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We need more people like Brother Andrew than ever before

Sudan
Lutheran reverend Yousef Zamgila (L) speaks to members of his congregation at the small improvised church they helped set up in a neighbours yard in Omdurman, Khartoums twin city, on August 22, 2019. Sudan's Christians suffered decades of persecution under the regime of Islamist general Omar al-Bashir. |

Last week, one of the most influential Christians in the modern era, passed away. Hundreds of millions of Christians around the world have been touched by the life of Andrew van der Bijl, known by most as “Brother Andrew,” even if they don’t realize it.

Brother Andrew became widely known in the late 20th century for singlehandedly smuggling millions of copies of Bibles into communist and authoritarian countries at the risk of peril to his life. In 1981, he famously helped deliver one million Bibles into China via tugboat. His book God’s Smuggler — which sold over 12 million copies and has been translated into more than 40 languages — recounts his efforts to distribute countless Bibles and Christian literature behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

But Brother Andrews’ legacy stretches well beyond Bible smuggling. The organization he founded, Open Doors, works in more than 60 countries to equip Christians who suffer violence and discrimination based on their faith. I know the impact of that organization well. As CEO of Open Doors USA, I work alongside thousands of others to fight against faith-based discrimination and violence around the world.

Though Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall fell long ago, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities persists around the world. Thanks to technology and resurgent authoritarianism, the situation is at least as dire as it was half a century ago. We need people like Brother Andrew now more than ever.  

If you want a portrait of the kind of religion-based terror we’re seeing today, look no further than Nigeria, the country where more Christians have been killed for their faith than anywhere else. Since 2009, an extremist group called Boko Haram has been rounding up and murdering Christians and moderate Muslims by the hundreds. The death toll has exceeded 45,000 over the past 14 years.

In India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, extremist Hinduism has sought to cleanse the country of Christians and other religious minorities. In the first seven months of 2022, more than 300 attacks against Christians were recorded, and local governments often turn a blind eye. Some Indian politicians are now pushing anti-conversion legislation to change the country’s laws and make it illegal for non-Hindus to speak publicly about their faith.

China has taken a more techno-savvy approach to religious persecution. Using facial recognition software and more than 400 million video cameras, the government seeks to track every move made by its citizens. In 2014, they first introduced a social credit system, which assigns each citizen a “score” based on the frequency of various activities a person engages in. But China’s most brazen activities take place in northwest China, where the country has imprisoned more than a million Uighur Muslims in detention camps. 

While religious freedom had been advancing in Afghanistan for the past decade, America’s pullout and the reinstallation of the Taliban has turned that country into an anti-Christian stronghold. Every Christian in Afghanistan has now fled or is on the run, fearing what will happen if they are captured by the government. Last year, Afghanistan unseated North Korea for the #1 spot on Open Doors’ World Watch, a research-based ranking of the top 50 most dangerous countries to be Christian.

This is just a sampling of what is happening around the world right now. It says nothing of the religious persecution happening in Iran or Indonesia, Syria, or Saudi Arabia. Nor does it make mention the anti-Christian environments in Laos, Vietnam, and Burkina Faso.

Brother Andrew has now departed, but I know the advice he would offer us if he were still among us. He gave it to me the last time I met with him at his home outside of Amsterdam. He led me out to his garden, as he had many times before, to see the rows of plants and magnolia trees there. We met that day not for any business purpose, but as old friends.

As I wrapped up our visit and prepared to leave, Brother Andrew started to say goodbye. But then paused … as if he’d thought of something better to say. “Keep going,” he said, his volume quiet but his conviction strong as ever. “Keep going.”

In a world of resurgent anti-religious bigotry in which democracy itself now hangs in the balance, those who love liberty must heed this advice. We must keep going for the sake of persecuted Christians and religious minorities around the world, no matter the cost.

David Curry is CEO of Open Doors USA, a nonprofit organization working to empower Christians living under religious persecution in more than 60 countries. For more information, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.

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