My Journey with Brother Andrew

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.

“What monastic order does Brother Andrew belong to?”

I couldn’t resist a chuckle at the question posed to me on a national radio talk show as I promoted Light Force, one of the first books Brother Andrew and I wrote focusing on the persecuted church in the Middle East.

“Brother Andrew is not a monk,” I said. I explained that “Brother Andrew” is easier to say and remember than Anne Vander Bijl, the name on his passport. (His name is pronounced Ah-ne Van Der Bail.)

Second, his first name, Anne, is a common man’s name in the Netherlands but not in North America. Third, calling him Brother Andrew provided some security for him and the people he met on his travels.

It was common practice for those in our ministry who traveled behind the Iron Curtain to use pseudonyms. Almost from the beginning, Christians in persecution started referring to God’s smugglers as “brother” or “sister,” such as Brother David or Sister Corrie. One Dutch traveler, Dürk Langeveld, made so many trips for Open Doors that introducing himself by saying, “I bring you greetings from Brother Dick,” became code for other workers when they met contacts in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union.

These secret identities protected Christians when they were interrogated by the KGB or Stasi. “Who is Anne Vander Bijl?” police might ask. The pastor could honestly answer that he’d never heard of that person. Later, investigators tried to hunt down some of the people mentioned by Brother Andrew in God’s Smuggler. But the identities and locations were cleverly disguised in the book. To our knowledge, no one we wrote about was ever arrested because of connections to this story.

That obsession with security continues in Open Doors today. One of our international ministry leaders, who joined Open Doors in the mid-1980s, was told on his first day of work to choose a new name he would use as long as he worked for the ministry. I still do not know his real name!

The reasoning for such measures is simple. The persecuted church lives in constant danger. They cannot escape their circumstances. We visit them to encourage them, learn their stories and deliver desperately needed Bibles, training and other resources. After a few days, we leave. Those trips may be slightly dangerous, but the persecuted church bears the greater risk just by our presence. Therefore, we are committed that we will never say or do anything to put fellow believers in any greater danger than they already are. We never want to be the reason that a brother or sister was arrested or attacked in any way.

That’s also why we sometimes have to disguise names and places in our publications. Today, the internet is a wonderful tool for good and for evil. When one of us applies for a visa, a few key strokes can reveal to a government official who we work for and our agenda. We have to stay ahead of them by being cautious about what we communicate about our work. When we go to the persecuted church, we have to understand that while our being there is a great encouragement, it can also bring additional unwanted attention to the church already under pressure from government, society and culture.

On my travels with Brother Andrew, we made it a rule to follow the instructions of our hosts. If they said it wasn’t safe for us to go out on the streets, then we didn’t go. If they told us to sit in the back of a van and hide behind darkened and curtained windows, we didn’t try and sneak a peek when they weren’t looking. If we were booked into a four-star hotel while others slept in a cheaper boarding house, we weren’t necessarily pleased with our plush accommodations. But we understood that this was because our hotel had enhanced security procedures. Sometimes we had to leave meetings early or were instructed not to mingle with people because our hosts weren’t sure if a threat was lurking among the crowd.

Because of these security measures, Brother Andrew and I never felt in danger, though many of our friends cringed at some of the places we went and the people we met. But there was another reason for our security. We both feel that if God has called us to some country where persecution is high, then He is our protector, and we will fulfill His mission.

What if we are wrong? What if we are killed in the process while meeting with one of the fundamentalist groups? Well, Andrew and I agree that we all will die once. If God chooses to take us this way, then we figure He would be most glorified by our deaths.

As Brother Andrew has said: Being prepared to die like this is actually a good way to live!

Above photo: Brother Andrew

Read all of Al Janssen’s posts in this weekly series here.