Brother Andrew was the rare Christian leader who gave Bibles to Yasser Arafat and shared Christ with the spiritual leader of Hamas
by Al Janssen | October 9, 2022
Brother Andrew and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat (Photo: Open Doors International)
During the Second Intifada, Anne Vander Bijl, better known as “Brother Andrew,” wanted to visit friends at Bethlehem Bible College.
Only one problem: Bethlehem was under curfew – no one was permitted to enter or leave the city.
That fact didn’t discourage the Dutch man known throughout the world as “God’s Smuggler.”
He said to me, “Al, there’s always a way to get in.”
Then with a grin he added, “That doesn’t mean I can tell you how to get out.”
One phone call and a drive on the bypass road toward West Bank settlements brought us to a road into Beit Jala that was blocked by a massive pile of dirt and rocks. We scrambled up the rubble and were met by a dozen taxicab drivers vying for our attention. They competed to carry our bags, shouting at us for a few dollars to feed their hungry families. I paid one man $5 to carry our two bags to a waiting van from the college. We drove into Bethlehem along back streets to avoid check points and were welcomed at the deserted campus by Bishara Awad, president of the college.
Over the next three days, we visited pastors and local leaders, including Mayor Hanna Nasser, who immediately ended a staff meeting when we arrived, served us coffee, and briefed us on the conflict.
Christmas was just two weeks away, but the city would probably not be hosting the annual celebration that brought thousands of visitors to the city.
“We are prisoners in our own homes,” he said.
Our foray into Bethlehem was typical of Brother Andrew.
He desired to bring hope wherever people felt trapped.
It started in 1955 when he came across a brochure promoting the world congress for Communist Youth in Poland. He wrote to the organizers asking if he could attend even though he was a Christian. He received a positive response and used the opportunity to contact churches in Warsaw.
While watching thousands of Communist youth on parade at the conclusion of the festival, he read these words in his Bible: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Revelation 3:2). That became his life mission, to find Christians living under persecution, learn their needs, then provide resources to enable to them to be a living witness in their country.
Initially, the need was for Bibles, which were not allowed to be printed or imported to Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union.
Brother Andrew believed no authority should deprive anyone from hearing what God had to say. He began to deliver hundreds of Bibles in his Volkswagen.
When crossing the borders, he would pray: “Lord, when You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not what them to see.”
Despite thorough searches, the Bibles were never discovered, and thousands of pastors received desperately needed literature for their congregations.
Brother Andrew told his story in the book “God’s Smuggler.”
Published in 1968, it has been translated into at least 35 languages, including Arabic, and sold more than 10 million copies.
But the success of the book prevented him from returning to the Soviet empire.
That’s when he turned his eyes toward the Middle East.
One Sunday after preaching at Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem, he was approached by a young woman who informed him that, “There is also a suffering Church right here. I’m a Palestinian,” she announced. “There are thousands of us, and we are struggling for our survival.”
That began a journey of discovery.
He learned that in 1948, as many as 15% of Palestinians were Christians, but a majority of them had fled.
He began visiting churches in Gaza and the West Bank, then later made trips to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Middle East countries.
He visited Lebanon twice a year during the civil war, moving among the Christian and Muslim sectors, distributing Christian literature, and pleading with leaders to make peace.
In 1990, after learning through a friend about a hostage who had been held for three years and was very ill, he arranged to meet with Ayatollah Fadlallah, the spiritual founder of Hezbollah. As they sipped coffee, Andrew offered to take the place of the sick hostage.
“The man has suffered enough. Let him go back to his wife and children. I will take his place.”
“How can you say that?” asked Fadlallah.
“This is the spirit of Jesus,” Andrew answered. “He died on the cross to let us go free. Now I’m ready to give myself up so my friend can go free. That is what Christianity is all about.”
“I have never heard about this kind of Christianity.”
While the ayatollah did not accept Andrew’s offer, that was the start of a friendship.
They met at least five times to talk about their respective faiths and how to bring peace to the Middle East.
In subsequent years Brother Andrew met with Yasar Arafat and leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
He was even invited to lecture on real Christianity at the Islamic University in Gaza, with leaders of Hamas seated in the front row.
It was my privilege to help Brother Andrew tell his story in our book, “Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire.”
He continued to work for peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims until failing health ended his travels.
On Sept. 27, at the age of 94, he passed away at his home in the Netherlands.
While Brother Andrew has gone to his reward, the legacy of this brave man lives on in the many lives he touched.
He showed the world that we never need to view anyone as an enemy.
Though a devout Christian, he made friends with everyone – Muslim, Jew and atheist.
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