Brother Andrew, the evangelical Dutch missionary who delivered Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, died on Tuesday aged aged 94.
Known as “God’s smuggler”, he personally delivered thousands of Bibles and Christian tracts to churches in the Eastern Bloc during the 1950s and ‘60s, and went on to organise many more Bible-smuggling operations across the world through the charity Open Doors.
The president of Open Doors UK and Ireland, Eddie Lyle, told The Tablet that Brother Andrew was the first to realise that Christians faced persecution in the modern world. “The Church was oblivious to the fact that there was a persecuted Church in the world,” he said. “It was an alien concept.”
He said that Brother Andrew was responsible for the “awakening and awareness” of the Church in the west to the suffering of Christians under authoritarian regimes.
Born Anne van der Bijl in Sint Pancras in the Netherlands in 1928, Brother Andrew was active in the Dutch resistance and served in the army of the Dutch East Indies before converting to Christianity and training as a missionary in Scotland. He first encountered the churches of the Eastern Bloc on a visit to a Communist youth conference in Warsaw in 1955, and found them “isolated and in need of encouragement” said Open Doors in a statement.
Over subsequent years he made numerous trips bringing Bibles to Communist countries where the circulation of Christian texts was prohibited. He said that he drew his inspiration from the passage from Scripture: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is at the point of death.” (Revelations 3:2)
The trips were often made in a blue VW Beetle, dubbed “the miracle car”. Brother Andrew composed a prayer that he would recite when approached by officials at the border: “Lord, when you were on earth you made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind.” These escapades were recorded in his autobiography God’s Smuggler, written with Elizabeth and John Sherrill.
The Bible-smuggling operations reached their peak with “Project Pearl” in 1981, when Open Doors landed a custom-built barge on the Chinese coast to deliver one million Bibles in a single night to the underground Church. Brother Andrew continued to work for persecuted Christians after the end of the Cold War (when released KGB files revealed 150 pages on his work), particularly in the Middle East, where he worked with Catholic and Coptic churches and met the leaders of fundamentalist Islamist groups on several occasions.
Mr Lyle said that Brother Andrew “broke down barriers”, particularly noting a meeting with Hezbollah, and recalled being challenged by him – “When was the last time that you prayed for Osama bin Laden?” Brother Andrew, he said, was an example of “what happens when a human life encounters the reality of Christ”.
He encouraged today’s Church leaders to read God’s Smuggler, and urged the Church to “wake up” to the continued persecution of Christians.
“For too long the Church has behaved like a prosthetic limb,” he said, quoting Brother Andrew, “and we need to change that in a way that we share in their sufferings and become their support.”