Throughout his many travels and conversations with Open Doors founder Brother Andrew, Al Janssen, Andrew’s longtime writing partner, was privileged to listen and learn from the words and thoughts of the Dutchman known as “God’s Smuggler.” Almost a year after Andrew’s passing on September 27, 2022, Al is poring over his friend’s notes, sermons and books, ensuring that we get to hear more of Andrew’s insights and wisdom. The first result of this work is a new book, Fearless by Faith: How to Fight Today’s Spiritual Battles (Chosen)—the last book that Brother Andrew had direct input on, Al says. Together, he and Andrew look at the lives and faith of five Old Testament stalwarts—Moses, David, Elijah, Jonah and Gideon—and how they followed God’s call on their lives.
When we talked with Al, he was busy working on the second of five sermons he’s preaching this summer based on the book. In this conversation, Al shares how these 60 devotions were born and why he believes Brother Andrew would have loved
Fearless by Faith.
Al, tell us about Fearless by Faith. When you set out to write this book, did you know you wanted to talk about fear?
I think the focus of the book emerged when I looked at the whole of Andrew’s teaching. He and I had already published devotionals on Jonah, Moses, and David. And I had all these notes from our conversations about Gideon and Elijah. The more I thought about it, the more this fearless theme began to emerge. I noticed related statements by Andrew in the books and in my notes. So I thought we could re-emphasize this focus a little bit more because I really think that was Andrew’s theme.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk to him the last year of his life. His was not capable of doing that. We had planned to write a book on Elijah when he called me one day and said, “Al, I just don’t have the mental ability anymore to do it.” That was a very sad day, so I really held off working on it for several years.
I took our notes on Gideon and Elijah and the three books we’d worked on together and edited them to help us see how these leaders’ faith equipped and empowered them to follow God’s call on their lives. I had so much fun going though these manuscripts, and I feel like I’ve been able to keep the spirit of what Andrew said and taught.
I love how you contextualized these stories, for example, reminding readers that it was like God calling Jonah to go to Mosul and tell ISIS about the gospel.
Get your FREE study guide
The Fearless by Faith study guide will help you and your small group grow in your faith.
That was Andrew’s style. He took these stories and made them relevant for today. Andrew preached on these stories the most, and I think they are ones he related to the most.
In some of the Islamic countries, Jonah was one he went back to repeatedly in his messages—probably because he was having these encounters with the leaders of groups like Islamic jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas. It was on his mind all the time, and he felt that if God’s calling you to go, you don’t have to be afraid. You just have to be obedient.
With Gideon, I think Andrew identified with him a lot. Gideon told God. “I’m the least of the least tribe and the least family in the least tribe.” Sometimes while Andrew and I worked, we’d take a break and he would show me his garden. “I’m growing beet root,” he would say, “and here’s spinach.” He’d wear these wooden Dutch shoes that would be covered with dirt from his garden. And he’d say, “I’m just an ordinary man. And if I, an ordinary Dutchman, can do what God asks, then He can use anybody.”
Moses—we had fun with him. Moses’ life was over when God called him. He was 80 years old, ready to retire. If God had called him when he was 40, he would have likely said, “Yeah, I know Pharaoh. I know the culture. I’ve been trained, Leave it to me. I’ll take care of it.”
But when he’s 80? At that point, he’s saying, “I haven’t been in Egypt for 40 years. I’ve forgotten the language. I don’t know what’s going on in Pharaoh’s court.” But that’s when God says, “Now you’re ready. Now, you must depend on me. It’s not about how great we are and all the gifts we bring to the table. It’s about God calling an old man ready for retirement or an ordinary farm boy like Gideon. He says, “You’re my man.” And then He equips all of them—Moses, Jonah, David, Gideon and Elijah—with His Spirit.
Paul writes that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. We’re equipped with the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t have a formula, and this is the beauty of how He works and uses us for His glory. Each of these leaders’ assignments were unique. The only way they could fulfill that assignment was by faith.
We see that in the persecuted church. They understand that on their own, they can’t change the circumstances in their country and culture. But they can follow His Spirit and trust that God will show up. So many Christians are living in fear today. But we don’t need to be afraid. We need to hear what God is saying to us and then obey Him. And when we do that, we’re following His agenda. The persecuted church teaches us a lot about how to live that way.
Download your free copy of the Fearless by Faith sampler.
And in many ways, Andrew did the same thing.
That’s exactly what Andrew did. He only told one person that he was going to Poland—his Uncle Hoppy. He skipped his Bible college graduation to go. He said, “When God calls, you just get up and you go.” That’s how his life as a Bible smuggler started. And that’s how he lived and followed Jesus.
I remember Andrew sharing about times when he would approach the border with Bibles, and he was just terrified. So he would pull back and camp there one or two nights. He would pray and fast, and then when he was ready, he’d go forward, following God’s call.
People have often said to me, “Weren’t you scared going into Gaza and hearing the guns going all night and meeting with Islamic jihad leaders?” I never was. That’s the beauty of what we’re talking about in Fearless By Faith. When you’re obeying God, He has filled you with the fruit of His Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. You know you have those during difficult, challenging situations.
When you were writing this book, did you often think of Andrew?
Andrew felt that if God’s calling you to go, you don’t have to be afraid. You just have to be obedient.
Constantly. In fact, I heard him in my head. I have nine pages of little pithy statements He made through the years. I tried to put as many of them in there as possible. Statements like, “OK, you’re praying. Are you ready to be God’s answer to your prayer?”
I’m sure listening to him talk about prayer and pray informed your writing.
So many times, I would walk into Andrew’s office first thing in the morning to see him standing by the heater by his desk. He’d already spent two hours there, probably an hour reading the Word and another hour, maybe more, in prayer.
He prayed for people around the world, for my friends. Each time I traveled, I’d have a fax waiting for me when I got home, saying, “I prayed for you. Can’t wait to hear what God did.”
As soon as I walked into his office, almost immediately he’d say, “OK my friend, what has God said to you this morning in His Word?” We would talk back and forth, sometimes five minutes, sometimes an hour, about what we’re hearing God saying in the Scriptures. We never stopped to say, “How should we pray?” One of us would just start praying, and we would pray out of what we’d been talking about. For over 10 years, that’s how we began every day we worked together.
What do you miss most about working with him?
At the final stage of a book, Andrew and I would sit in either in my office or his, and we would read each chapter out loud. I would read one. Then he’d read the next, and at any point either one of us could stop and say, “That’s not really clear,” or, “We need to add that.” It was a beautiful way to work together.
So in a sense, those days are gone. I don’t have that privilege of sitting and refining the work with my friend, but I do have the Holy Spirit, and I believe the Spirit can direct me, taking the wonderful content that Andrew has and refreshing it, making it as clear as possible for today’s audience.
What was your prayer as you asked the Holy Spirit to guide you on Fearless by Faith
Ultimately, I only want to say God’s words—nothing more and nothing less. And Andrew was that way all the time: “Lord, do you have a message? I want to faithfully deliver that message.” Over the years, I listened to him talk about these things. We covered so much. That’s why we’re co-authors of this book. I feel like we’re working together as a team. I interacted with Andrew enough on this to know that he would have loved it.
We can learn so much from these stories for our lives today.
I think the topic of fear is timeless and universal, but it really does feel very relevant to where we’re at these days. The New York Times recently published an article saying Americans are the most stressed nation on Earth. As believers in an almighty God, we should be reacting differently from the rest of the world. We should not be living in those kinds of fears.
In my research, I came across an interesting statistic that there are 365 references in Scripture that say, essentially, “Do not fear.” As humans, we’re naturally afraid. But Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. Believe in God, believe also in Me.” If we’re afraid, we can talk to God. We have that relationship, we can pray about it, we can ask Him to fill us with the fruit of His Spirit.
We think we can solve the problems of our culture or someone we love. But we can’t solve those on our own any more than we can solve Christian persecution in North Korea. Moses is a beautiful example. How much time did he spend face to face with God? When the Israelites created the two golden calf idols, God says, “I’m done with them. I’m going to wipe them out and start over.” But Moses tells the creator of the universe, “You can’t do that.” Now that’s bold. That kind of fearlessness only comes from faith in the Creator.
I don’t think we spend enough time listening to God in His Word and interceding with Him. That’s one of the things I love about Open Doors. We know the problem is too big. It must begin in the Word and with prayer.
And that’s why I’m glad there are 60 devotionals. We can’t do a quick read and then go into battle. There’s a training process involved, so I wanted to break it down into smaller pieces and give people a reflection question at the end of each devotional. I also wrote a study guide to take us deeper and allow small groups to go through these stories together.
I hope that by the end of this process, readers will have discerned God’s individual call for them and how they’ll engage in that. And I hope many will express that call by partnering with Open Doors and the persecuted church. That was my thinking in the process.
What other Brother Andrew-related projects are you dreaming about?
I’ve started a blog
to help get us back to the core of who Brother Andrew was and why Open Doors was founded. I started it thinking, Maybe some people would be encouraged to hear what Andrew taught. I’ve added some short video clips of Brother Andrew’s teaching, and I’m hoping it will be an encouragement to Open Doors supporters and prayer warriors.
My next project is a biography of Brother Andrew. I’m working with Paul Abspoel in Open Doors Netherlands—he’s translating a lot of older documents and doing some interviews with people before they pass away. Our hope is to have it ready for the 70th anniversary of Open Doors. After that, I want to write the next “Fearless” book using material that brother Andrew taught on prophecy plus conversations he and I had around it.
The next few years will be spent writing, along with teaching, preaching and taking care of grandkids. I’ve got so much stuff—two bins of Brother Andrew’s handwritten notebooks. We’ve got 800 of his sermons and messages. So we’ve got tons of content from Brother Andrew that I believe will be very inspirational and powerful as we continue Andrew’s legacy for generations to come.