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.
“I read the Quran before I read the Bible.”
A few years ago, on a Sunday night, Brother Andrew sat in his darkened office and talked. My friend was feeling his age. While his passion never subsided, it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to concentrate on writing projects. This evening he was in a talkative mood and to take advantage of that, I placed my digital recorder on the ancient bellows he used as a coffee table.
This conversation was triggered by the theme of his landmark autobiography (God’s Smuggler). Brother Andrew was known for smuggling Bibles. Not drugs or guns or contraband. I had heard him make provocative statements such as “Nobody has the right to have two Bibles when there are many Christians who do not possess one Bible.” Clearly the Scriptures, which he affectionately referred to as “Father’s Book,” meant so much to him that he was willing to risk life and reputation to bring the Bible to Christians deprived of it by their political system. What had produced such passion?
Brother Andrew began with a startling admission: That he had read the Quran before he read the Bible. I was used to my friend’s ability to shock, but this was still surprising. “Why? Where did you find the Quran?”
“In Indonesia,” Brother Andrew said. He picked it up in a mosque when he was in the Dutch Army. “I thought it was a fascinating book. I still have it,” he added.
“Didn’t you read the Bible as a child?”
“You attended church, so it was read to you?”
“After every meal, my father read a chapter. He was deaf from all the years working as a blacksmith. So he read the Bible in a booming voice, even Deuteronomy and Numbers and Chronicles, with all those names he broke his tongue over.”
Our conversation spilled into the next morning when Andrew pointed to his large collection of Bibles that covered an entire wall.
“Have I shown you the Bible my mother gave me?”
He took a small blue covered book off the shelf. “My mother gave this to me when I was sent to Indonesia in November ’46. She said, ‘Will you read it?’ and of course I said, ‘yes Mother.’ But I did, ‘no Mother.’ The Bible made its way to the bottom of my trunk and didn’t come out until I was lying in the hospital and my buddies found it and gave it to me.”
I held the precious book in my hands and opened to the flyleaf where there was an inscription in Dutch. “Your mother wrote this?”
“It says, ‘On your departure for Indonesia. November 1946.’” I turned the page and saw the next page was torn and had a gold smudge from a bookmark that got stuck there in south Pacific humidity. “The binding fell apart,” Andrew said. “I had it rebound, but they cut the pages to do it and half of my notes in the margins were cut out. I was very sad.”
There was another inscription in Dutch on the first page, this in Brother Andrew’s handwriting. “What does this say?” I asked.
“It says, ‘The Bible, the book you must DO!’ It doesn’t say this is the book you have to interpret. Not even believe. But do!
“That’s very different from churches I’ve attended in the U.S. They say it’s the book you must believe.
“The Devil also believes.”
Handling the book like the treasure it was, I returned it to the prized position among his many Bible translations. Returning to my seat, Andrew said, “I’ve been an ardent reader of the Word ever since. When I got out of the army, I started a systematic plan for reading through the whole Bible at least once a year. Sometimes twice a year. In recent years I’ve had to stop doing that because of my eyesight. Those Bibles with big print are too heavy to hold. Still, I read a lot. At least two chapters a day.”
Via this blog, I hope to convey some of the treasures Brother Andrew discovered in 60-plus years of reading what he reverently calls “Father’s Book.”