For nearly 20 years Al Janssen worked closely with Brother Andrew, the Founder of Open Doors. Together they traveled to Muslim countries, wrote six books, met with political leaders and spoke to ministry donors. This blog tells the story of their friendship and some of the many lessons Al learned from this beloved mission leader.
‘Is there a church?’
I don’t remember the first time Brother Andrew posed that question. But it nearly always came up when a country not usually in the news made headlines.
Whenever we would hear reports about a natural disaster or a political upheaval or an armed conflict, Andrew’s first concern was “How are our brothers and sisters faring?”
I’ve continued that practice while I watch BBC World News in the evening. Recently, my heart was captured by the conditions in Venezuela and I wondered how fellow believers were doing amidst the political unrest, food shortages and electrical outages. My prayer as I watched the reports from Caracas: “Lord, have mercy on Venezuela. May your people be light in the midst of this darkness.”
At first I didn’t realize that this was one of the least religious countries in Latin America. Then I glimpsed how God is working there with this headline: Clergy in Venezuela report that churches are full for the first time in recent memory.
On April 11, I received an alert that President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan had been ousted from office by the military. I recalled that a journalist friend of mine had interviewed Bashir years ago. She told me that she thought he was the most evil man she had ever met. The country suffered terribly under his authoritarian rule. Since December 2018, the economy had faced collapse. Bread and fuel subsidies were cut and protests had erupted. Now the military had assumed control.
“Lord, have mercy on the country, and on Your church,” I prayed.
A few days later, I read that several church leaders in Sudan, which is ranked No. 6 on the current World Watch List, had requested prayer for calm to be restored, for the Lord’s protection, and that Christians would “remain a clear testimony in the midst of the crisis.”
Syria isn’t in the news quite as much now that the civil war is winding down. Still, the stories of suffering and pictures of destruction from the civil war always tear at my heart. Every time I see an item from there, I pray for people I know living in Aleppo and other cities. Then I think of the many who have been displaced or emigrated, not just here but also in Iraq, and that fuels more prayer.
Recently there were reports concerning the fifth anniversary of the kidnapping of 230 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. There are still 112 girls missing, but the article I read reminds me that many more teenagers in that region have been abducted, abused and forced to convert to Islam. Many of the girls are married off to Muslim men. Most of their stories never make international headlines. These families and communities need our prayers, too.
The other evening I saw a report from Afghanistan, currently No. 2 on the World Watch List. It was a story about the thousands of Afghan soldiers who have lost limbs—video was shot in a hospital and showed stacks of prosthetic legs and numerous vets struggling in rehabilitation from their injuries. This report reminded me of what Brother Andrew often said publically: There are more than 40,000 mosques in Afghanistan but not one single visible church. However, there is a church. It’s underground, consisting of secret believers, men and women from a Muslim background who have found Jesus. They are often isolated from other Christians. Naturally, I pray for them whenever I hear news from this country! And this time, I prayed for these crippled veterans, that they would somehow meet Jesus.
Christians are often more severely impacted by events we see in the news. For example, in an Islamic country that in the past decade has been hit with a severe earthquake and catastrophic 100-year floods. The world responded generously to provide relief to those who lost their homes. However, that relief rarely reached Christians. Muslims received preferential treatment. For instance during the floods, Muslims took refuge on high ground and pushed Christians down to the edge of the waters. Muslims enjoyed first choice on food and left a few scraps or spoiled remains for our brothers and sisters. That is why our ministry did special fund raising efforts to help our fellow Christians who suffered double from the natural disaster and from persecution.
Brother Andrew’s advice has changed my prayer practice. I can no longer read or watch the news in a detached way. There are always fellow Christians behind those events on the world stage. Watching and reading the news is now prayer time.
Consider joining me and Brother Andrew by making your news fix a regular time for prayer.
Photo: Brother Andrew during a visit to the Open Doors USA office.