“Does the ax boast to him who uses it? » (Isaiah 10, 15) This biblical verse, which evokes a “ chisel” in other translations, was well cut for André van der Bijl: bijl means “axe” in Dutch, and his whole life has been a free gift of himself, to God and to others. “Brother André”, as he called himself during his long ministry, died on September 27, 2022, at the age of 94. Little known in France, he was a celebrity of world Protestantism for having founded the organization Open doorswhich comes to the aid of persecuted Christians.
Ill at the end of his life, this tireless missionary had stopped traveling around the world, but he wanted to attend in October 2018 the inauguration of an Anglican chapel dedicated to Saint Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity, in Lahore. , in Pakistan.
In this Muslim country where the Christian minority is harshly persecuted and where floods aggravated by climate change destroyed 250,000 homes during the summer of 2022, the old Dutch preacher read from the pulpit an extract from the Gospel according to John, and preached : “ Never forget that we are here because of the Book and because of the one who gave us this Book, so we must obey him! Obey him: be Jesus for your compatriots in Pakistan. »
A young soldier recovering
Born on May 11, 1928 in Sint Pancras in North Holland, the son of a poor blacksmith, André van der Bij enlisted at the age of 17 in the colonial troops sent to reconquer the Dutch Indies (now Indonesia), who took advantage of the end of World War II to declare their independence.
In 1948, injured, the young soldier, from a reformed identity but lukewarm Protestantism, read the Bible during his convalescence. His life was transformed: back in the country, he tried to enter the seminary of the Reformed Church to become a pastor, but, discouraged by the seven years of study, opted for a Baptist training, more flexible, in Scotland.
From then on, he wished, like many converts, to proclaim Jesus Christ and win souls for him. “ God has no grandchildren! They must have a personal encounter with Jesus »he summed up in 2018, in the purest evangelical Protestant tradition, during an interview granted to members of the Bruderhofa Christian community inspired by Anabaptist spirituality.
In the USSR, aboard his Beetle
” Behold, I am sending you as sheep among wolves. So be wise like serpents, and candid like doves.” (Matthew 10:16). By dint of reading this passage, Brother André became sincerely candid: in 1955, he registered for an international festival of young communists in Poland, to meet Christians behind the iron curtain.
This trip to communities under intense police pressure upsets him. He therefore decided to devote himself to the Churches of the Soviet bloc, with a verse from the Apocalypse in mind: “ Be watchful, and strengthen the remnant that is about to die. » Brother André founded the Portes Ouvertes organization, whose initial objective was to bring Bibles, which were forbidden for sale in communist countries.
In 1957, he went personally to Moscow, aboard a Volkswagen Beetle filled with holy books. The encounter with a Russian Baptist from Siberia, guided by the divine intuition that a man in Moscow would offer him the Word of God, encouraged him: the Dutchman sent a total of 1 million Bibles to the USSR. For twelve years, he travels with his car with biblical – and illegal – cargo in the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia… until the communist authorities finally refuse his visa applications.
Never mind: Brother André published in 1967 an account of his adventures, God’s Smuggler, which has become a classic in Protestant circles in North America and Europe. The civil war in Lebanon, from 1975 to 1990, made him realize that the persecution was moving to the Middle East. Above all, he sensed very early on the terrible price that Christians in the land of Islam will pay, in particular Muslims converted to Christ, wedged between the West and the Islamist movements.
Words of Peace for Muslims
Unlike many evangelical preachers influenced by the American binary vision and followers of a certain Zionism, Brother André will only have words of peace towards Muslims. ” The Lord commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. Does the order concern Arabs and Muslims? How can we despise over a billion human beings whom God claims to love? »he writes in his book the forces of lightpublished in 2005.
The missionary joined the action to the word: in 1990, still animated by his legendary candor, he met Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Hezbollah, to negotiate the release of hostages held by the Lebanese Shiite militia. We find Brother André preaching at the Islamic University of Gaza in 1996 and, the following year, visiting Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas. Thereafter, André van der Bijl will recount having gone to Taliban training camps in Pakistan in the 2000s!
Opposed to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Dutch missionary often asked his Anglo-Saxon interlocutors if they prayed for the conversion of Osama bin Laden… “ We didn’t do what we should have done after 9/11, he said in 2008 to the British Evangelical Alliance. We should have offered forgiveness rather than revenge. We don’t follow a God of vengeance, we follow Jesus Christ. But our governments are not Christian, so we cannot expect them to do that. » In 2011, he called ” murder » the execution of the leader of al-Qaeda by the American army. “ Let’s not, as Christians, have a blacklist of people we don’t want to see in Heaven! »he said again in 2017, in an interview with Net for Godmedia of the Chemin Neuf community.
Humble and unclassifiable, André van der Bijl was equally fraternal with all Christian denominations. He did not share the aggressiveness of certain fundamentalist evangelicals towards the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and wanted on the contrary to draw inspiration from their liturgical tradition to help converts from Islam to enter into the practice of Christianity.
World Persecution Index
Brother André leaves behind his “baby” Doors Open, which publishes each year the Global Index of Christian Persecution, a ranking of the 50 countries where the Churches suffer the most violence or pressure. Surprisingly, the Catholic equivalent of Open Doors, Aid to the Church in Need, was founded in 1947 by one of his Dutch compatriots, Father Werenfried van Straaten, a Premonstratensian religious who died in 2003, whose work began by helping German refugees fleeing the Soviet occupation. Van Straaten was accused of sexual assault in 2010 by a woman, which immediately halted proceedings for a beatification trial by the Catholic Church.
Despite this real downside, it is remarkable that the Netherlands saw the birth, with André van der Bijl and Werenfried van Straaten, of two actors in world evangelization and in helping persecuted Christians. Because Dutch society is one of the most secularized in Europe: according to a study carried out by the Catholic universities of London and Paris on the religiosity of young Europeans in 2018, 72% of 16-29 year olds in the Netherlands do not have no religion, against, among others, 9% Protestants, 8% Muslims and 7% Catholics.
France displays similar spiritual health, according to a recent Ifop poll conducted for the journal Assignment : 80% of French people have been baptized in the Catholic Church, but only 30% declare themselves “ believing Catholics »compared to 42% ” non-believing Catholics, and only 3% go to mass at least once a month. “ At the same time that communism collapsed ideologically, the West collapsed spiritually », underlined Brother André in Strasbourg, in 2005, during the 50th anniversary of Portes Ouvertes. More than ever, Europe needs new smugglers from God.