Anne van der Bijl (Brother Andrew, 1928-2022) was a Dutch Christian known for smuggling Bibles and other Christian literature into Communist countries during the Cold War, earning the nickname ‘God's Smuggler’. He founded Open Doors who famously ran Project Pearl, taking one million Bibles into China in one night.
Brother Andrew was born the son of a poor blacksmith and an invalid mother. He joined the Dutch army and was sent to Indonesia as part of the colonial force attempting to quash the Indonesian struggle for independence. There he was involved in the massacre of a local village, where all the inhabitants were indiscriminately killed. He was later haunted by the sight of a young mother and nursing boy killed by the same bullet. He started reading the Bible his mother had given him while he recovered from a battle injury. After he returned to the Netherlands in the early 1950’s he surrendered his life to God.
In 1955, Brother Andrew attended a Communist youth congress in Poland. The trip changed his life. He discovered churches desperately in need of Bibles, support, and prayer. Christians there felt isolated and alone, feeling that the rest of the world had forgotten them. The Lord spoke to him through Revelation 3:2: “Strengthen what remains and is about to die."
In subsequent years Brother Andrew travelled many times behind the Iron Curtain smuggling Bibles in his blue VW Beetle. His prayer has become famous: “Lord, in my luggage I have Scriptures I want to take to Your children. When You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.” After the fall of the Iron Curtain he obtained 150 pages of Soviet KGB reports about him, detailing his Bible smuggling work.
Today, Open Doors has become an international ministry working in more than 60 nations to strengthen the Persecuted Church, distributing hundreds of thousands of Bibles and Christian books every year, also training and supporting persecuted Christians where in some countries pastors have little training. In other regions Open Doors strengthens the church by providing small loans to help believers start businesses in areas where Christians are discriminated against, and denied education and quality job opportunities.
Brother Andrew believed that “the Bible is full of ordinary people who went to impossible places and did wondrous things simply because they decided to follow Jesus.” His example impacted both my wife and myself. In the early 1960s, a fellow Cambridge University student and I borrowed his car loaded with Bibles and drove into Eastern Europe. We were warned not to be “rear-ended”, because the Bibles were stored at the back of the car! Much later, before we were married, Christine, whose family had for three generations been missionaries to Africa, went to hear Brother Andrew. That night he spoke not about Eastern Europe but about China - he had visited China in the 1960s during the Cultural Revolution period when there was much persecution of Christians. Hearing Brother Andrew speak, Christine responded by giving her life to serve the Chinese people. We were married shortly after that!
In more recent years the threats against Christians have come from radical Islam as well as Communism. Brother Andrew travelled extensively in the Islamic world, becoming one of the few Western Christian leaders to travel regularly to the Middle East as an ambassador for Christ to these groups. In his book “Light Force” he tells of Arab and Lebanese churches in Lebanon, Israel, and Israeli-occupied areas expressing great delight at the mere visit of a fellow Christian from abroad since they felt that the church in the Western world at large was mostly ignoring them. He visited Hamas and PLO leaders, including Yasser Arafat. Arafat granted Brother Andrew permission to open a Christian book store in the Gaza Strip.
Later visits also included trips to Pakistan in the 2010s, where he attempted to meet with members of the Taliban. When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, he became an outspoken critic of American evangelical support for the war on terror. Christians, he said, could only put their trust in military intervention if they had given up faith in missions. When US forces killed bin Laden in 2011, he expressed sadness. “I believe everyone is reachable. People are never the enemy - only the devil,” he said. “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.” While he would condemn terrorist atrocities against Israel, what else would Brother Andrew say today about the situation involving Israel and Gaza? We will never know.