God’s Little Smuggler

 

“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.

There are 11 comments.

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  1. DrewInWisconsin Coolidge
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I’m reminded of something similar I signed up for back in the 80s. Likewise it involved sending Bibles (or maybe it was just New Testaments or maybe even just John’s Gospel) into eastern Europe, but rather than sending piecemeal, you sent the whole thing at once. The whole point was to help with the cost of postage, so you’d get a bunch of of pre-packaged Bibles sent to you, snug in the mailing envelopes, and just affix postage and addresses.

    I can’t recall if the addresses were already fixed to the packages or not.

    Anyway, it didn’t feel exactly like smuggling, but it was “sending the Gospel to the benighted former Commie states!”

    I don’t think I ended up sending too many, and experiencing a bit of guilt for having a bunch of unsent bibles around.

    I seem to recall that the organization doing this was fairly well-known, so it was legit. Just . . . kind of weird in retrospect.

    I hadn’t thought about that in years. Thanks for jarring that memory loose.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Interesting stories.

    • #2
  3. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Fun story.

    Years ago my wife went to Albania on a missions trip. To get the Bibles across the border they bribed the guard with OREOs. Not even real ones but some store brand sandwich cookies. I guess the upside of socialism is that it creates such shortages that it makes bribes much cheaper.

    • #3
  4. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Fun story.

    Years ago my wife went to Albania on a missions trip. To get the Bibles across the border they bribed the guard with OREOs. Not even real ones but some store brand sandwich cookies. I guess the upside of socialism is that it creates such shortages that it makes bribes much cheaper.

    One line I cut from the final draft of my post (for brevity’s sake) observed regarding the miracles at the border check points is that one should probably hesitate to ascribe to miracle what can be blamed on incompetence.

    • #4
  5. Nancy Spalding Thatcher
    Nancy Spalding
    @NancySpalding

    Fredösphere (View Comment):

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Fun story.

    Years ago my wife went to Albania on a missions trip. To get the Bibles across the border they bribed the guard with OREOs. Not even real ones but some store brand sandwich cookies. I guess the upside of socialism is that it creates such shortages that it makes bribes much cheaper.

    One line I cut from the final draft of my post (for brevity’s sake) observed regarding the miracles at the border check points is that one should probably hesitate to ascribe to miracle what can be blamed on incompetence.

    But, just Remember, God uses humanity, flaws and all! isn’t it nice that our flaws sometimes make good works easier rather than harder? 

    • #5
  6. JamesSalerno Coolidge
    JamesSalerno
    @JamesSalerno

    What an awesome story! I know my comics and somehow, I’ve never heard of these.

    • #6
  7. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    I totally had that magazine/comic! Heroes for conservative Christian kids, nothing wrong with that. :)

    • #7
  8. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen
    @DuaneOyen

    Now that there are more Bibles printed in Nanjing than at any other printer in the world, and you can walk over to Barnes & Noble in Shanghai and buy Chinese language Bibles with no problem, we can be comfortable with the availability of the written Word, not in any way to denigrate Brother Andrew’s heroism.

    The bigger challenge is to provide the personal evangelism that enables understanding of what is written there.

    • #8
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    My church participated in a program where we sent letters and Christmas cards to prisoners in the Soviet Union back in the Eighties. We didn’t need to send Bibles: just receiving mail from the States let the both the prisoners and their jailers know that the recipients weren’t forgotten. Years later, I attended a lecture where the speaker had received such messages when he had been incarcerated, and he said that receiving mail of that kind had lifted spirits more than he could say.

    The best moment of all was when word came through the prison grapevine that Reagan had called the Soviet Union an evil empire. That had made a huge difference in prisoner morale.

    • #9
  10. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    My church participated in a program where we sent letters and Christmas cards to prisoners in the Soviet Union back in the Eighties. We didn’t need to send Bibles: just receiving mail from the States let the both the prisoners and their jailers know that the recipients weren’t forgotten. Years later, I attended a lecture where the speaker had received such messages when he had been incarcerated, and he said that receiving mail of that kind had lifted spirits more than he could say.

    I can’t help thinking that the sort of involvement this post, and many of the comments, describe is in pretty short supply these days. What’s the twenty-first century way of showing to support to those living in horrific conditions in far-off lands? Oh, I know, #BringBackOurGirls. Excuse me while I return to my Sustainably-Sourced Grande Triple Foamy Soy-Based (Non-Dairy) Whipped Coffee-Free Machiato-Like Drink with a Garnish of Extra-Creamy Non-Fat Shaving Cream (absolutely no farting cows were involved anywhere in the production of this, Honest Injun. Oops).

    I can’t help thinking that the days when commitment was a bit more difficult, when standing for one’s friends, or for what is right, took a bit more out of us, when we took the time to count to three before getting down in the mud and engaging in The Daily Outrage (TM), when the chief means of showing, or dismissing, friendship or support involved, nay, required, more than just a single mouse click, I can’t help thinking that we were better off, in terms of our souls, if not our wallets.

    The best moment of all was when word came through the prison grapevine that Reagan had called the Soviet Union an evil empire. That had made a huge difference in prisoner morale.

    As I recall, it wasn’t greeted with the same sort of universal acclaim in his own country or in Europe.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She (View Comment):
    As I recall, it wasn’t greeted with the same sort of universal acclaim in his own country or in Europe.

    Oh, how they howled! It was music to my ears.

    • #11

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