My Journey with Brother Andrew

Bishara Awad still remembers the terror. He remembers how he and six brothers and sisters crouched in a corner, away from the window of the living room in a tiny Jerusalem apartment, as the war raged outside. He was 9-year-old follower of Christianity in Palestine, living in a land torn apart in 1948 as Jewish settlers fought Arabs to establish the country of Israel.

Yes, he remembers the war that claimed his father’s life. And he remembers how it feels to be filled with hate.

But because of Jesus, Bishara has left the memory of his hatred in the past.

One of the rich benefits of my friendship with Brother Andrew are the people he has introduced me to—people like Bishara Awad. I met Bishara on my first trip to Israel in 2001, and I was immediately struck by his kind face and warm smile that invited trust. He gave me key insight into a part of Christ’s Body that many Christians in the West have not heard much about.

Read more of Al Janssen’s blog series, ‘My journey with Brother Andrew’

As I sat with Bishara, my impression was that this gentle man had many reasons to harbor anger and bitterness. Seared in his memory is the picture of his mother dragging his father’s lifeless body off the street. His father, Elias Nicola Awad, was caught in the crossfire between the Jordanian army and solders in the Israeli paramilitary force. A large red spot on his forehead marked the spot where a single stray bullet ended his life.

Brother Andrew with his friend, Bishara Awad

The next morning, when shooting temporarily subsided, neighbors helped dig a makeshift grave in the courtyard behind their apartment building. Fighting resumed that afternoon. At midnight, a Jordanian soldier ordered the family to evacuate. The Awad family never saw their home again.

The Awad family was taken in by a Muslim family and given temporary shelter in a kerosene storage room. “I still remember nights when we went to sleep without any food,” Bishara recalls.

Bishara’s mother, a nurse, got a job at a hospital for $25 a month. That couldn’t begin to provide for seven children, and she was forced to place her own kids in orphanages. “First I lost my father. Now I was away from my mother—we were allowed to visit her once a month,” Bishara remembers. “I lived at the boys’ home for the next 12 years.”

I probed into Bishara’s past trying to discover the source of his peaceful spirit. He explained that it was his mother’s faith that influenced him and each of his siblings. “’Always show the Lord to everybody. It is never right to take revenge,’ she would say,“ Bishara told me. Still, his future looked bleak until he received a full scholarship to attend Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota.  He returned to Bethlehem after graduation and was put in charge of a Christian school for orphans. But there was a dryness in his soul. “The Lord revealed that I had so much hatred, even though I was born again,” he says. “I asked the Lord to forgive me and to take the hatred away. And He did. He filled me with His love and compassion.”

Bishara’s story provided insight into Palestinian Christians who lost much in the conflict and now were squeezed by growing Muslim extremism. Walking with Bishara and Brother Andrew to Manger Square in Bethlehem, I noticed the minaret of one mosque towering over Church of the Nativity, originally erected in 327 AD over the supposed birthplace of Jesus. That image sent a message, declaring that Islam was greater than Christianity.

How is a Christian supposed to live in such conditions? I could understand why many had fled to the West. Bishara was naturally tempted to remain in the U.S. after college when he became an American citizen. But he heard God’s call to return and be a living witness in the land of his birth. He founded Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) in 1979, and Brother Andrew and Open Doors proudly helped them obtain their first building and grow the program.

Open Doors exists to strengthen the Church in places where it is persecuted and struggling for survival. Initially there was debate within the ministry about how BBC fit into this mission. At the time Open Doors was still focused on equipping the Church in the midst of Communism. Brother Andrew, however, saw change coming.

“At its core, Communism is a bankrupt worldview because it says there is no God,” he stated. “Islam is a sleeping giant. It is going to grow and become very powerful. Islam is where the primary conflict will be for the next one hundred years. The Church needs to be prepared for this challenge.”

Brother Andrew recognized the Church was dying in the Holy Land, at the point of being overpowered by several forces, including the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. BBC is one tool God would has used to train desperately needed leaders for a “spiritual resistance movement.” And He used people like Bishara to do it; people who had every reason to be filled with hatred, but that God had redeemed and restored to do His work of radical love, for His glory.

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.

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