Brother Andrew, founder of the persecuted-church ministry Open Doors and author of the forthcoming book Secret Believers , has been traveling to the Middle East for more than 30 years. During that time, he has met with Israelis, Christians of all kinds, and Muslim leaders from Fatah, Hamas, and other radical or militant groups. Ever since his Cold War days taking Bibles behind the Iron Curtain (made famous in his 1967 autobiography, God’s Smuggler ), American Christians have often responded to Brother Andrew’s reports with some degree of skepticism, but always with awe. Christianity Today senior writer Deann Alford recently interviewed Brother Andrew on the current Gaza crisis and Christian relations with fundamentalist Muslims.
What have you heard about the current situation inside Gaza?
The situation is quiet at the moment. [The conflict] will continue, and one party will have full control. Gaza will not only be a prison camp, but also will become a concentration camp. It will become much worse, not because of the Islamist influence, but because of the repression from outside. The boycott and all the feelings that come from outside. That includes you and me, our nations, our governments.
What will a Hamas-controlled Gaza mean for Christians and everybody else?
It looks confusing. And yet, it is not. I talked to the Hamas leaders years ago about what they wanted. This is exactly what I see happening today. They follow a plan, and there’s nothing wrong with having a plan. We also have a plan. We read the Bible. We have sort of a mental concept of what it’s going to be, and Hamas has that, too. They have a very strong belief, and they act upon it, that in the end times in which we now live, they believe that Islam is going to conquer and rule the world. And what they see—in very concrete terms in Gaza and West Bank and the surrounding countries, across Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan—is a pan-Arabic republic. No borders. No Jews. They say that literally. That’s not antagonism. That’s their faith dictating them to say so.
So I said to them, “There’s no room for Christians. You’re going to persecute us.” They said, “No, Andrew, there will always be a place for Christians like you.” So far, my own contact, and that of the Baptist leaders and that of the Bible shop leaders in Gaza has been very positive with Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
Their worldview is in relation to end times. That’s why they’re willing to die. It’s more than statehood. They’re not interested in a Palestinian state. They’re thinking so much bigger. That’s why they have such amazing support among the grassroots level of the people, because of their reputation for not being corrupt, which is absolutely true.
Why have there been so many suicide bombers in recent years?
I challenge the Hamas leaders about the suicide bombers, which I’m terribly, terribly opposed to. I’ve preached against it. I contended in the strongest terms when speaking with the Hamas leaders, and they said, “Brother Andrew, we agree with you. The Qur’an forbids suicide.” I said, “What is it that I see all around me?” They said, “But that is religious.” I said, “Of course, you make it a million times worse because now you have a million volunteers.”
There’s no way we can cope with or challenge that level of dedication. They believe in something, and they’re going to die for it. We fight [Islamic ideology] with bombs and armies. We’re doomed to lose that battle. We have to go back to the root causes. We have to listen, we have to understand, we have to talk, and then I think we can still make progress.
Speaking as a Christian, they are not our enemies. God loves the world. And in my new book, Secret Believers, we propose the question, “Have you prayed for bin Laden today?” That question should shock a lot of Christians. Of course we haven’t! That is why he is what he is. We have an evangelical black list of people we don’t want to see in heaven and put bin Laden on top. Saddam Hussein is probably second.
Do you see the Middle East becoming peaceful in the short term?
We are fighting a losing battle, we are sacrificing our young people, we ruin our economy, we spoil our reputation, and we make life impossible for the American dream of Western influence. I love America and Americans. I love our culture. But if God does not see anything in our culture that he wants to protect, we face this self-chosen conflict in which we will definitely go under. And that will be a great shock to us. It’s not too late. I passionately plea for understanding of this kind of Islamism. It’s the basic root of the problem.
Do you think policymakers in Washington understand Islam very well?
When the chief of staff in the White House a few years ago [Andrew Card] read our book Light Force, he said these guys are the only ones who really understand what is going on in the Middle East. And he said, “Andrew has to preach in the White House.” Which I did last year. I spoke about the God of forgiveness as opposed to the God of revenge.
We in the West are following or believing in the God of revenge as much as every Muslim does. So there’s no need for us to sit on a pedestal. We have to come down to the foot of the Cross and learn from Jesus. He came to forgive, and he came to die. I have seen this attitude in many Christians in Gaza. It gives me hope for the future.
In my 50 years of ministry, my biggest meetings have been always in the Muslim world, teaching at a university in Gaza, speaking to the medical association there. My biggest meetings with Hamas were with 400 men. Why are we so timid? Why are we so afraid? They barely let me speak at my own evangelical church in Holland! I'm being sarcastic, but it is the truth. I find it easier to get speaking engagements with the Taliban than with my own evangelical church.
Why should evangelicals stay the course and be engaged with the Arabic church in the Middle East?
What Muslims see when we talk about the church is a completely different picture, and it is not the first important point. The most important point is what they perceive of what we say and do. This is what they think of the West: They think every white person is a Christian, every soldier in uniform is a Christian, every bomb is a Christian bomb. Nobody ridicules that idea. When we read about nuclear plans, we always talk about the Muslim bomb. Why shouldn't they talk about the Christian bomb? You see my point?
It’s terrific if individuals or local churches or small, effective evangelical missions (I know many and Open Doors is only one) are really engaged with the Arabic-speaking church.
Soon I will be back in Iran. I do that with fear and trembling. I represent Jesus. I represent the body of Christ, and that is not what they perceive of the church. That’s not what [Muslims] hear the church say. They see a very one-sided support of Israel. This is foremost on their mind [and] the church that drops bombs on them from F-16s and Apache helicopters. That's what they see the church is doing. It’s their mindset. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. This is what it is.
How can we now make an impact, first of all, to say I only represent Jesus Christ? Here is the message. This is his book. Then they listen. They have been taught to listen to and even study the Bible.
They have a holy reverence for the Bible as a book. Whenever I pull out the New Testament or the whole Bible, I can preach whatever I want. I preach very evangelistic sermons there. So here’s the tricky part: If Brother Andrew can do it, I think everybody can do it. Because everybody is better than me, and everybody is more able and gifted and supported. I’m just one little Dutchman walking on wooden shoes. Let us do it as a church.
We should be flocking to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and seek the Christians and help them. And then, please, for God’s sake, listen to what they say. They have something to say. This should be the driving force in our lives. It’s not solving political or economic problems. It’s being Christian.
My plea always has been that the church must be the Church, with capital letters.
In our new book, we have a whole chapter on a town in Pakistan that was destroyed by Muslims. We went over there and preached forgiveness openly to the people, to the government, to the military and the police. We had a tremendous time. Open Doors had a big community center, literacy school, training for Sunday school teachers and leaders. And the violence ceased because we officially said, “We forgive you Muslims because Jesus forgave us. And that’s the reason of our existence. Jesus has forgiven us—not because we begged for it, but because he offered it.”
That should be our attitude. That should permeate the politics of our nation.
What should Christians be doing right now?
Get up and get going for God. It’s still not too late. I can still reach them. And I’m not the only one. We can reach the Taliban. We can reach Hezbollah. And I do, actually. I’m not a man with any authority or a mandate, just an individual Christian. I’m not altogether pessimistic. I’m saying at the moment as a church we’re not on the right track and we ought to do something about it.
Look at the problem there with very different eyes. It’s a religious problem, but it's not their fault that they have not heard who Jesus is. When we look at the history of Islam and other religions, it’s always been where we’ve not done what we should have done, where we have not brought the gospel when we should have. We have not reached out in love and compassion. These things can still be done.
Get to know more facts. What is really happening? Is being radically right the answer? We’re not sent to kill people. Nobody is, but certainly not Christians and missionaries.
If we can make the Muslims or al Qaeda our friends by political decision, then we've been killing them in vain. It’s murder. So let’s stop that. Let’s find out the facts. Let’s go with an open mind. Let’s respect their religion. We’ve always been taught that way as Protestants.
You can still go to any place in the Muslim world and preach Christ. Any place. I want to challenge the whole world with that statement. And if that is true, then why are we resorting to other weapons that, according to the Bible, are not weapons of our warfare? When are we going to be people of the Book? They claim to be people of the book. I challenge them at the Hamas university on dialogue—and I hate the word dialogue—I'm a proclaimer, a Calvinist at heart. I believe that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. I told them openly, “I’m not interested in dialogue with you guys. But I’m always willing any place, any time, with any group of you, to have a dialogue on this one question: What kind of person does the book produce—your book, my Book?”
You come back to Jesus’ words: You must be born again. And they appreciate that. Because I want to challenge them on that issue.
I’m an evangelist. I’m a missionary. If I’m saying things that are politically not correct, I know the Lord will forgive me.
What keeps you hopeful about this desperate situation?
We have a message that God changes people. We still have to go [to the Middle East]. Our philosophy is going. Going takes away your fear. We are fearful because we stay home and prepare for the worst to come, because we think that's what they are planning. That may be true, but it’s because of our inactivity. The moment we take the offensive and plan to go there, we lose our fear. That’s very Scriptural. I’m not a bit afraid of them. I feel completely at home. I hope to be back there very soon. If I knew I could do something constructive, I’d be there tomorrow.
Deann Alford is based in Austin, Texas, and reported for CT from Gaza in 2005.
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Weblog: Catholic School and Church Attacked as Gaza's Christians Worry has commentary and links to recent news from Gaza.
Other articles about Brother Andrew and his work include:
Love in the Land of Enmity | The local joke is that Gaza is hell. But that doesn't seem to deter ministry there. (July 2005)
God's Smuggler Confesses | Brother Andrew wonders if American Christians are willing to die for anything, even their faith. (December 11, 1995)
Gatecrashing for Jesus | Brother Andrew discusses ministry in the Middle East. (February 2005)
The Muslim Challenge | One of the earliest prayers in the Bible is Abraham's prayer for his other son: "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!" (October 5, 1998)
Brother Andrew is the founder of Open Doors, and organization which serves the persecuted church through Bible and literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, and advocacy.
Recent articles on Gaza include:
Gaza's Christian Bookstore Bombed | No injuries in Palestinian Bible Society blast, but security guard was kidnapped and beaten. (April 16, 2007)
Fatah Police Seize Gaza Baptist Church | As cease-fire agreements between Fatah and Hamas come and go, a church is literally caught in the middle. (February 7. 2007)