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“Brother Andrew” is the pseudonym of Andrew van der Bijl, a Christian missionary who smuggled Bibles into communist countries during the height of the Cold War. His story was well known in Evangelical circles; they even made a comic book about him. He told of crossing through border checkpoints, his ancient Volkswagen stuffed with Bibles. It was like a spy thriller. He was never caught. The blindness of the crossing guards seemed miraculous.
Brother Andrew was the perfect hero for a young, deeply conservative, deeply religious boy — which is to say, my 13-year-old self. I longed to be like him. To face danger, to engage in intrigue, to take the battle to an implacable, prodigious foe — that would be glory.
Out of the blue, my shot at glory appeared.
It came through an advertisement in a magazine. I don’t remember the organization’s name. Their modus operandi was a bit convoluted, but I instantly grasped what they were doing. I instantly knew I wanted in on the action!
They had built a mailing list of contacts in Eastern Europe, through illegal broadcasts or something. They used ordinary mail to send Bibles to those people. To avoid notice of the censors, the Bibles needed to be mailed in small sections, 20 pages at a time. To confuse the sensors, the sections must be sent sporadically in hand-addressed envelopes with return addresses from random locations.
For that, they needed an army of volunteers. That’s where I came in! I responded to the ad, offering to help. I was sent perhaps 50 copies of one section of St. Matthew’s Gospel (if my memory and guesswork were correct; it was in Hungarian). My instructions told me how to address and post the envelopes. I was to mail them two to three times per week, no more.
It was a lot of responsibility for a kid, considering the work was strung out over many months. I lost interest midway and almost dropped out. I don’t remember my parents showing any interest in what I was doing, which seems a little odd, me mailing letters with alphabet soup addresses every few days.
I finished the job. I think what made me finish was the sense that, for the first time in my life, I was doing something with real consequences. The danger to my life was zero, and yet, through these Bible sections, printed on their ultra-thin, odd-smelling paper, wrapped in a mass-printed “hand-written” notes intended to fool the censors (they were obviously printed; how dumb were these censors anyway?) — through this ultra-remote act of smuggling contraband behind enemy lines, I was connecting with people whose lives were very much in danger.
I don’t recall talking about this business with anyone. It was my little secret. But I do remember the feeling I got when I put that last envelope in the mail: I am Brother Andrew.