In Memoriam: Andrew van der Bijl, ‘God’s Smuggler’ of Bibles Behind the Iron Curtain

Andrew van der Bijl, a Dutch Christian missionary famous for his exploits smuggling Bibles into Communist countries during the Cold War, has died at 94.

Andrew van der Bijl, Dutch Christian missionary and founder of Open Doors. (CC BY 2.0)
Andrew van der Bijl, Dutch Christian missionary and founder of Open Doors. (CC BY 2.0)

Known as “God’s smuggler”—which was also the title of his bestselling 1967 memoir —Brother Andrew died in September at his home in Harderwijk in the Netherlands. 

In 1955, Brother Andrew founded Open Doors, a worldwide Christian persecution watchdog and charity that trains pastors and church leaders in evangelism and provides Bibles, Christian literature and physical assistance to Christians in more than 60 high-risk countries where they face persecution. The organization also publishes an annual report spotlighting 50 countries where Christians suffer extreme oppression because of their faith including false imprisonment, captivity, violent attacks and death.

Brother Andrew began on his mission by smuggling Bibles into Poland after he learned that members of underground churches in the country were having to share a single copy of the holy book.

In their obituary for Brother Andrew, Open Doors quotes him as saying, “We are called to change the world so that every Christian has enough liberty to worship according to the Bible. We don’t deserve our freedom. We have it by God’s grace for a purpose—to care for and strengthen other members of the Body of Christ who are suffering.”

One of Brother Andrew’s most famous escapades occurred early in his ministry in Romania, then behind the Iron Curtain. As he waited to drive across the Romanian border in a car loaded with copies of the holy book, guards ordered travelers to declare every piece of merchandise they were carrying and meticulously checked every article in the vehicles in the line ahead of him.

“I know that no amount of cleverness on my part can get me through this border search,” he thought. “Dare I ask for a miracle?”

As Open Doors described the incident, Brother Andrew thought “Putting the Bibles out in the open would truly be depending on God, rather than his own intelligence… So when the guards ushered Andrew forward, he did just this. ‘I handed him my papers and started to get out.’ But his knee was against the door, holding it closed.”

To his utter surprise, just as Brother Andrew was about to get out of his car and reveal the Bibles, a guard simply took a look at his passport and waved him across the border.

“God had cleared the way for Brother Andrew to smuggle the Bible to Christians who had no access to God’s Word,” Open Doors states, adding that the incident at the Romanian border not only “became one of many close calls to follow” but that he “even developed a trademark prayer to say as he snuck Bibles and Christian literature across the border.”

“Lord, in my luggage, I have Scripture I want to take to your children,” the prayer went. “When you were on Earth, you made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see those things You do not want them to see.”

After years of smuggling Bibles, when communist bloc countries began opening to the West, Brother Andrew turned his attention to Middle Eastern and Islamic countries where Christians were persecuted and to underground churches in China.

During a daring 1981 expedition, Open Doors missionaries accompanied by Brother Andrew floated a barge into China under cover of darkness. They delivered a million Bibles to a group of Chinese Christians.

On his 69th birthday, the World Evangelical Fellowship, a grassroots Christian organization active in 143 nations, presented Brother Andrew with its Religious Liberty Award.

“Brother Andrew has been the preeminent example of those from the outside who have excelled in the ministry of encouragement—the many years he has devoted himself to serving the oppressed,” the chairman of the fellowship’s Religious Liberty Commission said. “His exploits have become legendary as he has crossed borders carrying Bibles, which were liable to confiscation. Time after time God has blinded the eyes of the border guards, and the Bibles got through.”


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Evangelical Christian Open Doors Andrew van der Bijl