Second Mile Blog

Stories from the Brother Andrews of this generation

Don’t Define the Persecuted by Their Weakest Moments

Jul 03, 2019
Sarah Cunningham

You’ve probably heard the popular advice, “Don’t define a person by their weakest moments.” Well, the same is true of the Christians who live out their faith in the world’s most difficult regions.

If you read along on our website or via our emails, you see the tragic events that sweep over them in the headlines.

Rape. Abduction. Violent assault. Murder. They are vulnerable and they are victims in the truest sense.

And yet, it’s a mistake to define them by their worst moments.

One of my friends and coworkers who I’ll call Jessica (for security reasons) picked up this insight early on in her Open Doors career.

Meet Jessica

Some have told me they imagine non-profit offices and staff to be a bit bland. Maybe stuffy. Perhaps they visualize cubicles staffed by Saturday Night Live inspired church ladies. Odd, passive, frail women who speak religious mumbo jumbo. All while licking and stamping the envelopes that go out to supporters.

Those people would be in for some shell shock if they met Jess. She’s young and fiery. One of those people who has a slender build and positive energy…and yet radiates a kind of fierceness and conviction that you find hard to believe somehow resides in her petite frame.

About six months after Jess came to Open Doors, she went to a country in Asia to collect information about our work and observe a training we hosted to assist pastors in the region.

It was one of those cultures that is different enough from the United States, where there is enough risk present for Christians, that Jess was given the location of the meeting and told to destroy it.

The Stories They Told

During the course of the event, surrounded by pastors who risked their lives to lead churches in this hostile environment, the stories quickly came pouring out.

Jess’ hosts moved around the room, stopping on each person, while she listened attentively and scribbled notes about what the faith had cost each of them. A few had experienced the worst of what most of us can imagine. The first had been tortured. Another had been exiled, cut off from their homeland and source of livelihood. The next had been falsely imprisoned. As they moved around the room, more than one had been disowned by their families.

When they reached the end of the table, Jessica turned to the last remaining pastor–a man who spoke fluent English. And at first, at least, he began his story just like the rest of them had–by recounting the horrible things they had faced as a result of following Jesus in a volatile region.

But then he stopped. Mid-sentence.

And he said something incredibly important. Something that Jessica has never forgotten since he said it, and I too have never forgotten since she relayed it to me.

What’s Really Important

He said, “You know, the details really don’t matter. You read the reports, you have heard these accounts. You know what is happening. You know how much pressure we live under. It’s not important that you hear another story that illustrates the kind of hardship Christians face.”

Then his voice grew simultaneously strong and trembly with conviction. “What you must know,” he said, “is that the church in our country is experiencing revival. That despite all of this, there is prayer. There is worship. People are hungry for the Bible. People are coming to Jesus. And their lives are being changed.”

Then he looked Jess right in the eye and said this: “What all of you need to know is that our country is experiencing revival through underground networks and there’s nothing the government can do to stop it.”

Persecution, he said, is a catalyst for revival. He was adamant, Jess told me, that we didn’t go back and ask our supporters to raise money to fund just crisis relief. They should know, he insisted, that their gifts were breathing life into a tired and weary church, their prayers were awakening a revival that defied all odds.

That is why our Open Doors team tries not to define the persecuted church by their weakest and worst moments. Because we cannot understand all that God is doing when we only talk about what they have lost, if we don’t also intentionally pass along what they have gained.

If you want to help advance Open Doors’ work to support persecuted Christians like this man, then, you can do so here. But don’t just give toward tragedy. Give toward hope.

Please note: In order to protect the identities of those included, the images used in this post are representative images taken in a variety of locations around Asia.

Meet the Fools God Uses

Jun 12, 2019
Sarah Cunningham

“Who has influenced you most?” This was the question, printed out on a piece of paper, that a senior Open Doors staffer was asked to answer at our U.S. offices a few days ago.

He read the words aloud, in his British accent, pausing thoughtfully.

“Andrew, for sure.” The senior staffer acknowledged, referencing Open Doors’ founder, Brother Andrew. “Andrew taught me two things. Number one, the battle is always spiritual. And number two, always be revolutionary.”

Heads nodded. Our team, who was listening intently from chairs scattered around the room, know Andrew’s name well.

Andrew traveled widely and spoke from stages all over the world. His book, God’s Smuggler, has sold over 12 million copies. And as of this post, Andrew is still living–at 91 years of age–in his home country of the Netherlands. Even though Andrew doesn’t actively run the worldwide ministry, our current team still feel–to some degree–that we work for him…or at least for the work God started through him.

“But another person who impacted my life and work,” the senior staffer noted, “was Brother David.”

Without others like David who helped to build on to Brother Andrew’s original vision, Open Doors might not have ever grown beyond smuggling Bibles in Andrew’s Volkswagen, the staffer noted.

Another Revolutionary

It’s not surprising, really, that someone as revolutionary as Brother David might’ve come to know Andrew in the first place. After all, Brother David unflinchingly lived out Andrew’s two principles the senior staffer had just shared. David definitely understood that the battle was a spiritual one. And he seemed to have been born with a penchant for the revolutionary.

An ex-marine and friend of Brother Andrew, David used his military training to recruit a team of twenty dedicated civilians to smuggle one million Bibles into China right under the noses of the People’s Liberation Army.

This happened when I was a toddler, in June of 1981. It was covered by TIME magazine in October that same year.  But by the time I was old enough to understand the conversations going on among Christians, everyone was still talking about it.

And for good reason.

The senior staffer visiting our office quickly summarized the pieces of the infamous story that stood out to him. “Brother David had a dream in Singapore. In the dream, he clearly saw a tugboat. And he woke up the next morning with the distinct impression he was supposed to buy one on behalf of Open Doors. So Brother David grabbed a friend and headed down to the docks. And there they discovered the boat–which neither had previously seen–resembling the one from his dream. In faith, David struck up a conversation with the boat’s owner and asked how much it would cost to purchase such a boat.”

The answer was staggering. $400,000.

And the boat’s owner would only hold it if the buyer put down a $20,000 down payment.

The First of Many Miracles

Brother David did not flinch.  He turned over $20,000 the first day he could secure it–not knowing where the rest of the funds would come from…or if they would come at all.

The purchase was such a startling decision that our board, back in the U.S., summoned David to explain his unusual plan.

Brother David headed back to America at their request. But before swinging by the board meeting, he made a quick pit stop. He visited Pastor Chuck Smith at Calvary Chapel.

Boldly, Brother David told Chuck exactly what God had shown him. That Open Doors needed a tugboat–an outfitted tugboat and a barge–to smuggle one million Bibles past the watchful eyes of the People’s Liberation Army to the underground church in China.

In a move that would seem outrageous anywhere else–but one that almost gets swallowed up by the bigger story–Chuck almost immediately agreed to give David a check for the full amount.

At the board meeting, David produced the check and was given the go ahead to continue the operation that is now preserved in two books: Night of a Million Miracles and Project Pearl.

The Pursuit of the Impossible

But, perhaps unexpectedly, none of this bravery was what our visiting senior staffer applauded about Brother David. “Brother David let you into his life,” The staffer told us instead, “Brother David wanted to know who you were. He listened to you. He made you feel like a king. Everyone gets so busy. Do leaders have the time to let ordinary people into their lives? Brother David did.”

It was knowing David and being known by him that drew this senior staffer further in to the work God was doing.

“Ever since David, I tried to live my life the same way…and in the same pursuit of the impossible.” The senior staffer noted. “Brother David had always said to me, ‘If it’s not REALLY impossible,  well then is it worth praying for? After all, we can already do the possible things. If we’re going to God himself, wouldn’t impossible things be exactly the things you are supposed to take to Him?'”

The Fools God Uses

As our senior staffer relayed his memories of Brother David, he passed on another humbling lesson in closing. Something that made it obvious he didn’t revere any human–not Andrew or David–too highly compared to Jesus.

“Open Doors always attracts revolutionaries. People who no one would call ordinary. That’s because sensible people aren’t willing to do things like smuggle Bibles. Which is perfect because, from everything I’ve witnessed, I’ve learned God had a significant place in his work for fools.”

I suspect that a good many of us who were listening quietly determined in our hearts to be just this sort of fool who God might use to continue to do such impossible things. I hope to continue to introduce you to more of this cast of fools, even if I can’t always mention them by name, in the days to come.

The Brother Andrews of Today

Jun 05, 2019
Sarah Cunningham

Martin* leaned forward in his chair, intent to soak up the words of such an important figure–the elderly, white-haired gentleman who had changed his life.

The man who, if you ask around our offices, changed most of our lives.

Brother Andrew, the now 91 year old founder of Open Doors, first became widely known after publishing God Smuggler which captured his exploits smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War.

According to Brother Andrew, though, he had never set out to start the organization where both Martin and I are now employed. Andrew had never expected–not in his wildest dreams!–that this work would last more than 60 years. Or that his team would eventually support persecuted believers in more than 60 countries.

No Ordinary Effort

The significance of spending time with the visionary behind Open Doors was not lost on Martin. He knew firsthand, just as I do, why this work had taken off…even without any well laid plans.

Andrew was no suit-clad boardroom executive. Whenever people ask me about him, in fact, I tell them it would be more accurate to think of Brother Andrew as our chief adventurer and lead risk taker.

And the organization he birthed was, as a result, no typical non-profit. Open Doors, after all, has been known to do subtle things like modify tugboats to covertly smuggle one million Bibles into Communist China under the cover of darkness.

And the whole impossible story of Open Doors–going into all these impossible places to do all these impossible things? Andrew insists it could only have come together through the hands of God. “With God,” Andrew is fond of saying, “Even one man is a majority.”

The Second Mile

With this backstory in view, it’s easy to understand Martin’s next words.

“I wish I could’ve been there,” Martin told Andrew. “I wish I could’ve been part of the early days–to watch it all get off the ground, to see it all unfold!”

A smile crept to Brother Andrew’s face and he began to shake his head, his lips forming just one word: “No.”

“NO. Absolutely not.” He repeated.

He waved his hand, dismissing the idea.

“That work is already done. No, the biggest need in front of us is the work that is to come. You are part of this group of young people who will be our second wind. The next chapters are in your hands. You must run the Second Mile.”

Understandably, Martin was touched by Brother Andrew’s charge to this generation. And he repeated the conversation to one of my American teammates. Because he knew the rest of us–our U.S. staff, our partners at other bases, and supporters like you who make our work possible–would be inspired by Andrew’s words too.

Although my new blog was already in the works, I knew–as soon as I heard Andrew’s words–that this had to be the title of this blog. The Second Mile.

We’re Still Here

See, I’m the Senior Director of Communications at Open Doors USA. And every day, my office-mates and I still receive reports of harassment, false imprisonment, attacks, abduction and sometimes much worse from our partners around the world. And we, like the people before us, still sit around tables and around video calls–60 years later–praying through similarly impossible plans to meet the needs of Christians who find themselves in similarly impossible circumstances, against similarly impossible odds.

And we still do our best to rise to each impossible task–still relying, as Andrew did, on the God of the Impossible.

It’s important to me, then, that you know that this adventure–that started so long ago–is far from over.

That there is still a group of people, spread out across the world, who still fiercely believe in the work God began through Andrew.

That many, many of us still wake up every morning, stirred by God and eager to continue this important work.

That on a daily basis, my heart beats faster and my hands tremble to even type, as I work alongside these inspiring people. These persecuted believers and staff still risk their lives and their freedom; still endure heavy, demanding workloads; still live in and travel to hostile environments–because they are determined to help the most vulnerable Christians.

No matter what it takes.

No matter how long it takes.

I want you to be confident that the story God began in Andrew is still alive and well in the persecuted church and in us.

And that’s why I’m setting out to write this blog: to tell some of the behind-the-scenes stories of my partners and our supporters who endeavor to be the Brother Andrews of this generation.

I hope you’ll read along. But fair warning, if you’re not careful, you may just get sucked into the Second Mile too.

* Representative names and photos are sometimes used to protect identity