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.
The Bible is full of ordinary people who went to impossible places and did amazing things simply because they obeyed God.
The book of Hebrews has become one of my favorite books in the Bible, in part because of Brother Andrew’s influence. Several times we reflected together on chapter 11, which lists some of the great champions of faith.
Once, he told me he believed that Hebrews 11:1 is the most important verse in the whole Bible. I protested: “How can you suggest this or any verse is most important? What about John 3:16? Why this particular sentence in Hebrews?”
“Because of one word,” he answered. “Faith.”
Faith, says the author of Hebrews, is the very evidence of things not seen. Yet, its existence or lack thereof becomes very visible in the lives of saints. And sinners, too! Hebrews 11 provides a brief survey of the Bible to demonstrate that the supernatural life is God’s standard. It should be the very essence of everyone’s life. Faith opens all sorts of possibilities for any person as long as that person is connected to the source of all life—Jesus.
Of course, the list in Hebrews 11 is not complete. I’ve wondered why certain names are included and others aren’t. For example, only five of the judges are listed. Why, I asked Brother Andrew, are Jephthah and Samson on the list, but not Deborah or Samuel? David makes the list but none of his successors like Solomon or Uzziah. The prophets are recognized as a category—shouldn’t the writer of Hebrews at least have mentioned a couple of the greats like Elijah and Isaiah?
Brother Andrew explained that the list isn’t complete because no one is excluded from living a life of faith: “Keep in mind that each person in this list was an ordinary person like you. Like me.”
One day he and I started a list of “ordinary” people from Scripture that God drafted into His service. They include a doctor (Luke), a carpenter (Joseph), a farmer (Elisha), a house wife (Deborah), fishermen (at least four of the disciples), a tax collector (Levi/Matthew), a political activist (Simon the Zealot), a religious fundamentalist (Saul who became Paul). Our list included teenagers (Samuel, Jeremiah, Mary, the mother of Jesus) and senior citizens (Abraham, Moses, Simeon and Anna). Andrew’s point is that God will use any person who is available and develop that person into a hero of faith.
As I reflect on Brother Andrew’s life and Bible teaching and particularly Hebrews 11, I have reached three conclusions about people that God uses.
First, God uses the ordinary person who is available to accomplish extraordinary deeds. On many occasions, Brother Andrew insisted that his best-seller God’s Smuggler should never have been written. “If I, a simple Dutchman who never graduated from high school or college, could do this, then a million others could have as well.”
Second, God uses flawed people while He transforms them. Andrew never considered himself an ideal candidate for Kingdom work. In fact, none of us is perfectly prepared for divine assignments. We only have to study the examples of men and women in Scripture to realize that they were not born holy and righteous and perfectly suited for ministry. God molded them and used them even as He was transforming them into the godly people we admire today.
Third, biblical heroes had to act by faith, trusting God to do the impossible. Just look at the list in Hebrews 11. Leave home at age 75 (Abram and Sarah) and wander to an unknown country based on a divine promise—that isn’t logical. Lead 3 million people out of slavery under a ruthless monarch (Moses). Ridiculous! Go to war against 100,000 trained soldiers with a motley crew of 300 men armed only with a pitcher and a torch (Gideon). Who are we kidding! Kill 1,000 fighting men with the jawbone of a donkey (Samson)—you can’t make this stuff up!
But this is God’s story. Which is how Brother Andrew challenges me: “Al, you may be listed in this chapter. And many of our friends around the world. Do you see it?”
He smiled and pointed to verse 36. “Others…!”
“Here’s your chance,” he said. “But remember, heroes are replaceable.” Which perhaps is the point of verses 35-39. These unnamed heroes were tortured, mocked, flogged, stoned and killed with the sword. I read that and hesitate to sign up. I want to be a hero, but at that price?
Then I think of the people we serve in Open Doors—the persecuted church. Today they live these verses. They pay the price. Their faith is persistent even though they may not receive what is promised in this life. We are beneficiaries of their faith.
Bottom line: God never hands out impossible assignments. Not for the person who lives by faith.
Photo: Brother Andrew at a destroyed church in Lebanon. From 1980 to 1995, he made on average of two trips a year to the country torn apart by civil war.