Through the one
We all have the power to affect the lives of others
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As a boy growing up in the Netherlands, Andrew’s imagination brimmed with fantasies about heroic deeds and spy-novel adventures. Imagination propelled him into the army, where he hoped to live out some of his fantasies in an exotic setting. Instead he lived out his nightmares, particularly after a massacre of local villagers in which the would-be hero was wounded in the ankle. During a painful and emotionally fraught convalescence, he picked up a Bible.
And the rest is history.
God’s Smuggler, in which Andrew van der Bijl (better known as Brother Andrew) tells his own story, was first published in 1967. Decades went by before I read it, during which I had a vague understanding of Brother Andrew as some order of Catholic friar. Far from that: He was Dutch Reformed, with a similar theology to mine, and I was riveted by God’s Smuggler when I finally picked it up. His conversion led to heroic deeds with a spy-novel flair, as rich as any in his boyhood imagination, only much more significant. For not only did he smuggle Bibles into totalitarian countries at great personal risk, he also founded Open Doors, an international organization dedicated to serving persecuted Christians.
I donated to Open Doors for years without knowing Brother Andrew’s story in detail, but knowing it made news of his passing into glory, on Sept. 27, much more meaningful. I was reading through Romans that week and was struck by the repeated emphasis on “one man” in Chapter 5. Paul is explaining how sin spread like a lethal virus throughout all humanity by the disobedience of one man (Adam), but the obedience of one man (Jesus Christ) provides the cure. Great evil through one man, abundant goodness by another man. Thus our souls were diseased, and thus they shall be not only cured, but eternally consequential.
“One man with God is a majority.” Who said that? None other than Brother Andrew, which may be one reason why that Romans 5 passage brought him to mind. He was, however, paraphrasing an earlier saying by Frederick Douglass: “One and God make a majority.” Or, further back, John Knox: “A man with God is always the majority.” One man reformed Scotland; another man made himself a catalyst for ending racial slavery in the United States. One Amy Carmichael, one William Harvey, one Elisabeth Elliot, one Saul of Tarsus. One me, one you.
The “Power of One” can be misleading, as One was never meant to operate alone. A believing couple gave Brother Andrew that Volkswagen Beetle in which he crossed the Iron Curtain again and again. A small army facilitated Project Pearl, during which a million Bibles were ferried into China in one night. Even Jesus used His circles of three, 12, and 120 to jump-start the Church on Pentecost. But the vision often begins with one, whether it’s Adam’s disastrous dream of autonomy or the Father’s gracious plan of redemption.
When I was a young mother, my world felt small, largely restricted to the neighborhood and limited by my little ones’ limitations. But I was still their One. You may feel similarly restricted, by small children, by weakness or sickness, by circumstances you can’t control. My world is shrinking again as my husband’s mental abilities decline and I must do more for and with him. But I am his One. Even if I didn’t write for a magazine with a circulation of tens of thousands, I would still have power to reach out and affect someone else’s life, in words, in deeds, or in prayer. Possibly even in a vision that sets other visions aflame.
Our culture locates both vision and virtue in groups. That’s not entirely wrong, as societies rise and fall together. But group virtue overlooks the potential built into each person. Positive action by one multiplies good for others. Likewise, the failure of one to do good—in the home or in the mayor’s office—often defaults to evil for others. Which is it for you?
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