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.
‘Your book has stirred me. I am not a Christian.’
There are 10 million copies in 35 languages. Or maybe 12 million copies in more than 40 languages. Of course, I’m talking about the book God’s Smuggler that helped launch Open Doors.
Brother Andrew’s story, expertly written by John and Elizabeth Sherrill, was published in 1967 and has touched untold numbers of people around the world. A few years ago, I tried to gather all of the contracts and royalty reports from around the organization to make an accurate accounting.
Unfortunately, many documents are lost. Brother Andrew admitted to me that he gave permission for the book to be translated into some languages without any written agreement. So we will never know exactly how many books were distributed over 50-plus years.
However, there is a much more important number regarding this book — the number “one”! I say that because this book touches individual readers one person at a time. I know that firsthand. I’m one of those numbers whose life was changed by Andrew’s story. A fellow university student lent me a copy of God’s Smuggler in spring 1971.
An endorsement from the Los Angeles Times caught my attention: “Tension builds page by page … more thrilling than a spy story with its numerous near escapes and mounting climaxes of danger.”
I devoured the book in two sittings, staying up into the very early morning hours to finish.
Brother Andrew’s faith journey was an important tool that God used to shove me out of my career path as a high school math teacher. Of course, I never imagined I would one day meet the author and help him write six more books.
Sealy Yates, a lawyer and founding board chairman for Open Doors, read the book in 1974 when he was asked to do legal work for the establishment of Open Doors with Brother Andrew in the United States. Sealy recalls: “One thing that made an impression on me is that Andrew had to live by faith because he had nothing. I read through that book and thought, I don’t know anybody who lives by faith like that.”
Last year I started sorting through boxes of letters from people who had read the book. Back before the days of email, Brother Andrew received thousands of hand-written and typed letters from around the world. Each letter was answered personally with the help of several devoted assistants. The letter writers were from all ages and professions, but I noted a surprising number from teenagers and young adults.
One young man wrote, “Your book has stirred me. I am not a Christian. I have great difficulty in believing in Christ. This is why I need the personal help of you and your staff.”
Andrew wrote back to encourage the writer to find the answers in the Bible. “I suggest you find a place where you can be quiet, alone, and take your Bible. Ask God to reveal Himself to you, and I suggest you start with St. John’s Gospel.”
Three-and-a-half months later, the young man wrote back: “So much has happened in the last three weeks. The most important thing is that I have given my life to Christ. Thank you much for praying for me. It has paid off, as you knew it would.”
A high school sophomore was so taken by God’s Smuggler that he wrote to say, “The Lord is calling me to work with you over there behind the Iron Curtain.” He wanted to know where and when to report, and how to raise the money for the trip.
One of Brother Andrew’s assistants gently informed the boy that he was too young to undertake such a ministry. “We want to encourage you to take every opportunity to prepare yourself for the Lord’s work. Get a good education and ask the Lord what your further study should be.” The teen was encouraged to contact Youth with a Mission for more training.
One at a time, thousands of readers met Jesus, were inspired to head into mission work, and learned to live by faith. Andrew’s story even connected with radical Muslims. On my first trip with Brother Andrew, we met Abdul, a member of Islamic a struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam. More in Gaza. He had read the Bible and had many questions. At the end of the evening, Brother Andrew handed him a copy of God’s Smuggler in Arabic. The next day, Abdul told us he had already read half the book and wanted to know what other Christian books we could bring him in Arabic.
A year later, Brother Andrew and I visited Abdul again and gave him an Arabic Bible and several other books. Abdul had passed on God’s Smuggler to his brother who read it and passed it on to others. I will never know the impact of Brother Andrew’s testimony on their lives. But their hunger to understand Christianity makes this book a powerful witness.
The cover of God’s Smuggler says “Over 10 Million Sold.” Each of those copies represents at least one life touched by God.
Top photo: Brother Andrew looks at the original paperback edition of God’s Smuggler published by New American Library.