My Connections to Brother Andrew by James R. Coggins

Brother Andrew (Anne Van der Bijl) died on September 27 of this year.

Brother Andrew was a Dutch Christian who became concerned that the communist governments of the Soviet Union and other eastern European nations were persecuting Christians and suppressing Christianity. He understood that these governments were depriving hundreds of millions of people of the good news about Jesus Christ.

In the 1950s, Brother Andrew began making trips behind the Iron Curtain to bring Bibles, a few dozen at a time, to people there. He had this crazy idea that giving people the opportunity to read the Bible would change the world. He was right, of course.

Anne Van der Bijl used the name “Brother Andrew” in order to protect his identity so he could continue to smuggle Bibles.

Eventually, Brother Andrew co-wrote a book about what he was doing titled God’s Smuggler. In time, he also founded an organization, now called Open Doors, which has done an enormous amount of work to bring God’s Word to people in “closed countries.” But that was not the vision he laid out in God’s Smuggler. He did not envision a massive organization to bring the Bible to deprived peoples. He realized that it would be too easy for communist governments to detect such an organization and take measures to disrupt its work. Instead, he called for dozens and hundreds and thousands of individual Christians to travel to closed countries as tourists and leave Bibles behind, one carload and one suitcase load at a time. He believed leaving even one Bible behind in a hotel room could change one person’s life.

I read God’s Smuggler shortly after it was published in 1967, about the time I was finishing high school and heading off to university. I found it inspiring. It was one of many books that helped shape my worldview.

Many other Christians were more than inspired. The book motivated them to do precisely what Brother Andrew had suggested and take personal trips to bring Bibles to people who needed it.

Two of those people were sisters, friends of mine from high school. They were Ukrainian Canadians, and their families were among the many thousands and millions who had fled Europe following the Second World War. One summer during our university years, these two friends made a trip back to their homeland with an extra suitcase or two filled with Bibles. They rented a car and drove across the border into the Ukraine.

Another friend from our high school was then studying in Israel, and since my two Ukrainian friends were planning to travel on to the Holy Land after their visit to the Ukraine, they hoped to connect with our mutual high school friend. They asked me for the address of the friend in Israel, and I provided the requested information in a letter. When my two friends traveled to the Ukraine, the border guards failed to find the suitcases of Bibles in the back of their car, but they did find and confiscate my letter, which had been left sitting on the dashboard. The guards were deeply suspicious about any connection with the state of Israel. And that is how my name might have ended up in the files of the KGB, the feared state police in the Soviet Union—which I consider a profound honor.

In 1984, I became an editor with a denominational Christian magazine (the Mennonite Brethren Herald). Every year, we received hundreds or even thousands of news releases from Christian organizations around the world. Among them were news releases from Open Doors. These reports contained information about underground churches particularly in communist and Muslim countries that would otherwise have been inaccessible to us. We regularly published news reports gleaned from these news releases. We even published whole articles, which often offered remarkable insights into the work of the church around the world.

I left that magazine after a couple of decades and later became a part-time writer and editor for a Christian newspaper in British Columbia. In that role, one day I was assigned to interview a man named Paul Estabrooks. An interesting aspect of this assignment for me was that I had known Paul back when I was in elementary school. He and his family had come to live for a couple of years in the small town in Ontario where I grew up. I have no idea why. Paul and I were about the same age and became friends. His mother taught us Sunday school. One Sunday, she explained the gospel very clearly and encouraged those of us in her class to commit our lives to Jesus Christ. I did so that night at home, a decision that was reaffirmed at various times in the ensuing years. Paul’s family did not remain in our little town for long, so Paul and I did not become very close friends, but he made a big enough impression on me that I still remembered him several decades later.

I had not been asked to interview Paul about our growing up years. Paul had become involved with Open Doors, which had continued to smuggle Bibles into closed countries. The story I was assigned to talk to him about was that Christians inside communist China had come to Open Doors with an audacious request for a million Bibles. The organization had a barge designed to carry the 232 tons of Bibles, bought a tug boat to pull it, and in 1981 succeeded in delivering the million Bibles to the coast of China. The Bibles were then distributed by hand through networks of believers throughout the country. This remarkable operation remained undetected by communist Chinese authorities and by the Western press for a couple of decades, until Open Doors released the information about 25 years later. And that was the subject of the interview with my friend Paul.

In more recent years, I became a freelance writer and editor and eventually established a small book publishing imprint, Mill Lake Books, to help Christians get their books published in an affordable manner. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a man named Teus Kappers. I had never met him, but he had heard about me through another Christian who knew about me (the Christian grapevine). Teus was a Dutch man who had become a committed Christian through a Billy Graham crusade. Another Christian referred him to Brother Andrew, who began the process of discipling him. After attending Bible college and being involved in various ministries, in 1982 Teus and his wife Maria were invited to move to Canada to take charge of a fledgling ministry called Lighthouse Harbour Ministries. For four decades, this ministry has had an outreach to sailors visiting the port of Vancouver. By offering Bibles and other help to international sailors, one at a time, this ministry has had an impact on people all over the world. The reason Teus phoned me was to ask if I would publish a book he had written about his life and ministry. I gladly did so. When We Walk With The Lord was published in 2021.

All of this reminded me of the early church. As Peter, Paul, and the other apostles crisscrossed the known world with the gospel, they frequently encountered small bands of Christians who had been evangelized by nameless ordinary believers who had been scattered by persecution or who were traveling for other reasons. The Christian church is not one massive beast of an organization, although some misguided Christians have attempted to make it so. It is not an elephant lumbering over the landscape. Such a beast would be too easy to stop by putting a single bullet through its brain. Rather, the Christian church is an army of ants, scurrying in different directions and connecting and reconnecting in numerous ways.  

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is
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