With the publication of the best-seller, God’s Smuggler, in 1967, Brother Andrew appeared abruptly on the stage of global Christianity. Some 10 million copies of God’s Smuggler, which chronicles his adventures smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain and into other closed nations, have been printed in 35 languages.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Andrew turned his attention to the Middle East and Muslim-majority nations, such as Pakistan. He is still traveling the world at age 85. Andrew is now in his sixth decade of active ministry and advocacy for the persecuted church. He founded Open Doors, one of the largest ministries focused on assisting Christians and churches at risk worldwide. He spoke recently with CT Senior Editor of Global Journalism Timothy C. Morgan.
All over the Middle East, Christians and their churches are exposed to discrimination and violence. What options are left other than immigration?
The Christians there can do nothing unless we start doing something. They depend on us. We are one body in Christ. We are not reaching out to the Arab Christians or to the Palestinians, nor barely to the Messianic Jews, and we are certainly not reaching out to the other Jews with the gospel because they are already God’s people, and they have no choice and we don’t give them a choice. [Middle East Christians] have few resources in their own country, and we in the West have all the liturgy and all the wealth and all the insight and knowledge. This is our eternal shame. We ought to do something.
In God there is only one nation. We must reach out. So when I fail to see that happen then I am very pessimistic. In Bethlehem and in Gaza, the situation is deteriorating.
What is the biggest obstacle to further engagement by the global Christian community on behalf of the suffering church?
It is ignorance. It’s so much easier to live in ignorance. You don’t have to accept your responsibility. My people perished because of lack of knowledge, the prophet complains, and that’s my complaint all the day, too. I apply it to myself. We’re all guilty. Me, too.
We are under the rule of Jesus Christ. We live in his kingdom. We work according to his rules. We must support what Jesus came to do with—a new kingdom, new set of disciples and building the new Jerusalem, and building it on righteousness and peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. We need massive help to put pressure on the governments involved [in persecution]. We must come up for human rights. Righteousness built on peace, but a peace on the principles of the Prince of Peace.
The suffering church is a growing segment of the church of Christ in the world. There’s a tremendous danger. I’m actually very pessimistic about this whole situation. It can explode any time and we are still asleep.
So you’re really encouraging Christians at the grassroots to step up to the challenge, become informed, and then to live a life of deeper devotion to the gospel cause?
Absolutely. If I could live my life over again, I would be a lot more radical.
I’ve been too much on the compromising side. A pastor came into my office. He said, “Andrew, those Muslims now they have brought another empty church and they are going to convert it into a mosque. Isn’t that terrible?” I said, “No, that is not terrible.” He said, “Why not?” I said, “You know what’s terrible—that your church was empty. That is terrible. If your church were full there would not be a mosque, would not be a place nor a demand for a mosque.”
Make sure that your church whatever the building is, and as far as I am concerned big church or a small church, but that people come because they hunger after and thirst after righteousness, God’s righteousness. Then you reach out in compassion to those out on the street.”
I live in a small town in Holland. We have forty homeless people in my town, and I feel ashamed. We don't help them. We all go to church because that is the thing to do, and we bypass the people with no place to live or to sleep. Multiply that a million times. What are we doing for the refugees in Arab world, in the Congo, in Mali, and in Afghanistan?
When Christians—individuals or their local churches—step up to this challenge, does it make any difference?
This is the greatest witness because now the world will see that, “Hey, these people are different.” There’s a change in attitude, but the change begins in the heart of people when they turn again to God because God calls them. Then there will come times of refreshing. The Bible promises that.
Do you find that people are saying, “Oh, well, that’s just Brother Andrew”? Are people responding to this kind of prophetic call?
That depends. They’re not responsive in any countries where people have plenty. I remember a lecture we had in our missions training college in Scotland. We had a great teacher on evangelism, a Salvation Army officer.
I still remember him saying to us as students, “You must give the gospel to every one that you see on the street. Always talk about Jesus. Always have a tract in your hand. Always be willing.”
He said, “Then you will discover that one in a thousand has been prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive your message.” Instantly my heart revolted. I said to myself, “What a waste. Why go and spend your energy on 999 who were not going to respond. God knows it and the devil knows it and he laughs because after the first one thousand people I give up in despair. Is it worth going after that one if I first have to do would spend all my energy on nine hundred ninety nine?”
I said God can lead me straight away to the one, and then I don’t have to waste my time on the other ones that are not going to listen. And that is one secret. We must, whenever we go out, be led by the Spirit, be open, and we see a person, we hear a person or we approach a person, go to that person and be willing to be a fool for Christ by even making a mistake, because that's how you learn. You never learn from your success. You only learn from your mistakes. As long as you’re afraid to make mistakes, you learn nothing, period. So go out and be led by the Spirit. And then you reach out to the suffering.
As soon as I was a Christian, I put on old clothes and I went to Amsterdam to the slum area to live there as an homeless guy, and I wanted to know how they live, how they think, how they feel, how they make money or don’t make money. I wanted to know. And we should have in our hearts a desire to know what is happening in the heart and thinking of all the other people that are written off or that we have not reached or we don’t know how to reach.
Not long ago of course Osama bin Laden was assassinated, and the whole world rejoiced. Thousands have died in drone assaults. What is your response to such killing?
I have been speaking in meetings in America, and part of my sermon was, “Have you prayed today for bin Laden?” People were rather shocked, and some people said, “I must confess. I have never prayed for bin Laden, but now I do it.”
Bin Laden was on my prayer list. I wanted to meet him. I wanted to tell him who is the real boss in the world. But then he was murdered, I call it. Murdered, because he didn’t shoot back. He had no resistance. That’s not warfare. And I have had too much of that. A good number of my own friends in Gaza have been assassinated. Liquidated they call it in their terminology. I call it murdered.
We must witness to people. And all the people that I now talk about in Gaza that were murdered were people that I met in their homes and I gave a Bible. I prayed with them. Suddenly I feel like it was an attack on me, because what can I do if … you know. That is a dilemma for me. My ministry in Open Doors is not the big town preacher. I go in quietly, but I still go in places where I’m not supposed to go. Hallelujah. Our governments should not know everything where I go. But they certainly should see what I do and what I say because what I tell them is exactly what I tell you and what I tell my own church in Holland—the message of Jesus Christ. I have no other message. I would gladly accept the fact that I am one-sided, and I am, hallelujah, and I want just to be a messenger for Jesus Christ.
North Korea once again is number one abuser of religious freedom. Is there any influence that the Christian community can bring on North Korea?
Pray. We can pray. We can pray in faith. We can go. We can pray in the country, which is maybe more effective and by our presence we can contact people and be an example and pray more effectively. Open Doors does a lot of that but not political action. Certainly not violence. There’s only a spiritual solution because they have a spiritual problem.
We keep hearing reports about a catacomb church movement inside North Korea. Do you believe that’s true?
There are thousands of secret believers, and that’s why one of my last books is called Secret Believers. These are stories of my own friends. Of course there’s a church and it is growing.