‘God’s smuggler’ Brother Andrew dies at the age of 94




Brother Andrew, famous for smuggling Bibles across the Iron Curtain in a blue Volkswagen Beetle, has died aged 94.

Nicknamed ‘God’s smuggler’, Brother Andrew’s passion for supporting persecuted Christians spawned global charity, Open Doors that is helping millions of persecuted Christians worldwide.

Anne van der Bijl, better known as Brother Andrew, died on Tuesday 27 September, surrounded by his family who had provided him with dedicated around-the-clock care in the last few years of his life.

The book of his adventures, God’s Smuggler, sold over ten million copies in 35 languages, remaining in print for more than 40 years.

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said: “When Brother Andrew started his ministry, little did he imagine that within 60 years it would embrace millions of Christians worldwide. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy.”

Open Doors currently works in more than 70 countries worldwide, providing spiritual and material support to Christians who live under threat from governments, militants, and social persecution.

Brother Andrew was born on 11 May 1928 in Sint Pancras, the Netherlands. He joined the colonial army of the Dutch East Indies, and converted to Christianity during a period of convalescence, where he spent much of his time reading the Bible.

After receiving missionary training in Scotland, Brother Andrew travelled to Poland in 1955 to participate in a Communist youth rally. He travelled there with a suitcase full of Christian tracts. Arriving there, he discovered that churches behind the Iron Curtain were isolated and in need of encouragement.

His border crossings in a bright blue Volkswagen Beetle stuffed with illicit Bibles in 1957 is recorded in his autobiography, God’s Smuggler, written 10 years later with the journalists John and Elizabeth Sherrill.

The Bible smuggling reached a climax in June 1981 when a 20-person Open Doors crew landed a custom-built barge onto a Chinese beach under the cover of darkness. They floated a million Bibles to waiting Chinese Christians, who spirited them away, copies reaching to all corners of China. Time magazine called ‘Project Pearl’, as it was known, “the largest operation of its kind in the history of China”.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Brother Andrew turned his attention to the Islamic World, saying that the rapid spread of Islam posed the greatest challenge yet to the Christian church worldwide. He travelled to the Middle East and South Asia and had private meetings with leaders of several Islamic fundamentalist groups. However, Brother Andrew preached against retaliation – repeatedly declaring ‘I sincerely love all Muslims’ as a counter to the rising Islamophobia in the west.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands knighted Brother Andrew in 1993. In 1997, he received the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Award, recognising his lifetime of service to suffering Christians and his passion for evangelical ministry.

But perhaps the recognition that pleased him most was the copies of KGB reports, which he obtained after the fall of the Iron Curtain. There were more than 150 pages about him, detailing his work in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Despite this, they were still unable to stop his work.

During Easter 2018, the then-Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to Brother Andrew, saying, “I would like to express my personal thanks for the extraordinary and courageous support you have provided to the persecuted Church throughout the years.

“Having read ‘God’s Smuggler’ as a child, I know that your story has inspired millions of people around the world to speak out on behalf of the voiceless and suffering.”

Anne van der Bijl was married for 59 years to Corry, who died in January 2018. He is survived by five children and eleven grandchildren.

A private memorial service is currently being arranged.

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