Check out my (really, really long) book report on God’s Smuggler below and be sure to visit Leah’s Bookshelf for more information. Enjoy!
I recently read the book God’s Smuggler. It is the autobiography of Andrew Van Der Bijl, who is better known as Brother Andrew. It was first copyrighted in 1967 and is available from amazon.com as well as other bookstores.
The story tells about Brother Andrew’s life starting when he was a young boy in the 1930s. He was always looking for adventure; whether it was covering the chimneys of his annoying Christian neighbors to cause smoke from their wood burning stoves to fill their houses, or throwing firecrackers at the Nazis after they took over his home town in Holland. As he grew older, his appetite for adventure never died. He decided to enlist in the army in 1946 when he was eighteen. When he arrived in the East Indies, he was rather disgusted with it. In training, it had always been little paper targets that you shot at, now it was real people and many of them didn’t even wear uniforms. He began drinking and carousing to try to get away from that fact. He even began wearing a bright yellow straw hat into battle, “it was a dare and an invitation. ‘Here I am!’ it said. ’Shoot me!’” (Page 26) After several years of fighting, he was shot in the ankle. This disgusted him even more. As he said on page 30,
“Somehow in all my furious self-destructiveness I had never considered this possibility. I had always seen myself going out in a blaze of contempt for the whole human farce. But to live – and crippled! – that was the meanest fate of all… Worse, I was twenty years old, and I had discovered that there was no real adventure anywhere in the world.”
While in the hospital recovering, he had an increased interest in spiritual things, mostly due to the Bible his mother had forced him to with him bring and the Franciscan nuns that ran the hospital. After he returned home, he began visiting churches. He learned to ride a bicycle by only pedaling with his good foot so it wouldn’t hurt as much. At first he only attended church on Sundays, and then Wednesdays too, it finally rose to every night. His family worried about him. As his sister said on page 42, “…going to church every night. It isn’t natural. What happened to you, Andy?” Andrew replied, “I wish I knew!” That night, as he lay in bed, he thought about what was happening to him. Then one night in 1950, he said a simple prayer, “Lord, if You will show me the way, I will follow You. Amen.” Shortly afterwards, he felt called to become a missionary and then began trying to find a way to fulfill that calling. After being turned down at several places, he was finally accepted at the ‘World Evangelization Crusade Missionary Training College’ in Glasgow, England. Then, the family friend that had taught him English told him that she had never actually heard anyone speak English but had only written letters and had been told her grammar was perfect. Then, he received a letter informing him that the expected vacancy at the WEC had not materialized and he would not be able to attend. He was crushed. Unsure what to do, he decided to still travel to England and trust God to make an opening. When he arrived, he realized to his dismay that when he asked a police man for directions, he could not understand a word he said. He finally managed to get a taxi to take him by showing the driver the address written on a piece of paper. When he arrived, they managed to find another Dutch man that was at the college. Through him, Andrew explained why he was there. They agreed to let him attend the college in return for painting the exterior of the old building. Andrew agreed. After two years of training, he graduated and began trying to decide what he should do with his life. While he was packing to leave the college, he stumbled across a magazine in the basement. It advertised a large ‘youth festival’ to be held in Warsaw, Poland. Everyone was invited. He contacted the address listed and asked if he could come to exchange ideas. “[He] would talk about Christ, and they could talk about socialism. Would they be willing for him to come under these circumstances?” (Page 77) The responded that yes, they would like him to come. Since he was a student reduced rates would be available. He arrived in Warsaw on July 15, 1955. He brought many booklets about salvation, as Karl Marx himself had said, “Give me 26 soldiers lead soldiers and I will conquer the world.” (Speaking of the 26 letters of the alphabet) Now, it would work the other way. He snuck away from the group and the regulated tours as often as possible to hand out his tracts and visit underground churches there in Poland. He even discovered a Bible Shop. On the last day of the festival, a ‘Parade of Triumph’ was held. Andrew describes it on pages 87 and 88:
“It was coming toward me down the avenue. Martial, smart, with a sound of voices singing. And then I saw it – the perfect climax to the visit… that ended the festival. This was the other side of the picture. For over against the one little Bible shop and the occasional Christian I had met was this mammoth counterfact: the tremendous strength of the regime. Here they came now, the young Socialists, marching down the avenue. Not for a moment did I believe they were there under coercion. They marched because they believed. They marched eight abreast: healthy, vital, clean-cut… The effect was overwhelming. These were the evangelists of the twentieth century. These were the people who went about shouting their good news.”
As he looked down at the Bible on his lap that he had been reading he saw that the wind had blown the pages. As he put his hand down to steady them, he realized that his fingers were pointing at Revelation 3:2:
“Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death…”
Was God calling him to begin doing mission work behind the Iron Curtain? But what could he do? He had no money, no organization and, as far as he knew, there was not a single other missionary in this field!
When he returned home, he was given the opportunity to speak about his experience. After the talk, a woman from the crowd came up to him. He recognized her as a communist that had been on his trip. She told him that she did not like his talk because he only told part of the story. She then invited him to come with her and a small group of other Dutch men and women to Czechoslovakia for a four week trip, similar to the one he had taken previously. Also, she informed him that he would be able to attend free of charge. Andrew accepted, thinking that it would be a good way to both learn more about the countries behind the Iron Curtain, as well as making connections for future trips, both of which would be necessary if he was going to begin ministering there. While he was there, he learned that the Czechoslovakian government was sponsoring a new translation of the Bible, as well as a Bible dictionary! He asked to visit the place where the translation was being worked on. The next day, he was taken to the ‘Interchurch Center’ the headquarters for all the Czechoslovakian protestant churches. Brother Andrew describes his visit on pages 92 and 93. Inside, there were many men in black suits working behind “heavy tomes and piles of paper.” At first, Andrew was astonished at what the Church was allowed to maintain, but slowly the truth began to leak out. He asked to see a copy of the translation and was handed a large, bulky manuscript; the new translation had not yet been published. He asked when it would be. The scholar that was talking with him glanced nervously at the tour director.
“We’ve had it ready since the war, but…” his voice trailed off.
“Is the Bible dictionary ready?” Brother Andrew queried.
“Almost,” he responded.
“But what good will a Bible dictionary be if there are no Bibles?”
Still looking nervously at the tour director he blurted out, “No, it’s very difficult. Very difficult to find Bibles here nowadays,” the tour director then considered the interview over. He was shepherded out before he could ask any more questions. He had glimpsed what it was really like. Although the regime didn’t openly oppose Christianity it played a game of frustration with it, a new translation of the Bible that was never quite published, a Bible dictionary, but no Bible to go with it. The last day of the trip was Sunday. He wanted to slip away from the group to visit churches around the city but it was much harder to sneak away this time as there were less than twenty people, in contrast to the several thousand that had been at the festival. He tried to slip out the bus that was taking them site-seeing, but there were too many heads looking all around. Finally, while everyone was staring at a heroic statue of a man on a horse, he slipped out the door and on to the street. For the first time, he was in the city without a ‘guide’. Less than an hour later, he arrived at a church he had seen previously, watching the people arrive. Every so often, someone would come in carrying a hymnal or a Bible but for some reason many brought in loose leaf notebooks. As soon as the service started, he saw what these were for. Everyone with a hymnal or notebook held them high in the air above their heads. Suddenly, he realized the purpose for this. They were sharing with those who had now hymnal; in each notebook every hymn was copied, note for note, word for word. The same thing happened during the service, everyone with a Bible or a notebook, held them up so that they could be seen. As he watched the people lean in together, some were standing, almost on tiptoe, to literally get closer to the Word. He felt the Dutch Bible in his pocket. He had always taken for granted his right to his own book. After the service, he introduced himself to the pastor. “We’ve been almost imprisoned since the war,” the pastor explained. The government was trying to get a total grip on the church. The government chose theological students, the government had to proofread all sermons before they could be preached, the government issued two month licenses to pastors, and denied renewal at will. The pastor invited Andrew to give the congregation ‘greetings from Holland’ (preaching by a foreigner was illegal) he accepted. After the service, the man who had translated for him, Antonin, asked if he would like to visit another church, and bring them greetings. He agreed. He travelled around the city with Antonin, speaking at five different churches. After he returned to his hotel, he began facing the problem of his rendezvous with the rest of his group. They were not at the hotel, and nobody knew where the farewell dinner had been held. He tried visiting a sandwich shop they had eaten at frequently but, no they had not been there. He stayed to eat dinner there but had hardly taken a bite when the door flew open and the tour director walked in. In Frantic anger, she looked around the room. When she saw him she was visibly relieved but obviously didn’t trust herself to speak. She hurried him out into a black government limousine. The gruff looking driver opened the door for them and then locked it. Brother Andrew relates the ride on page 97:
“Where were they taking me? Remembering the Hollywood version of such scenes, I tried to keep track of where we were going. And, as I did, the humor of the situation came to me. Because we were going to the hotel. Just before the car stopped, the tour director spoke her first words. ‘You have held the group up half a day. We have called every hospital, every police station. We finally called the morgue. Unfortunately, you were not there. Where have you been?’”
She then informed him that he was officially no longer welcome in Czechoslovakia. A year later, he applied for a visa, and was refused. The same happened when he applied two years later, he was again refused. It was five years before he was able to visit the country again. And, in that time he visited places that made Czechoslovakia look like a place of freedom, and liberty.
For years after those first few visits, Brother Andrew visited other countries under the grip of communism. Over and over, God intervened for him, from keeping border guards from seeing the bibles he left on the front seat of his car, to bringing him contacts in the countries he visited just when he needed them. He continued making trips, and growing his group of fellow missionaries, until the fall of European communism. Now, he has begun smuggling Bibles into the Islamic countries of the Middle East. He has written two more books about his work in the Middle East, Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire, published in 2004, and Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ, published in 2007. To this day he continues to minister to those under the oppressive Islamic rule in the Middle East through his ministry, Open Doors. You can visit their website at www.OpenDoors.org.
“I’m a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?”