Brother Andrew, author of the book God’s Smuggler and a former missionary to the Soviet Union, now focuses on ministry in the Muslim world via Open Doors. Stan Guthrie, senior associate news editor for Christianity Today, interviewed Andrew about his new book, Light Force (Revell, 2004, with Al Janssen). The book details the struggles of churches trying to survive in the Middle East and Andrew’s attempts to reach out to militant Islamic groups.
Your ministry in the Soviet bloc ended around 1967. Was publicity surrounding God’s Smuggler the cause?
With [God’s Smuggler], in order to protect my friends, I couldn’t go back there.
Was that a surprise?
No, not really. I even think the same about [Light Force]. Can I go back to the Muslim work? But there’s no advantage without taking a risk anyway.
So, I didn’t feel too bad about not going back to the Soviet Union because, by then, we had a lot of people in place and missions functioning. And they're still working in many of those areas.
But you can go back now.
Yeah, [but it’s] no fun. I’m entirely in the Muslim world now.
Because I foresaw, although I was not able to define it and communicate clearly, that the next round of confrontation and therefore persecution would come from the world of Islam and not from Communism, which I already saw was in its dying days at that time. But Islam grew stronger, especially in the ‘70s when the oil crisis erupted in the world. The Western world was on its knees in front of the mosque.
What have been your main areas of focus in the Muslim world?
My personal focus would be the Middle East. That’s what this book is about, and the main outreach that we have is a little farther east in several Muslim countries.
What is your goal in helping persecuted Christians?
The principle that we have always followed is “Seek your brothers.” Is there a church? What is it like? What do they need? They do not need us as Westerners, but they need our resources, our encouragement, our prayers. And if only out of pure selfishness, you should concentrate there because you find a lot of answers to questions that we are going to face in the near future: how to deal with Islam; how to deal with fundamentalism; how to deal with “terrorism.”
If we would know, we could have prevented a lot of atrocities. But we haven’t. We don’t know [Islam]. I want to learn. Out of pure selfishness, we should get involved, to learn.
[In comparison,] Communism was so easy, really easy. We now refer to Communism as “the good old days of Communism.” And yet we’ll never know how many Christians were killed, let alone the millions of others that were killed, under Stalin.
But what’s happening under Islam? How many are killed there? What is the structure there that seems so strong that we cannot penetrate it? Why is the church so weak in those countries? Why are there so few missionaries? Why is there so little support from the Western evangelical churches toward those that work in the Muslim world? All these things baffled us at the time. And I want to know.
So that’s why we go there. We have a two-pronged approach, to strengthen the church, and then we learn from Islam, apply it to our own situations, and return full circle, to strengthen the church there and prepare the church in our countries better. This is basically our original vision statement in relation to Communism. You learn so much from them that you apply at home. The first blessing is for us. I think the same is happening now.
Why did you write Light Force?
The reaction of the West to September 11 was one of panic and overreaction. There was an exodus of thousands of Arabs and Muslims from [the United States]. We want to take fear away. We deal with people. I object personally to the term terrorism, because I want to give [the terrorists] a face. Hamas is not terrorist. Hamas is people who lose all hope in the future and in life. When they decide to blow themselves up and die, it’s not because they’re politically motivated or want to attack the West. It’s because they have not found a reason for living.
We, as Christians, are the only ones in the world that, on the basis of the Book, can offer everybody in the world a reason for living. If that reason for living is not there, do not blame them to find a reason for dying, because that’s the only alternative—living or dying. We want to dive right into the very center of the conflict. That’s why we go to those groups.
The second step is to introduce the church there—a weak church, a diminishing church—to the subject. They can reach out to the Muslims, but they were never taught to do that. Now they're scared to do it. We want to help them overcome their fear and reach out to the Muslims. So our ministry is to the church so that through the church the Muslims will be reached.
What does the Western church need to know about churches in the Muslim world and in the Middle East?
One, they have to know that there is a church. And our advice is that whenever there is a calamity, be it a natural disaster or, more likely, a revolutionary one—a bombing or an attack in Beslan, or sudden war in Afghanistan or in Iraq—that we ask the question, “Is there a church?” Then we can reach out and help the church to be the church in those areas.
In the Muslim world, there are a number of countries where there never was a church. So we need pioneers with vision and faith and support to go there to start the work. But we go where there’s still a church, try and find them and then equip them, motivate them, guide them if necessary to a place where they can function.
What are the greatest strengths of the churches in that part of the world?
We evangelicals, we think we know it all. We think we’ve been around here for a long time. We haven’t—less than 100 years. Before us there was a mainline church [in the Middle East] that was not really that interested in Islam. But their main strength is that they live very close to the biblical setting. They live in the area where the Bible took place. They have very low demands for life and they’re not as materialistic as we are. And that is their strength.
Their weakness is that they do not feel connected to evangelical Christianity in the rest of the world. They feel rejected and even betrayed. They literally say, “We feel betrayed.”
Because nobody looks after them. Right there at the very edge of the Temple Mount, there’s a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. Not many tourists find that place. Why don’t they go there? It’s a perfect biblical setting, but only Arabs are there. Why are we not there?
We’re telling them, “You’re not part [of the Body of Christ]. You’ll be chased out by Israel anyway very soon.” And they probably will. And then the pilgrims go home; they had the time of their lives in the Holy Land. Gee, I call it the “unholy Holy Land.” It’s a very socialist, secularist state and you have to search hard for real Christianity. It would be so easy if you get in touch with the Palestinian Christians. Then you see, “Oh, there is a church.” And when you get in touch with a Palestinian Christian, you will probably find the Messianic believers too. They do have contact.
How do you approach Muslims?
I see Muslims as God-seekers. I almost feel like Paul in Athens. We should have that boldness to go to them and say, “What you seek, I have.” It’s our attitude, politically, and often theologically, that keeps us away from them. If we view them simply as members of an evil religion, and Allah as a demon, they’ll never get there, that’s for sure. That [attitude] blocks the door for us.
But you need to be sure that Jesus lives in you, and then you can go to anyplace and approach any single Muslim, because they want to know God. And it’s our attitude, politically, and often theologically, that keeps us away from them
Do you get into doctrinal disputes?
Recently I was going again to see the Hamas in Gaza, and one of our leaders said, “Well, Andrew, are you now going to tell them that they have to believe in the Trinity?” I said, “The only thing I can say to you is, you’ll never evangelize Muslims because we're not going there to force a doctrinal point down their throat. We’re going there to exhibit the love and compassion of Jesus—put our arms around people that are lost, totally lost, living in darkness. We’re going to bring a little light and then encourage the church that is still there to be the light—to be the church and function as such.” We should have that boldness to go to them and say, “What you seek”—I don’t say what you miss, but that's what I think—“what you seek, I have.”
What about your contacts with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah?
Hamas I contacted direct when they were deported to the mountains in Lebanon, December ‘92. And we made not only contact; we made friendships with them. And that continued by me visiting their families at their request. We gave them Scriptures and we prayed for them. We witnessed and made pictures. We went back to the mountains, gave the pictures to the sons, to the fathers, and then when it came to the close of their time, I invited them to have a meal with me. When they came back, it was still not in liberty. They were still under city arrest, and they were still unemployed. They couldn’t go anywhere, but they came, and I invited them for a meal. That’s why I got to know hundreds of them. And out of that contact came the invitation to lecture at a local university on the subject, "What is Real Christianity?"
So it goes on and on. It is a never-ending story. I call it friendship because it’s a form of friendship evangelism. How can they ever love my Savior if they cannot first love me? I have to get close to them. And the easiest, quickest way to get close to anybody is [to help] a person in need. So, that's what I do.
And what do you think the results have been so far in building relationships and shedding some light in their lives?
I don’t know. God keeps the book of the results. We do not talk about converts. The only question I can ask, which I also asked after Communism, is, “What would it be like if we had not done that?” I know that we in the West, Americans particularly, are always impressed by numbers and statistics. Once I visited the Christian Peacemaking Team in Hebron. This is a group that originates in America with the peace churches—great people, very, very great people. One time they said, “Andrew, how many Hamas have you led to Christ?” I said, “No one.” They said, “Oh, hallelujah, because every letter we get from America asks, ‘How many Muslims have you led to Christ?’ And now we can say, ‘Well, even Brother Andrew didn’t do it.’” It was very comforting for them. We’re not in the numbers game. We’re in the influence game. And the strength of the church, anywhere, can never be measured in terms of numbers and statistics, but only in the influence it has in society.
On the other hand, people who naturally have a right to be suspicious of these groups, because of what they've done, might question whether they are just inviting you in for their own purposes.
They don’t invite me. I go gatecrashing all the time. Evangelism, by nature, always has to be aggressive. We have deviated from that whole concept of Acts 1:8, and we’ve reversed the roles and say, “Well, they've got to invite us.” No way. Jesus says blessed are the peacemakers. Where do peacemakers go?
Where there’s a war.
That’s aggressiveness. That is taking risks. That’s meeting the enemy, looking into his eyes.
The focus of my question was not whether they’re inviting you but whether some people might think that some of these folks are using you for their own purposes.
Oh, absolutely. But there are also people who take this question one step farther. They say, “Andrew, you are wrong, because you make friends with Israel’s enemies.” To which I reply, “This is the greatest service I can do to Israel, to turn their enemies around.” This is a definite attempt to turn them around. Because once they become brothers, they’re not enemies anymore. And I have talked with so many of them. But I want to be neutral. I have not chosen for this or that side. I don’t want to touch on the political because then you run into controversies where people say, “I have my right,” or “No, I have my right.” [I want to say,] “Jesus Christ has a right to both of you. Let’s talk about Jesus.” The Muslims want to talk about Jesus, definitely.
[One guy] came back with a stack of papers, a Trans World Radio correspondence course on the life of Jesus that he had done. At nighttime they listen and they write the lessons, then send them in. They’re studying the life of Jesus because Islam does not and can never satisfy. It doesn’t satisfy any Muslim. There’s no forgiveness, no love, no eternal life. And they want to go to heaven. Everybody wants to go to heaven. But we live now in a time when Islam has been radicalized. And they now [think they] know the way to heaven—die in the jihad.
That’s why I’ve been predicting that America will get another dose of terrorism, violence, because Muslims want to go to heaven. And we don’t show them the way to heaven. Why don’t we do that? That’s the only way. They have no reason for living, for they found a reason for dying.
They want a messiah; they expect a messiah. But the Messiah has holes in his hands and he came riding on a donkey, not in a cockpit of an F-16. And they want to see that Messiah. So when we are vulnerable enough to go to them, and this being the only weapon, the Word of God, they accept us and see our message as the alternative, which, deep in their hearts, they fear. Don’t you think that mother cries when the son blows himself up? Of course she does. They have the same feelings we have.
That’s why I object to the term terrorism. They see no way out. And we, with our Western attitude, force more and more into that extreme corner. We’ve got to get them out. Start a dialogue, visit them, exchange books. We need a new breed of missionaries to not only understand the issue but who are humble enough as followers of Christ to go without shoes, without a purse, go there, identify with them in their dire need, and say, “I am Jesus to you. I love you. I want to be your friend.” Then you will find them hospitable and open.
So we need a new approach with the same message.
As you look back over your life ministry, what do you see as your greatest success and your greatest failure?
My failures were a lot more than the successes. All we want to be is tools in the Master’s hand. And failure or success, it does not come into my picture. Maybe it should not come into anybody’s. We are following the Master. And I believe a serious message that the life of the church on earth will end as the life of Jesus ended on earth, on the cross.
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Light Force is available from Christianbook.com and other book retailers.
More information is available from the publisher.
"The Muslim Challenge", a chapter from Brother Andrew's book, The Calling, is available from our website.
Other Christianity Today articles about Brother Andrew include:
The Suffering Church | Increasingly, Christians are harassed, arrested, interrogated, imprisoned, fined, or killed because of their religious beliefs and practices. (May 02, 2002)
Brother Andrew's Boldest Mission Yet: ''Smuggling'' Jesus into Muslim Hearts | Erstwhile "God's Smuggler" (and author, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, of the book by that name), Andrew goes to places most of us avoid to interact with people most of us dismiss in order to aid Christians in circumstances most of us know little or nothing about. (Oct. 5, 1998)
The website of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church offers prayer resources and information about the annual day in late fall.