ‘the miracle car’, for its uncanny ability to keep going. He developed a trademark prayer as he smuggled Bibles and Christian literature across the border:
“Lord, in my luggage I have Scripture I want to take to Your children. When You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.”
As the work grew he was joined by others and began smuggling Bibles to Christians in communist countries. And today, that small Dutch mission has become an international ministry at work in more than 60 nations to strengthen the persecuted church.
Open Doors continues to distribute hundreds of thousands of Bibles and Christian books every year. But we also train and support persecuted Christians in other ways.
“When I first discovered a persecuted church behind the Iron Curtain the need was for Bibles,” said Brother Andrew. “But as our ministry expanded, other needs emerged.
“In some countries pastors have little or no seminary training. We train them so they can be more effective leaders of their congregations. In other regions Christians are discriminated against, denied education and quality job opportunities. So we can strengthen the church by providing small loans to help Christians start businesses. The needs and the strategies vary from country to country.”
Today, the world is changing. The main threat to Christians comes not from communism, but from radical Islam.
Brother Andrew has travelled extensively in the Islamic world, talking to the leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. He is among the few Western leaders to regularly travel to the Middle East as an ambassador for Christ to these groups. He also has broken through Christian religious barriers by being invited to speak in Catholic and Coptic Orthodox churches.
Brother Andrew has received many honours and awards. He was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and, in 1997, he received of the World Evangelical Fellowship’s Religious Liberty Award, in recognition of his lifetime service to the persecuted church.
But perhaps the recognition that pleases him most is the report on his work by the East German Stasi, which he obtained after the fall of the Iron Curtain. There were more than 150 pages about him, detailing his work in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They knew a lot about ‘Brother Andrew’, and yet they were still unable to stop his work.
He often has said, “Our very mission is called ‘Open Doors’ because we literally believe that any door is open, anytime and anywhere. Every door is open to go in and proclaim Christ – as long as you are willing to go and are not worried about coming back.”
Brother Andrew’s story may be extraordinary. But he himself is always at pains to stress that it was simply because he followed God.
“The real calling,” he has said, “is not to a certain place or career but to everyday obedience. And that call is extended to every Christian, not just a select few.”
He would tell us as he has told many others, “The Bible is full of ordinary people who went to impossible places and did wondrous things simply because they decided to follow Jesus.”
Today, Open Doors has bases and staff all over the world. A new generation continues to smuggle Bibles into regions that are hostile to the faith. They still go wherever needed to show marginalised, isolated and persecuted Christians around the world that they are not forgotten and never alone.
In 1955, Brother Andrew risked it all. Today, the charge goes out to Christians across the globe: to commit to pray, give and speak out to support their persecuted family of faith.