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01 January 2008

Pray for your enemy

Pray for your enemy

Muslims need our prayers, says Brother Andrew, the missionary once dubbed "God's smuggler". And, as he tells Hazel Southam, that means praying for terrorists too...

Christians should be praying for Osama Bin Laden. That's the view of Brother Andrew, 79, the quietly spoken Dutchman who shot to prominence in the 1950s for smuggling Bibles into the then-communist Soviet Union.

 Brother Andrew spent much of the taking bibles into communist countries including China, Czechoslovakia and supporting Christians there. He went on to found alliance member organisation Open Doors, now a global ministry to the persecuted Church. His first book, God's Smuggler, became an international bestseller with more than 10 million copies sold in English alone, and his story is still an iconic image of one man going into forbidden places: driving into the Soviet Union in a VW Beetle full of Bibles that were never discovered.

"Tell me a place that Christians can't go and I'll go there," he still says.

Today he's turned his attention away from the former communist world to the Muslim one and is actively evangelising people in Islamic countries. His latest book, Secret Believers, tells the story of why such work is necessary and why Christians should pray for the mercurial head of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, the man who has claimed responsibility for both 9/11 and the Bali bombing.

A better response

"The most effective response is prayer," he says. "We have to pray for Osama Bin Laden. Almost everyone says that they won't. But perhaps that is why he's what he is. We don't pray for him.

"The Bible says that we should pray for our enemies - not that Bin Laden is our enemy - and love those who persecute us."

Born Anne van der Bijl, fourth of six children to a poor deaf blacksmith in the Netherlands, Brother Andrew takes the Bible at face value, particularly the Great Commission. That has led him to preaching to terrorist groups, Hammas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Taliban.

"Jesus told us to go into all the world," he observes. "He didn't say, 'Go when you get an invitation'. So we invite ourselves."

This involves knocking on the door of the headquarters of Hammas and others, and recently visiting a major terrorism training camp for the Taliban and al-Qaeda on the Afghan border, unannounced. Brother Andrew is always invited in and is always asked to preach.
"I just turn up on the doorstep and say that I want to speak to the boss," he says. "I say that I have a message from God and I've never had a 'no'. They always want to see us. We have the answer to their spiritual problems."
His recent visit to the Taliban's training headquarters led to several days of preaching.

Brother Andrew says, "I pulled out my New Testament and preached about salvation. And to my amazement, the leader of the place said that he wanted us to speak to their graduate class, a huge group of people with beards who will go straight into the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This was the place where they make terrorists. And no one had ever confronted them with the claims of Christ. I preached and they asked for Bibles and Christian books."

The Taliban leader asked Brother Andrew to "treat me like a brother" and told him to consider the camp his "second home", returning whenever he wished to preach again.

Respect and engagement

Brother Andrew's attitude towards Muslims is the key to this seemingly terrifying situation. It is an attitude of respect and an eagerness to engage in conversation. He is "appalled" at the West's fearful approach to Islam, its treatment of Muslim countries and without doubt, the so-called war on terror, particularly the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.

After 9/11 we should have offered forgiveness rather than revenge

"We didn't do what we should have done after 9/11," he says. "We should have offered forgiveness rather than revenge. We don't follow a God of revenge, we follow Jesus Christ. But our governments are not Christian, so we can't expect them to do it." 

He continues, "If we had offered forgiveness, then the world would be a totally different place now. We wouldn't have had a war in Iraq."

But why and how should you forgive terrorists who fly planes into buildings full of people? The answer appears to be that you stop seeing them as terrorists and start seeing them as people who are also made in the image of God, just like you. That, says Brother Andrew, makes hatred and revenge impossible.

"I see Muslims as God-seekers," he says. "They are more serious about seeking God than Christians are. They are waiting for the God of Abraham to provide a sacrifice that they can believe in. No one's told them that Jesus is the sacrifice, so they think that they have to be the sacrifice, and that's why they become suicide bombers. It's not a terrorist act, it's an act of religious conviction. That scares me more than terrorism, as there are 1 billion Muslims."

The key to the future of the world, he believes, is to preach Jesus as the answer to the question that Muslims are asking, whether or not they know that they are asking that question. "Jesus is the sacrifice," he says. "The sacrifice
has been made. They just need to know who Jesus is."

Brother Andrew confesses that he is not "a brave, courageous man" and is glad that people can't "see inside his heart" when he's talking to the Taliban and other groups. But he is clearly not afraid for his life and believes that the only way to talk to people is positively. Be fearful and you'll be in trouble, be positive and you won't be. Over his more than 50 years of outreach, that approach has consistently paid off.

Now Brother Andrew is looking for others, what he calls "an army of compassion", to join him in his ministry to the Muslim world. He wants people to pray every day for individuals and nations in the Islamic world. Prayer, he says, will alter the course of history, literally stop the unravelling of the West/Islamic situation. We need to change our attitude, he says, from perceiving Muslims as a threat to seeing them as fellow human beings looking for God.

"You can't reach people's hearts and minds with guns," he says. "Fight them and you will only make them stronger. Loving them will make them turn to Christ."

Secret Believers (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007) is available from most booksellers, as are six other books by Brother Andrew, including God's Smuggler and Prayer Works.

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