An event was held at the International Conference Centre (ICC) in Birmingham.
In 1955, Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, followed a prompt from God to visit Communist Poland to bring ‘greetings’ to the church there. Now 2,300 friends from all over the world flocked to the ICC – an incredible thing to witness having begun with just one man on an adventure.
Brother Andrew began smuggling Bibles into Eastern Europe in 1957. Today Open Doors missionaries are supporting the persecuted church in over 50 countries.
The 60th anniversary edition of God’s Smuggler includes photographs from Brother Andrew’s travels and an exclusive interview with him about his more recent adventures in Gaza and the Middle East, China and Africa, as well as his thoughts on the challenges facing the church today.
Brother Andrew had always sought after some great adventure. His boyhood was mischievous and his years in the Dutch Army were wild, though none of it would match the things the Lord had planned for him. He had searched for an adventure and all he found was vanity – until he found Christ.
He made a decision to be a soldier for the Lord on the frontlines of the growing struggles of the persecuted church, starting in Eastern Europe. Prayer was his shield and faith his sword.
We read over and again of God’s faithfulness to Brother Andrew and the church, and we bare witness to this 60 years on – generations later. By grace the Open Doors ministry is able to continue the work that began with that one man, to boldly step into areas of conflict, places of Christian persecution, believing that ‘any door is open, anytime and anywhere… to proclaim Christ.’
Testimonies for today
Throughout the event we heard from overseas guests testifying that God can be trusted, and sharing their personal stories of persecution from China, North Korea, Iraq and Nigeria. First, Johan Companjen, the former president of Open Doors International, shared the miracles and milestones of the early days of Open Doors. He has served alongside Brother Andrew and the Open Doors ministry for over 35 years.
Following Johan were two brothers from China, Eric Lee and John Stone*, who shared the amazing story of how the church is changing in China.
Yong Sook* from North Korea shared her story of imprisonment, escape and encounter with Christ – a testament to God’s grace during the darkest of times – and the fact that, despite opposition, the church in North Korea is still growing.
After her release, Yong Sook* was taken to church for the first time. ‘I felt like I could open my heart in this place, like I could be comforted and understood. I believe it was in that moment God poured his heart into me.’
Baghdad and Boko Haram
The Revd Farouk Hammo is Senior Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Baghdad in Iraq. Previously he led an Arab church in Australia. He now plays an important role in the collaboration between churches in Baghdad – and in dialogue with Muslim leaders. His current focus is supporting Christians who have fled Islamic State militants – he declares that which seems impossible to us to be entirely possible through our Lord.
In the afternoon Comfort Donald*, together with Suleiman* who heads up Open Doors’ work in West Africa, shared stories of the Lord’s faithfulness to the persecuted Christians of Nigeria.
Comfort* was held captive in a Boko Haram camp last year after her husband and two sons were killed. She was the eldest of the women being held there, whom she courageously led in fierce and faithful prayer – so that the men who held them wouldn’t see them as women, and wouldn’t curse them.
They spent all their days as captives solemnly praying and the Lord was faithful to them, keeping them safe until they were released.
World Watch List
The World Watch List uses data from Open Doors field workers and independent experts to track the deep structures of persecution. It measures the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.
The data is translated into points and countries ranked accordingly. The International Institute of Religious Freedom independently audits the list.
Open Doors’ missionaries continue to serve the persecuted church in some of the most dangerous areas of the world – North Korea has been number one on the World Watch List for the past 13 years; currently, Somalia is second and Iraq is third.
The gathering was told that in December 2015, Open Doors would present a letter to the Foreign Office on behalf of Christians in Syria and Iraq, asking for support in these areas of persecution.
On 13 January 2016, Open Doors will be launching its 2016 World Watch List in Parliament – in 2015 the launch encouraged 74 MPs to attend. By God’s grace even more will come along this year. Open Doors hopes to encourage people to invite their local MP to take part.
Being there I truly understood my brothers and sisters overseas – they share our faith but not our freedom. We aren’t all called to be missionaries and martyrs, but we are called to stand in solidarity – to pray for one another and even for our enemies – to declare the Light of the World, wherever God has positioned us.
The following prayer, for Yong Sook and for North Korea, was given by a brother from China. I include it to encourage others to pray for the wider persecuted church.
‘Our dear Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you. We stand together – because we know this tremendous persecution is like heavy snow fallen above the wheat, causing its roots to cast deep down into the ground. Persecution is like the yoke placed upon our shoulders; however God will continue to increase his grace and his presence in us by making the yoke light. We pray for eternal, heavenly hope – for now is the dawn before the morning. May the morning light come upon us; for God is light! When his light shines in the darkness, the darkness evaporates. May God remember and come upon each individual suffering today, that he himself will wipe away our tears. We see God standing firm upon all the nations of the earth where his children are, knowing that one day we will rejoice together in the freedom of Christ – for that day, by faith, we give thanks. May God give our shoulders strength and prepare our hearts to share this burden together as the body of Christ – “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” Amen.’
* Names changed for security reasons