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.

Brother Andrew often experienced controversy. Initially, there were objections to smuggling—was it really permissible for a person to break a nation’s laws to bring Bibles to Christians hungry for God’s Word?

The sequel to God’s Smuggler was his answer: The Ethics of Smuggling, © 1974. (Ten years later, the content was revised into another book called Is Life So Dear?: When Being Wrong is Right.)

Perhaps more controversial was Brother Andrew’s involvement in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It’s an area Christians are often passionate about. I had a front-row seat to Brother Andrew’s work in this area and wrote about it in our first book together, Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire.

Brother Andrew told me that during the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel defeated the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, he seriously considered volunteering for the Israeli army as a truck driver. “I saw the Arabs as the threat.”

That all changed one Sunday after preaching about the suffering church at Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem. Andrew was approached by a woman who took his hand and wouldn’t let go. “I’m glad you are talking about the suffering church in Eastern Europe,” she said, but “there is also a suffering church right here!”

Andrew was confused by the statement. He knew there were Messianic congregations that occasionally faced harassment from Orthodox Jews. The woman explained: “I’m a Palestinian. I love the Lord Jesus Christ. And I’m not the only one. There are thousands of us, and we are struggling for our survival.”

She went on to explain that in 1948 when Israel became a nation, about 15 percent of Palestinians were Christians. But many of them had left the country, “because it is so hard to survive here, to make a decent living, and to practice our faith. Now we are only three percent Christian. Maybe less.”

‘We need a Bible school’—A Kingdom collaboration

In my 1999 interviews with Brother Andrew, one name kept recurring: Bishara Awad. He became Andrew’s teacher when they met after a church meeting in 1981. Bishara drove Andrew from East Jerusalem to the Christian school in Beit Jala where he was principal. The main building was built of stone and capped by a crude cross, formed by two sticks over a sign with a drawing of praying hands and the words “Hope School” in both Arabic and English.

A sign outside Hope School in Bethlehem—the beginning of what would become perhaps the only Arabic-speaking Bible training school in the Middle East.

 

To one side was a small, dusty soccer field. Beyond that was a farm building where the students raised chickens. “There are about a thousand hens that provide eggs for the children,” Bishara explained. “The extras we sell to help support the school.”

Seeing the poverty, Brother Andrew wanted to know how else the school was funded. He learned that individuals could “adopt” a child and pay for his/her care and education. The cost was $1,000 per year, and supporters could establish a relationship with the child.

Andrew immediately responded: “Do you have any Muslim boys who need support?” That’s how he came to know Sharaf, an orphan who lived at the school. Their relationship continued for several years, until Sharaf graduated.

But a bigger dream emerged when Bishara revealed a room in the front of the school. There were biblical maps, Greek and Hebrew alphabets, and posters of the Holy Land.

“This is the home of Bethlehem Bible College,” he said. “You ask about the condition of the church. The No. 1 need is leadership. You will see beautiful church buildings here. But the church is dying because there are fewer and fewer shepherds.”

Bishara drove Andrew to a three-story, white stone building. “This is where I’d like to move Bethlehem Bible College. It’s available for rent. It is my dream to see the church grow. To do that, we must train leaders. We need a Bible school, with teachers who know the Bible well, and classes are taught in Arabic, not English. It is my dream to see dozens of Palestinians of every denomination coming here to study the Bible.”

The close friendship between Bishara Awad, founder and President Emeritus of Bethlehem Bible College, and Brother Andrew resulted in Kingdom work that continues to this day.

That was the start of a friendship that lasts to this day, and a partnership that helped build what is one of the few, perhaps the only Arabic-speaking Bible school training pastors, youth workers, and ministry leaders in the Middle East.

Often Brother Andrew said to me: “I’m not pro or anti-Israel. Or pro or anti-Palestinian. I’m pro-Jesus! I stand for His Church!” His actions drove home his point. I’m thankful to have witnessed firsthand how my friend sought out forgotten Christians in the Holy Land and stood with them to strengthen their presence and witness.

Each week, Al Janssen shares about his journey with Brother Andrew. Read all of his posts in this series here.

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