Interview: 'God's Smuggler' on Megachurches, Persecuted Christians, and Middle East Challenges

Brother Andrew has a natural kindness to him that makes those around him – even people meeting him for the first time – feel at ease and as if they've known him for years. Perhaps this gift is part of the reason why the Open Doors founder has been so successful in befriending Hamas, Taliban, and other Muslim extremist leaders, while openly sharing his Christian faith with them. Open Doors is an international ministry that assists persecuted Christians around the world.

The Christian Post recently sat down with Brother Andrew to look back at the beginning of his ministry as a Bible smuggler behind the Iron Curtain, to get his take on how American megachurch pastors are doing on advocating for persecuted Christians, to hear about what's it like to evangelize people and lose them to war, and to see if this 84-year-old man has plans to slow down.

Below is an edited transcript of the interview.

CP: Brother Andrew, your story usually starts with you smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Half a century later, are we still forced to smuggle Bibles anywhere in the world? If yes, what countries?

Brother Andrew: Smuggling still goes on, on a lesser scale but maybe even greater importance in the closed countries. But indeed my first book, God's Smuggler, that all dealt with smuggling to the communistic countries. Thank God the era of communism ended around 1990, and already it was being replaced with another system. Fewer Christians ask me for Bibles compared to the communist countries, because with communism they were in countries where there were a church and the Bibles were taken away. So there was an immediate need and outcry for Bibles. In the Muslim world, there is no strong church, and there is no great need compared to the communist countries for Bibles. But the need is still there and increasingly because Muslims are coming to Christ and Muslims are asking for Bibles, so we are still in the same business.

CP: I heard you share that when you were smuggling Bibles you would actually pile Bibles on the passenger seat and pray that God would cover the eyes of the authorities checking your car. How could modern-day Christians in the Western world apply that test of faith to their everyday life?

Brother Andrew: Our faith is tested on so many levels every day, and of course Bible smuggling is only a small part of the Christian life of some Christians. The point is in our operations we would not rely on our cleverness, on our invention. It still every time has to be a miracle of God, God's intervention, and if you try to make it fool proof, drive through with your Bibles, where and when and how it gets there, God has the glory. There must be something that God has to do in your life. We tend to over organize in every aspect of life really; that also includes our Bible smuggling. It doesn't mean we had all our Bibles on display, by no means. We had a large block well hidden and it became more and more professional, and it is more and more dangerous, but still, more and more successful, too.

CP: I'm curious who is your faith hero? Who do you aspire to be more like in terms of your faith?

Brother Andrew: I only have one example, that's Jesus. My Jesus. We have to become like him. Fortunately God in His graciousness surrounded all of us with lots of examples that we think 'only if I could be more like him or her,' then it becomes a matter of prayer. If you look around you, you see people every day and you see a certain quality, certain attitude, certain disposition that you think 'Oh, I wish that were mine," then on the basis of Romans 8:34 you can go to God and ask, "Lord, could I have that in my life?" So that is the cycle of Christian growth that has greatly helped me.

CP: How do you personally pray for the persecuted Church?

Brother Andrew: Let me first tell you what I don't pray. I don't pray that God will lift the persecution because if there is persecution there is a plan that God has, otherwise God wouldn't allow it. So do we understand why this persecution? When we read the Bible, all the Bible's characters met with at least opposition. Our problem is that if we have a little opposition we call it persecution. That is ridiculous. Every Christian is tested; every Christian has and has to have opposition.

How do we pray? Not for God to remove persecution, but use that to purify the Church. And it is my strong belief that the countries where there is persecution are stronger in faith than churches in countries where there is no persecution – whether it is your country or my country (Netherlands). And there will come a time, maybe it has come already, where we will depend on our survival on the faith and input of the church that is now persecuted. They are standing strongly in the storm; we write and speak about them because we admire them. They have qualities that I wish we had: the perseverance of faith. They don't have Bibles often and they don't have liberty. But do we need all this liberty that we take for granted in order to function as the Church? And of course the answer is no.

The Church thrives under pressure, that was the very birth of the Church. They were persecuted in Jerusalem and all over. Look at it a different way, what does the Bible say, how do I pray? That whatever happens in the world, the Church will be revived in our countries and be spared from apostasy and unbelief, but God's way may well be a good dose of persecution because that is good medicine for the soul. At the same time having said that, there can be so much persecution that the Church ceases to exist, like that happened in North Africa and in other places, but these are exceptions. The church in China is of course a glorious example of the biggest, fastest growing church in the world, but we don't know nearly as much about the church in China as we do about the church in America.

CP: I want to get your assessment on how the American megachurches are doing in terms of supporting the persecuted Church. In 2009, Rick Warren held a forum on the persecuted church, and Dr. Carl Moeller, former Open Doors USA president, he was part of that. And in 2011, John Piper, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Rick Warren, and other megachurch pastors were part of a Twitter campaign to help imprisoned Afghan Christian Said Musa. So what is your assessment of how megachurches in America and their influential pastors are doing in terms of advocating and supporting the persecuted church?

Brother Anderew: Let me first say, I refuse to be negative. Whatever they see as their calling, they have to pursue with all their power. It does not make me envious to see a megachurch because I don't see that in the Scripture. The church was always low-keyed, there were places where there were tens of thousands of believers, like Ephesus, and they had no building at all. And nowadays any place in your country, if there are ten or 20, or 100 members – you have to have a church – bigger, bigger, bigger. I don't see it in the Scripture. It's clearly not my calling, that is again not meant as criticism. God can use the church for bigger influence, provided that bigger church means more power with God, more anointing from the Holy Spirit, passion for the lost people, and not people who are in charge who are on an ego trip and just make their own name big, writes lots of books, and television and all that. All that often ends in total disaster and the church that is growing in comparison, you might say some house churches or underground churches in China are megachurches when you think of the number of members, but they have no mega building, they certainly don't have no mega salary, no mega fame, and no mega books, and all that.

I think God has a different set of values and we should do well to look into that from Scripture and be humble. If people are being used by the Lord, praise God for that, and I am not envious and I wish them success. And I have been at Rick Warren's church. They gave me a special award for being old and still following Jesus. Can you think of that? So I got up for the big thank you, and I said something like you Americans are crazy, how can you reward an old man for still following Jesus? All he wants to do is go to heaven and make it. You don't have to reward him in the world. Instead of rewarding an old man who still follows Christ, you should punish all the rich people in your church who spend all their money on the bigger boat, and bigger this, that and the other. That should be the system, but don't reward an man who is near eternity because he still follows Jesus, it is the calling of all of us. What's your problem? Well, frankly, they've never invited me back.

CP: Would you like to see very influential American pastors do more, speak more about the persecuted Church?

Brother Andrew: Absolutely, they should exert their influences that they have with the people, with the government, with their own congregation for the good of those who have no spokesperson. And I always like to say Open Doors we speak for those who cannot speak. We have to be bold in our statement without offending the government, because our role as dedicated followers of Jesus is not political. I want to emphasize that strongly, it must be spiritual and the moment we go off the track we are wrong. It must be a spiritual ministry that we will never be ashamed of, not now before people and not in eternity before the throne of God on Judgment Day. This is what we have done for the suffering church and I believe that the measure in which the free Church, in your country, my country, will stand in the gap on behalf of the suffering Church, in that measure God will protect us.

CP: For the Twitter campaign that a lot of megachurch pastors participated in supporting imprisoned Afghan Christian Said Musa, there was concern afterwards from the US government, and other people working to free him that actually pastors coming out publicly to support Said Musa was harmful to him because it could have enraged his captors and been less effective than quiet diplomacy. What is your opinion on this?

Brother Andrew: I have no opinion on this because every situation is different. In some places it will help, publicity, and in other places it will turn against you. In some places political pressure will help and in other cases it will work against you. One thing that will always help is prayer. So that is our message, that we want to be a spiritual mission. We don't normally support action or protest. We don't climb on the barricades. A spiritual problem has a spiritual solution. It may seem a bit weak to other people, but it's the only weapon that God has given us.

CP: What is it like to be a Christian in countries like Somalia or North Korea or Iran?

Brother Andrew: I think it's just about the ultimate test of your faith and by the people involved, it's often experienced as a privilege. In the Scripture, especially in Acts, they went out after being arrested and beaten and they went rejoicing because they were worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. I think it's a great privilege, but it's not something you seek, because then that is the wrong attitude. But when it comes over you, accept suffering as a good Christian, the Bible says. Don't object, but use your God given rights, if you have anything left in that country. But one right they have, and they can never claim that right, is that they have a right to be prayed for. And our responsibility therefore is to get information on that person or group and pray and make it known in our publications, in our speaking, radio, television and articles so we open the way for God's spirit to intervene.

CP: Would you say the Middle East is the most difficult region to do mission in current? Why or why not?

Brother Andrew: Well at the moment it is the most difficult area in the whole world. I know there are wars all over and very unrighteous wars all of them. But without understanding of the Scripture, we believe that the end solution will take place in the Middle East. How, when, by whom, we don't know. Anyone who claims to know, I disagree with them to begin with, because we don't know. And therefore it's important to know what is happening in the Middle East because there is also kind of a theory that the Gospel went after Pentecost westward and circled the whole world and comes back to Jerusalem and then the end comes. Many Chinese believers believe that and they want to go back to Jerusalem, the movement. And I've met a number of them, and I know a number of them are already out in the Muslim world, very effectively and very appreciated, very professional. How far is that a dream? I don't know, but for them it's a dream that keeps them going, so praise the Lord. Whatever dream that keeps them going no matter or not you get there. It's your engine to keep going, so it's always good to focus on something, like Middle East.

We just had the Arab revolution and we thought that it was Spring time for them, but then they forgot there is Summer and went straight into very cold Winter, that is where they are now. That means not an adopted political view of the situation, but a renewed effort to pray because the Christians are having a very hard time with the new fundamentalism. The question is what are we doing for them?

CP: In my interview with Carl Moeller a few years ago, he shared with me that you have quite a few friends who are Hamas leaders and that you visited the most radical madrassa in Pakistan and gave a New Testament to the Islamic leader there. Tell us how these types of relationships are even possible when you are well-known as an evangelist?

Brother Andrew: What amazes me is people think this is not possible because everyone is open and radicals are often more open – although they appear to be against Christ. People who couldn't care less – the man on the street – is harder to reach than the guy there who holds his reins and is known as a radical or a terrorist – which is a terrible word. I believe there are no terrorists because terrorists are not born – except my children were born, I thought they were terrorists for a long time, now we are good friends (laughs). Terrorists are made and it so strikes me that they have the right to complain that no one cared for my soul and that for me is the perfect setting of the making of a terrorist. Nobody cares for your soul, everybody writes you off, then you become a terrorist.

Let's go there because they have the first right to hear who Jesus Christ is. That is my starting point, I go to them. You mentioned one or two, but as it happens I know all of them. Never write off anybody, you'll be surprised how everyone that I have met is open to receive the messenger of God. Let's then not write off anyone because that is how you and I got saved – God hadn't written us off. We had every reason to be written off, but God didn't. We must not write off any person Jesus died for, if that becomes our foreign policy then our foreign policy might be a lot different than it is today.

CP: You have gone to war-torn countries and evangelized people who are in the midst of war, and you've probably seen people you've evangelized died. How are you able to believe in a good and loving God that is in control despite the horrendous things that have happened to people you love?

Brother Andrew: (Sigh) Everyone has a price to pay. When I think of Afghanistan, because it is so much in the news, I still have a church function in Afghanistan and in Iran, and with a church officially, but of the people in Afghanistan alone that I've baptized or some ordained for the ministry, at least 12 or 14 have been killed already. And when that news filters through to my office, I just sit and cry because it hurts very much. But if that should stop me, that is just what the devil wants. I must step up my efforts and do more to win others because in the numbers and influence of more Christians lies the solution for political and religious and for the racial conflicts. So we know the solution, but we don't apply it. We still rely on diplomacy – it could be good sometimes – we rely on military, I can't see how that can be good anytime, but that is my personal view because I've seen too much of what it does. And I have been in the war five years during Hitler time, the Nazis who occupy my country and my village and my schools. I've been in the war in the Far East for four years. I've been visiting a lot in Vietnam; I have been all along through the Vietnam War, one month every year, and I still hear General Westmoreland's say – by the way I was a war correspondent in Vietnam – he said to us, the soldiers and correspondents, "There is not a situation where we cannot handle." Oh boy, now you think of 1975 how they ran out of Vietnam, how they fled and whoever orchestrated that, he got big Nobel Price for Peace with honor. It's topsy-turvy world, there is no righteousness, no principle, no respect for people who think and believe differently. We have another ballgame, so to speak – be witnesses for Jesus, doesn't mean a pacifist – then you put a label on people. I am certainly not a pacifist, but I believe in righteousness and I want to continue that, whatever the cost to even my own self. One day I may die. You may hear Brother Andrew killed in an accident or whatever or shooting. It's okay, I'm ready.

CP: One last question, you're 84-years-old, going on to 85 soon, and you're still very active. Do you plan to retire soon?

Brother Andrew: What is that retire? Does that mean no tires on? Put new tires on and go another round? I think in serving God there is no retirement, but if you notice you can't do it anymore or your thoughts don't work or your memory, your hearing, whatever, then I think it's time to quit. But I will never sit in the garden and watch geraniums. I think they will die if I watch them. As long as I can, as long as I have a voice and a pen, and co-workers, I want to continue. I have no set date, if I can't do it anymore, then it's over.