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.