A truly inspirational figure passed away in September this year, age 94 – the man known to Christians around the world simply as ‘Brother Andrew’. His real name, Andrew van der Bijl, was not important, in fact he preferred it not be known. It could only lead to trouble.
I first encountered Brother Andrew as a child through a Christian comic book series. There were other great stories too, like the Hiding Place, or the Cross and the Switchblade, but my favourite was always Gods’ Smuggler. Back in the days of the Iron Curtain, when Communism and Atheism were partners in keeping Eastern Europe isolated and untouched by Western culture or Christian influence, Brother Andrew fearlessly drove his Volkswagen Beetle across borders, dozens and dozens of times, risking arrest and imprisonment for… smuggling Bibles!
When I read his actual real-life story as a teenager, the classic 1964 biography God’s Smuggler, I was no less enthralled by his faith and total reliance on God, risking everything to follow the conviction of his heart – to be a witness of light to the darkest parts of the world, and to encourage the persecuted church. We normally consider smuggling a shady criminal activity, but smuggling Bibles – that was different. And who could ever forget his famous smuggler’s prayer, ‘Lord, when you were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind.’ This became his prayer at every border crossing, and never once were the Bibles discovered.
Andrew initially trained as a missionary in Scotland – but no training could ever prepare him for the tension and risks he faced. Once as he approached the Romanian border, he watched the guards spend over an hour checking the cars in front of his, removing hubcaps, seats, engine parts. He realised no amount of cleverness on his part would keep the Bibles from being discovered, so he spread a few out on the seat in plain sight and prayed for a miracle. When his turn came, the guard looked at has passport, glanced around casually, and waved him through.
He became the founder of ‘Open Doors’, international ministry to the persecuted church. He was knighted by Queen Beatrix of Netherlands, and received the WEA’s Religious Liberty Award in 1997. But when asked in his final years what he wanted on his tombstone? Simply, ‘A disciple of Jesus Christ’. What greater honour could there be?