It was 1946. The Netherlands needed men to maintain control of their colonies in Indonesia. It seemed like a good idea. Andrew was bored, so he became a marine and went. The Bible, his mom, sent along with him, went straight to the bottom of his duffle bag. War had all the wrong effects on young Andrew; he became a violent, purposeless, carousing drunk. He has fearless on the battlefield, but it was because he was inviting death to come. The bullet to the head he was hoping for didn't happen; instead, it was a bullet that shattered his ankle. In recovery, a believing nurse encouraged him to read his long-buried Bible. He did, over and over again. The light of salvation dawned in Andrews life, God's words were a healing sweetness to him. Over time Andrew would go on to lead a storied life serving God by smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Over ten million copies of his biography sold, it was good for me to finally learn what all the fuss has been about.
Believe the Better Story!
Before Andrew went off smuggling Bibles, we worked in a Chocolate factory. There was one particularly crusty communist woman who worked beside him. Over his years of service, they had many conversations together, not too many of which went well.
"God is the invention of the exploiter class." she would snap whenever the topic of God came up.
Finally, on the day he left the factory, he said to her:
"You are getting rid of me at last."
"But not of the lies you've told, you've hypnotized these people with your talk of salvation and pie in the sky you've blinded them with…well, of course, they believed you. They are untrained. They haven't been taught dialectical argument. They think just what they want to think, after all, if you could choose — who wouldn't choose God and all that."
This communist woman's comment jumped out at me. When it comes to the big stories that shape and direct us, we all must choose. Everyone has a choice. No path is paved entirely with "facts" So why not choose "God and all that" — it is the better story!
Bible Study Plan: Flip, Read, Obey?
After his first visit behind the Iron Curtain, Andrew was sitting on a park bench wondering what had just happened, and what his future might hold. He grabbed his Bible and flipped it open. His eye fell on Revelation 3:2a 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. That ancient verse catapulted through time and lodged itself in the heart of young Andrew. As clearly as he could see the oak trees in the park all around him, Andrew had received his orders from God. He was to do whatever he could to help the weakened and dying church trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Is that how God uses the Bible to speak his plan into peoples lives? Just flip it open, read a random verse, and then obey it? Well, that's how it worked for Andrew.
We in the West, with all our freedom tend to fight over things that under persecution are not even considered. One such issue is the women in ministry debate. Andrew found a strong-hearted woman tucked away in a village far behind the Iron Curtain. Anna proclaimed good news however she could, she was the shepherd of her little village. Christian men were mostly absent. Some in the Gulag, others dead, many too scared to believe because of the cost. But not Anna, God had compelled her to be His light in that village. No one, certainly not Andrew, would suggest that she stop preaching, teaching, and ministering to her tiny flock on account of her gender.
Ruled by fear, forced to tell lies
"Romania welcomes the exploited people of Holland" Was a standard greeting Andrew received from his Christian colleagues behind the curtain. This saying and others like it were said aloud for the benefit an invisible all-seeing eye that collected criticism of the communist government and killed for it. God's Smuggler lines up perfectly with what I learned about Communism from Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. Truth is of no concern; what matters is propaganda. One must uphold a positive view of the communist state and a negative view of the capitalist state at all cost regardless of the truth. One time, Andrew was asked how he was managing to live in Holland since the US's occupation and brutalization of his home country. Andrew was not permitted to contest the truth of such a claim. Russia's politicians and news media said it was real and that was that.
Christianity's Universal language
Once while in Romania, Andrew asked the hotel clerk to find him a church to attend. The response was less than helpful.
"You don't even speak the language, why would you even want to go?"
without missing a beat, Andrew responded to the question
"Oh, because, Christians speak a universal language "
"Really? What's it called?
"Agape, you've never heard of it?"
"No, I have not."
"That's too bad; it's a wonderful language."
Dutifully the clerk went about finding a church for Andrew. Later that evening after a full day with Romanian Christians, Andrew returned to the hotel. The clerk was waiting for him.
"Hey I looked up that word, that's a Greek word for love. It's not a language."
"Love is precisely the language we've been speaking all day."
Brother Andrews most famous prayer
"God, you made blind eyes see, now please make seeing eyes blind."
God answered this prayer at countless border crossings.
- With Bibles — The Siberian man felt prompted by God to travel to Moscow. Somehow God had told him that if he travelled the 2,000-mile journey to the West, God would make sure to have a Bible waiting for him that he could take back to his church which had no Bibles. At the same time, God was whispering in the ear of Andrew, telling him to stuff his car full of Bibles and drive 2000 miles to the east to Moscow. Upon arrival, Andrew visited a crowded church of a 1000 people. One, of that number, just happened to be the Siberian. Their eyes met as they passed each other in the foyer. Instantly both of them knew that their appointment was divine. The Bible was given, and the man returned to Siberia, praising God all the way home.
- With Random German Women — In East Germany, Andrew's Volkswagen died. He found a mechanic who would fix it, but the money needed for the repair Andrew and his two colleagues did not have. They told the mechanic to fix the vehicle anyway and left the shop, praying that somehow God would provide. A woman walked by; she stopped Andrews colleagues who had gone in a different direction than he. "Are you Dutch?" was her odd question. "Yes," was their response. "Good," she said and handed them the exact amount of money they needed to replace the engine of the Volkswagen. To their incredulous faces, she remarked: "God told me to give the first dutch person I saw this money," and then she walked off. The bill was paid, just on time, according to God's plan.
- With Plane Crashes — Andrew had chronic back pain for most of his life, but it was miraculously fixed when he broke his back in a plane crash!
- With Bullet Wounds — Andrew was unable to walk after his bullet wound to the ankle. Upon surrendering his life to Jesus, he felt a pop in his ankle as he stood up. For a second, it felt like he might have re-broken his ankle, but not long after, all the pain left, and his ankle was fine. How did that happen? Many connected to Andrew looked for a naturalistic explanation, but for Andrew, God's miraculous invention was always the best answer.
The Bamboo Curtain
"Religion is for the helpless, and we are not helpless any more" was the slogan of the Chinese that Andrew most often came up against in the early days when first crossing over behind the bamboo curtain. He couldn't even give any Bibles away because no one was interested in them.
The situation caused Andrew to remark that indifference is an even more significant threat to the church than persecution. He is right. However, he soon found out that the perspective of indifference was what the Chinese communist party was forcing on its people. Bibles were around in China, and they were free for purchase, which made everything look good to curious westerners. However, if a Chinese person strayed from mandated indifference and bought a Bible, he was reported to the authorities and subsequently punished. Bible stores remained open, but no one dared enter, creating the illusion of indifference. Andrew discovered it was only an illusion; the hunger for God's word in China was voracious. The biggest smuggling operation that Andrew pulled off in China was a covert night-time barge landing of 2 million Bibles on a deserted beach.
The underground church mobilized and just as the barge got close enough to the land, thousands of Christians charged into the water to grab the contraband and hide it before the authorities arrived. Unfortunately, the authorities disrupted the transfer before it was complete and thousands of Bibles were tossed into the ocean. In the weeks following the event, Andrew heard several reports of little black books hanging out to dry on thatched roofs all over that part of China. Even ocean baptized Bibles were not beyond the need for retrieval for these zealous Christians. Indifference? Indeed! Communists seem to be good at lying and misdirection, and that's about it.