CONVERSATIONS: God's Smuggler Confesses
Brother Andrew wonders if American Christians are willing to die for anything, even their faith.
Michael Maudlin interview with Brother Andrew | posted 12/11/1995 12:00AM
Brother Andrew is a doer. While most Christians put out fleeces, he would already be on the plane, facing danger, finding a way into some place others describe as "closed." As a teen in Holland, he worked alongside Corrie ten Boom in the resistance during World War II. As a college graduate, he started making trips behind the Iron Curtain, sneaking in Bibles, books, or whatever else was needed to further the gospel there. Forty years ago, he organized this whirlwind of activity into a ministry called Open Doors.
Once described as "the James Bond of the cloth," Brother Andrew refuses to see himself as exceptional. He describes his 1967 bestseller, God's Smuggler, as a "curse," because it portrays him as heroic and extraordinary, whereas he thinks all Christians should do whatever it takes to help brothers and sisters in need. Just like he does.
From behind the Iron Curtain, throughout Africa, and now the Middle East, Brother Andrew keeps walking through open doors.
IF YOU HAD TO DO IT OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU STILL START OUT AS GOD'S SMUGGLER?
I didn't start as God's smuggler. I'm against smuggling. What you are calling smuggling resulted from several years of ministry in communist countries—first in evangelism, then in teaching. Pastors there had no training, so they asked if I could bring them a Bible on my next trip to visit them. I said yes. But soon there were so many requests that I couldn't carry them openly any more.
WHAT ABOUT PROJECT PEARL, WHERE IN 1981 YOU DUMPED A WHOLE FREIGHTER'S WORTH OF BIBLES ONTO CHINA?
That was very illegal. By that time, Open Doors had a fleet of vehicles that were specially converted for this type of activity so that we could not only hide books and Bibles but also a person or a printing press, something we still do.
IT SEEMS YOU'VE MADE FRIENDS WITH THE IDEA OF SMUGGLING.
No, I haven't. I think smuggling is when you use any method needed for your purpose, when you lie and sell for profit. We don't. We have our rules. We will not tell a lie. We never sell. And we make no profit.
SO WHAT ARE THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES THAT DRIVE OPEN DOORS?
The first principle is an attitude: we come to serve. In every circumstance, we ask, "What can I do for you?" Also, Open Doors always works through the pastors; we never go independently. We work through the church, to the church. For example, the idea for Project Pearl came from Christians in China. They even told us how, when, and where to do it, because we offered ourselves.
After we find out what a church needs, we come back and supply it, whatever they ask. It may be a very tedious job, like making sure a Christian prisoner's family gets medical attention or even just being with them. In my very first trip, July 1955, just out of college, I went to the former nation of Czechoslovakia. A pastor said, "Andrew, your being here is worth more than ten of the best sermons." So that became another principle of Open Doors: Be there. Only when you are there can God tell you what you should do.
YOU HAVE CONCENTRATED YOUR PERSONAL EFFORTS RECENTLY ON THE MIDDLE EAST. WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH THERE?
We face a growing wave of Muslim fundamentalism, fed by a number of things. Until the end of the Second World War, seven-eighths of the entire Muslim world was colonized by so-called Christian nations. The Muslims lived under constant humiliation. They could not solve their own problems.
Even today they are divided and disgusted with their own weakness. From this division, a radical faction has emerged that wants Muslims to go back to their roots. It's a revival movement, very much political because in Islam there is no separation between church and state. And because they are the only guys with an ideology, I think they have a future. They have a faith for which they're ready to die. In comparison, we Christians have lost that kind of faith.
Look at Lebanon. Two, three terrorist-suicide bombers chased away the strongest army of the world. We have no answer to that dedication. Let's face it: we are not willing to die. Not for Jesus and not for anything.
And this is the quality of Christianity that I seek desperately. Not the fanaticism, but a dedication that demonstrates a willingness to lay down our lives. Doesn't the Bible say a lot about that?
AND YET YOU HAVE TARGETED THESE GROUPS FOR EVANGELISM.
Hamas has outlined to me their plan to take over that area. They've told me their timetable and what they're going to do. And yet there's no group in the Middle East more open to the presentation of Christ than Hamas. Hezbollah has even begged me for very open, publicized dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders. But I cannot find any Christians who are willing.
IN WHAT SENSE ARE THESE MUSLIMS "OPEN"?
They are accessible. We've openly given out gospel tracts at the Islamic University of Gaza, which has never happened before. We have an open invitation to lecture in the Islamic university, which is the hotbed of Hamas, on what real Christianity is. We give out Bibles—I never have enough Bibles. At one meeting I called, four hundred Muslims turned up. We have never had a meeting before with four hundred Muslim fundamentalists. And I only had 40 Bibles.
HOW DOES THE AMERICAN CHURCH MISPERCEIVE MUSLIMS?
We have too much fear. When the Oklahoma bombing occurred, America's first reaction was to blame Muslims. We are paranoid about something that we cannot match in dedication, partly because we don't understand. We don't have to fear Islam. And if they win, then it's by default.
We need to become more educated in this area. In all of America, there is not a single, separate, Islamic study center for Christians. That's why we know so little.
WHY IS YOUR MINISTRY CALLED OPEN DOORS WHEN YOU CONCENTRATE ON WHERE THE DOORS ARE CLOSED?
No, the doors are not closed.
I keep telling people that there's not one door in the world closed where you want to witness for Jesus. It may be closed for an organization or for a Bible society, but that doesn't mean the Bibles can't get in. Show me a closed door and I will tell you how you can get in. I won't, however, promise you a way to get out.
We don't ever guarantee that we can get people out. We have lost a number of our people, usually national workers, who were blown up, tortured, or killed in a number of countries. It's a dangerous game, but nonetheless, the doors are not closed. Jesus said in Acts 1:8 to go. He didn't say, "Go if the doors are open," because they weren't. He didn't say, "Go if you have an invitation or a red carpet treatment." He said, "Go," because people needed his Word. And that's how we look at the world.
We need a new approach to missions—an aggressive, experimental, evangelical, no-holds-barred approach, the kind of approach that started Operation Mobilization and Youth with a Mission. A pioneering spirit. But we have to do it with the support of the home church and not with government or aid funds. It has to be supported by the local church.
I'm afraid we'll have to go through a deep valley of need and threatening situations, blood baths; but we'll get there.
SO YOU PREDICT THAT AMERICA WILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH SOMETHING CATASTROPHIC TO GET WHERE GOD WANTS US TO BE.
God will take away what hinders us, if we mean business. If we say, "Lord, at any cost … "—and people should never pray that unless they truly want God to take them at their word—he will answer. Which is scary. But we have to go through the process. This is how it has worked in the Bible and for the last two thousand years.
So we face potentially hard times, and we have to go through that. At this level, not just of economic prosperity, but at this level of licentiousness, carelessness, everything-allowed-ness, and lukewarm-ness, we are people of whom God says,
"I will spit them out." We play church. We play Christianity. And we aren't even aware we are lukewarm. If we were, we would repent. So the next move will be that of being spit out. We should have to pay a price for our faith. Read 2 Timothy 3:12: "Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." The church has been much purified in countries where there was a lot of pressure—Ethiopia and, hopefully, Uganda, Romania, Russia, China, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Cuba.
THOSE ARE HARD WORDS FOR AMERICAN CHRISTIANS.
All I can say is to be ready. And if you're ready for persecution or the great tribulation, then you'll also be ready for the Rapture. To you who insist that the Rapture comes first, I say wishful thinking. Many missionaries in China who were there before the revolution were not allowed back by the Christians after communism took over, because the missionaries had said, "Before the big troubles begin there will be a Rapture." But the Chinese said, "We've gone through the great tribulation and there was no Rapture. You were liars."
It's so easy to be a liar and yet think you have a good theology because you wish it to be so. But that's not the way it is. American Christians need backbone. They need some guts to confront what is wrong.
BUT YOU AREN'T SAYING THAT WE SHOULD FOCUS ONLY ON OUR SITUATION HERE IN AMERICA, ARE YOU?
No, because I am responsible for my brothers. Doesn't the Bible teach that? There's no way we can defend our family or our church if we cowardly withdraw from our global responsibility, particularly to the family of God.
WHAT LESSONS SHOULD THE CHURCH HAVE LEARNED FROM THE COLD WAR?
If Paul is right in 1 Corinthians 12:26—if one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers with him—why did we not feel the suffering of those that were led to the gallows? There is something basically wrong with us. All persons who suffer for their faith in Christ have a right to assistance wherever they are in prison. If they are beaten up in a Sudanese prison, we ought go and be there with them.
DO YOU THINK THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE DEFENDING RELIGIOUS RIGHTS INTERNATIONALLY?
Absolutely. But we never made it a priority. Now China has most-favored-nation status at the expense of human rights, and human rights always include religious rights. Wherever there are violations of human rights, there is a lack of liberty for the Christians, inevitably. The witness of Christians is very strong in China, and yet there are many in prison, and many of the house churches are being closed.
YOU SOUND PESSIMISTIC.
I see history repeating itself because we haven't learned our lessons.