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Calling, TheA Challenge to Walk the Narrow Road
By Brother Andrew with Verne Becker
FLEMING R. REVELLCopyright © 2002 Brother Andrew with Verne Becker
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrom the Inside Out
"Please pray for us. We need the Lord to teach us to share our faith-not only in words, but also in works, that people may see Jesus in our lives. Whatever happens, nobody can stop us from living as Christians, and nobody can stop our prayers."
Christian in Morocco
It was August 1968, and I was working in my office when my kids yelled up the stairs to me.
"Daddy!" they said. "There's something terrible on TV!"
Astonished, I jumped up from my desk and ran downstairs. At that time no Dutch stations broadcasted midday, so I knew that if anything at all was on TV, it was probably serious.
On the screen I saw row upon row of tanks rolling across Czechoslovakia toward the capital city of Prague, along with transport vehicles carrying thousands of troops. The Russian army had just invaded the country. The TV cameras panned the faces of a bewildered population, most of them gazing in stunned silence, a few of them reacting in anger at the Russian presence.
As I watched the news coverage, I wondered: How would this affect my friends in the church there? They might be crushed by the Russians. What do they need? How can I help? SoI quickly loaded my big Citroen station wagon with Russian Bibles and Christian booklets in Czech, and I headed straight for the Czech border. Because there were no speed limits in most of Europe, I drove around one hundred miles per hour and made it in only a day.
At the border crossing, I could hardly believe the sight. Facing me was a line of cars stretching as far down the road as I could see. Thousands of Czech citizens were anxiously trying to leave the country, fleeing before the advancing Russian army.
Meanwhile, mine was the only car going in.
The border guards were overwhelmed. A uniformed soldier came over and leaned into my window. The barrel of the machine gun slung over his shoulder pointed dangerously close to my head.
"Do you know what is happening in my country?" he said. His face looked sad, defeated.
"Yes," I said, "I know all about it."
"And you still want to go in?"
"That is the very reason I want to go in, sir."
He shrugged his shoulders, stamped my passport-I didn't even have a visa-and waved me through. He was too busy helping people get out. Never mind a fool who wanted to get in. Well, in I went. Amid all the confusion nobody bothered to check my luggage. I hadn't even hidden my boxes of Bibles.
The Czech citizens in the line of cars waiting to leave the country gave me strange looks as I passed them. Only a few miles beyond the end of that line I was stopped by the Russian army. The fields on both sides of the road had been turned into huge camps, teeming with tanks and trucks and troops and artillery. And on that narrow road two huge green tanks blocked the way and pointed their cannons right at my station wagon, which suddenly seemed very tiny.
At times like these you have no time for a prayer meeting. You rely on the faith and prayers of your partners back home and on the words of Jesus. As several uniformed soldiers with machine guns approached, I barely had time to say my little smuggler's prayer: "Lord Jesus, I have Scriptures I want to take to your children in this land. When you were on earth, you made so many blind eyes to see. Now I ask you to make these seeing eyes blind."
The soldier abruptly held out his hand for my passport. As he checked it over, I thought he had it upside down, but I figured he couldn't read it anyway. A second later he handed it back without a word and allowed me to pass.
I finally pulled into Prague, which was swarming with columns of tanks and Russian troops. The huge tanks clattered and clanged on the cobblestones, tearing up many of the roads and terrifying the local residents. Upon seeing the foreign license plates of my car, the people would raise their arms in welcome, which made me nervous because it drew attention to me. I'd look in my rearview mirror at the tank looming behind and worry that it would simply roll right over me as if I were an empty Coke can.
On the first Sunday of the occupation, I preached in the same church that I mention in my book, God's Smuggler. I even had the same interpreter, Antonin. In spite of the rumbling of tanks and the sporadic crackling of gunfire in the streets, the church was packed. The people had come because they were wondering why this had happened to them. I first brought them greetings from Christians in the West, and I assured them that our prayers were with them in this new time of hardship. They would not be forgotten. But then, amid the rattling of windows, I went on to explain why I felt the crackdown had occurred.
"If we do not go to the heathen with the gospel," I stressed in my message, "they will come to us as revolutionaries and occupation." It was a theme I would emphasize for the next three decades.
They quickly realized I was speaking about the church's missed opportunity to reach the Russians. During the past nine months the Czech people had enjoyed a reasonable amount of freedom under Alexander Dubcek. But the Christians, rather than seizing the occasion to go to Russia with Bibles and preachers, went instead to the West to buy new dresses, shoes, bicycles, tape recorders, radios, even cars. They were taken in by the materialism of the West. And they forgot their big brother to the East. Now the Russians had suddenly clamped down, and gone was their liberty. It was not an easy thing to tell them, but it had to be said.
A sense of remorse swept over the congregation. "What will happen now?" the people wondered aloud. Would God turn against them?
"No!" I said. "God loves you, and he also loves the Russians. Since you didn't go to the Russians with Bibles, God in his infinite love allowed the Russians to come to you. Now you have the opportunity to give them the Word of God." It was a new idea to many of them, and it brought tears to their eyes.
After the service they came up to me and said, "Andrew, if only we had known. If only we were prepared for the Russian occupation. But we have no Russian Bibles. How can we help them?"
"Now, why do you think I came?" I answered with a smile. And I began to unpack my load of Russian Bibles and hand them out to people as they left the church. Elated, they divided them up and took to the streets, offering them to the Russian troops throughout the city.
Keep in mind that the young soldiers were scared. They had been told that they would be welcomed by the Czechs, but instead people were spitting at them, shaking their fists, shouting, cursing, throwing rocks, and heaving Molotov cocktails. Street signs had been turned around or removed or painted over to confuse them, and they could not even get a drink of water from the Czechs. But then all of a sudden the Christians came walking up to them with big smiles on their faces and said, "God bless you. God is love and God loves you. Here is a Bible. Won't you accept the love of God and read how God loves you?" Soon we had other teams doing the same thing in other Czech cities. They went to the Russians with the love of God and with the Book of God.
And something amazing happened-something we can never fully explain: I later received reports from several cities that within ten days, the Soviet leaders had to recall and replace the entire Russian occupation army! They had become completely demoralized. I have to believe that the love and the Bibles shared by Christians played some part in their withdrawal. After all, the Bible, the Word of God, changes people. And changed people change the situations around them.
One day in 1961 I was driving my blue Volkswagen across Holland and West Germany on my way to a Bible conference in East Germany. This was a critical time in the Cold War. Tensions were running especially high over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. High anxiety prevailed throughout the world as the threat of nuclear war loomed. Christians in East Germany were still operating quite freely, due in large part to the deaconess movement in the East German church. Like a Protestant order of nuns, the deaconesses carried on much of the evangelism, Bible instruction, and social service in the country. They showed Christ's love by caring for people the system had no use for.
Many of the deaconesses worked as nurses in hospitals, and they would often sing hymns and pray with their patients. In one hospital, when the government tried to forbid such activity, the deaconesses said they would quit rather than stop singing and praying. It didn't take long for the authorities to give in because they desperately needed the skills and dedication of the nurses. I decided I would visit the deaconesses while at the Bible conference.
But as I drove along with my partner, Erik, I heard on the radio about a startling development: The communist government had begun to erect a wall of concrete and barbed wire between East and West Berlin. Sure enough, in West Berlin we had to pass through what would later be called Checkpoint Charlie, with its foreboding display of soldiers, machine guns, and guard towers.
At the time Erik and I had a rather cavalier attitude toward the new wall. As we safely got through, he even said, "Andrew, that was fun-let's go back and do it again."
This guy is crazy, I thought.
As it turned out, I was crazier still because I did turn around to do it again. Nothing happened. (We weren't carrying any Bibles because at that time the church there had no need for them.)
Once inside East Germany, however, I saw a much darker picture of the Wall's effect. The people were absolutely stunned. Suddenly they were completely cut off from friends, business partners, relatives, and even family members who had happened to live on the free side. Until that point many who did not want to remain in East Germany under the communist regime had been able to get out of the country safely, but now they had little or no hope. I heard many reports of people committing suicide.
The Bible conference went well, with hundreds of believers gathering to pray each morning on the huge conference grounds. Erik and I had a wonderful time staying in the deaconesses' "monastery." But after hearing of so much desperation among the people, even some of the Christians, I determined to visit the country again soon.
Several months after I returned to the Wall with another Dutch colleague, Jan. That time all the eyes of the West were on us, as the news media had focused its cameras on Checkpoint Charlie. It seemed that every house and every building with a view of the gate had cameras perched in open windows and on the roofs, all waiting to capture a dramatic escape on film. Some East Germans were tying themselves under cars and trucks and attempting all sorts of daring feats in order to sneak out of the country, risking imprisonment or execution. There were a few successes and many failures, all heavily publicized.
Again we crossed with no difficulty and traveled to meetings around the country. While there, I heard about a church in one town where the pastor, a godly man, had committed suicide. His death had left the other members devastated, many of them to the point of despair. The young minister who replaced him was too inexperienced to handle the situation, and he begged me to visit.
"One of the elderly sisters in our church has threatened to commit suicide as well," he said over the phone. "Yesterday she told me the devil is stronger than Jesus. Can you please come as soon as possible?" I heard the urgency in his voice.
"Okay, I will come," I told him. "I'm speaking at a meeting in Karl Marx City that night, but we can stop over for a couple of hours on the way."
I had planned to make one more brief stop in a nearby town before visiting the pastor. A family I had stayed with many times had offered to do our laundry for us. Normally I did my own, but my schedule had filled up, and I knew it would help if we could simply drop off our sack of dirty clothes and pick it up the next day. When we arrived at the house, the kind woman invited us in for a cup of coffee.
"I'm sorry," I told her, "but we have no time today. Perhaps when we return."
"But I also have needs," she pleaded. "I want to talk about some things. I need your prayers."
So we were persuaded to stay there a little while. Before long I saw it was too late to visit the young pastor on the way to our meeting. So I phoned him and said, "Sorry, but we will come tomorrow morning, first thing."
We had a great meeting that night in Karl Marx City. The topic was spiritual warfare. The next morning we met the young pastor and drove with him over to the troubled sister's house. She lived on the second or third floor of a big apartment building. Jan and I waited downstairs while he went up to let the woman know she had visitors. Within a few seconds he reappeared, ashen faced.
"It's too late-she is dead!" he blurted.
We ran up after him to the apartment. There she was, slumped over on the kitchen floor between the oven and the furnace. The oven door was open, and the whole place smelled of gas. I knew she was dead.
Jan frantically rushed to her side, took her hand, and began to pray that God would perform a miracle and raise her from the dead. I stood there in shock for a moment, trying to take in what had happened. Then I put my hand on his shoulder.
"Jan, stop this," I said, shaking my head. "God will not answer this prayer. We've got to pray for ourselves. We should have been here last night. We could have saved this life. We need forgiveness." So he stopped praying.
It was a very sad experience, but it served as a warning to me: Be on time. When God calls, or when his people are in need, be there. It also made me more determined to find others who would join me in upholding our struggling brothers and sisters.
Because I personally witnessed the pain and suffering it caused for so many, I grew to hate the Berlin Wall, as I hate all man-made walls that come between people. When it came down nearly thirty years later, and people were handing out pieces of it as mementos, I had absolutely no desire for one. I had seen the other side of the wall, and I didn't want any part of it.
Yet I also knew that God had mysteriously used that wall to strengthen his church. There can be something good about an Iron Curtain, especially when it drives you into the arms of a loving God. It restricts your freedom, but it also protects you from some of the harmful things freedom can bring, such as materialism and decadence. It helps you to see what is most important in life-your faith in Christ.
Excerpted from Calling, The by Brother Andrew with Verne Becker Copyright © 2002 by Brother Andrew with Verne Becker
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|1.||From the Inside Out||15|
|2.||"You Can't Do That!"||37|
|3.||One Life to Give||59|
|4.||Off the Hinges||81|
|5.||It Will Never Happen Here!||99|
|6.||Gabriella and Michael||123|
|7.||Twenty-one Teacups, Eighteen Bowls of Rice||143|
|8.||Children of the Revolution||167|
|9.||Winds of Change||191|
|10.||From Hammer and Sickle to Hammer and Chisel||215|
|11.||The Muslim Challenge||245|
|Appendix A||Ten P's--Ten Prayers||271|
|Appendix B||Open Doors International Vision Statement||275|