On Travels with Brother Andrew

On Travels with Brother Andrew

After his passing this week, there has been a well-deserved outpouring of love and praise for Anne van der Bijl. While that name may not be familiar to you, he is better known by many of us as “Brother Andrew” or “God’s Smuggler” for his early days of smuggling Bibles into communist eastern Europe and China. While I certainly can’t add very much to the worldwide chorus of praise, I can simply give some personal reflections on my time with him.

From 2003 through 2012, I was privileged to be CEO of the USA branch of Open Doors, the organization that Brother Andrew founded. This was an incredible honor. A deep, profound sense of responsibility to the persecuted Church and the suffering of Christians worldwide provided a backdrop for my relationship with Brother Andrew. Following Andrew’s example, Open Doors simply asked persecuted believers worldwide - “What do you need?” and then we got that for them - whether it was Bibles, food, clothing, whatever - but mostly, they asked for prayer. And so we remembered them in prayer - and sought to move others to do so.

From the beginning, Andrew was an inspiration to me and millions of others. I remember being at a church camp in the 70s where the camp bookstore had a copy of the comic book version of “God’s Smuggler.” I read about this combination missionary and James Bond spy for Jesus and was hooked – I thought he was the coolest Christian ever. Fast forward to 2003, and my wife Kim and I had the chance to travel to The Netherlands to meet Brother Andrew just two weeks after taking the CEO role at Open Doors. Andrew met us at the door, and he invited us into his office in his garage. We sat on his couch, and he went out to get us some good Dutch coffee. Kim and I pinched each other and said - “Can you believe we are sitting here on Brother Andrew’s couch?” He was so gracious and kind – however, we were somewhat starstruck.

Over the next nine years, I was privileged to occasionally travel with him to parts of the world where fellow believers were suffering persecution. In places like Gaza, Israel, the West Bank, and Pakistan, he had deep relationships and affection for the brothers and sisters. His simple principle of love and service made doors open everywhere we went. On one trip with him to Gaza, just after some conflict, his phone constantly rang as those he served got word that he was in the area. 

Soon we had audiences with the political and religious leadership of Gaza in a home garden with Islamic militant guards all around. They quoted the poetry of the Quran, and Brother Andrew responded with the Gospel. Andrew always prayed with them and for them. He said, “If they can be reached - they can be won.” We sat with some of those that the rest of the world saw as unreachable terrorists - and shared the love of Jesus.

Andrew challenged me once and asked, “Do you pray for Osama Bin Laden?” At the time, he was the leader of Al Qaeda and enemy number 1 for the USA. I had to admit that I didn’t - but I began to after that. Andrew taught me to believe that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love - and to pray towards that end.

On another trip to Pakistan, we met with former Muslims risking everything to bring good news to Taliban students - our hearts melted as we heard their stories. And we cried together with them as they described the loss of family and the constant threats they faced - yet they had an indescribable joy to serve the Lord. Andrew later traveled into the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to baptize new underground followers of Jesus. These “Secret Believers” would be his passion for many years.

Traveling throughout the USA with Andrew was also a special privilege. He often would challenge church audiences with the simple call to go and serve. “Just Go!” he would respond to people’s questions of what they should do to help the persecuted - and over the decades, many did! Thousands followed Andrew’s example by trusting in the Lord to meet their every need. He would also say - “Jesus said go - but he never promised you would come back! Are you willing?”

He was especially challenging when it came to our Western church comforts. He would say, “You in America are so comfortable in your Christianity; no one is shooting at you - why doesn’t the Devil think you are worth a bullet?“

On a couple of occasions, I had the opportunity to take Andrew with me to the Christian Motorcyclist Association meeting in Arkansas. They were and are long-time friends of the Open Doors ministry. Andrew loved being with the bikers, willing to go anywhere to share the good news. Since many of the CMA members had formerly been outlaw bikers, Andrew recognized their passion for doing whatever it takes to reach the lost. He was one of their favorites! One year we also met Vonnette Bright, widow of Bill Bright and co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, before she passed away - it was amazing to see these two giants of evangelism share their passion and joy in sharing Jesus.

As one of our trips went on - I asked Andrew what he would like written on his tombstone. To be clear, I have no idea what it will be, but I was deeply moved by his response - and have tried to apply it to my own life. He said - “I would like it to say: ‘HE DID WHAT HE COULD NOT’ That I did what only God could have done.”

May Andrew’s life be a true reminder to all of us of what God can do in each of us if we are simply willing to “Just Go.”

executive director | the joshua fund

>> Latest News

What's New

The First 15 Days of the Hamas War on Israel

A chronicle from the diary of Lynn Rosenberg, co-founder of The Joshua Fund, from the first 15 days of the Hamas War on Israel.

Israel in Crisis: The Joshua Fund Responds

We are witnessing the darkest hour in Israel’s modern history. Our team is providing critical aid to families displaced by the terror attacks, including housing, food, hygiene products, and more.

U.S. and Israeli Government Relations Before October 7

Joel delves into President Herzog's visit to the U.S. and the implications of his interactions with President Biden and members of Congress.