Recently, which has a way of feeling not so recent since our three week hiatus in America, Jessica and I listened to “God’s Smuggler” by Brother Andrew. I must admit, I am a bit wary of missionary stories—perhaps not justly—so it took some convincing from Jessica before I agreed. She sold it on the high adventure of the stories within, and I figured that even if it was overly charismatic—which is a learned aversion from my childhood—it would be an entertaining listen.
I am glad I agreed, as the messages and tales from Brother Andrew’s missionary work proved a timely listen for both of us. We found a number of parallels between the work that he carried out behind the Iron Curtain and the work we are beginning in England. As he described the state of Christianity in countries in the USSR, we would often pause our listening to point out the similarities with what we have noticed in England. Christianity was not illegal, but it was also heavily discouraged.* Of the churches that existed, only a few were made of faithful Christians; others had simply capitulated to the state.
- *It may surprise you, as it did me, that in these communist countries of Europe, Christianity was allowed by the state. I had always assumed otherwise. Yet, there was clearly a war on religion taking place, overtly but also indirectly.
- For example, bringing Bibles into the countries was illegal—but because it was an economic crime. The state had made Bibles rare, so they were valuable. Therefore, if you were caught bringing Bibles in, you would be charged with smuggling rare and valuable goods into the country and prosecuted.
- He also describes how the state was working to replace and defeat religion, not by making religion illegal, but by taking things that were solely the domain of Christianity (the Sacraments) and making them secular.
- Finally, he describes how the propaganda of the Soviet Union was overtly anti-religion. In one memorable example, he writes about how he saw signs advertising Soviet industry that carried the slogan “Without God and without sun, we will get the harvest done.” I wonder if it rhymed in whatever local language it was written in, but you get the idea. The state was clear: loyalty to them was not compatible with loyalty to any other higher power.
Besides all the parallels we kept noticing, one of the most helpful ideas that Brother Andrew wrote about in his missionary journey was what he calls “The Royal Way.” As he describes it, I noticed that there were two ideas that were wrapped up in The Royal Way. At first, he describes The Royal Way when he is in training in the United Kingdom to be a missionary. He recalls a moment of prayer and discernment where he reflects on the kingship of God. His conclusion is that if God is a king, He should act like a king. By acting like a king, He would treat his servants royally. Therefore, any person living in service to God should thrive.
Brother Andrew is very clear that this thriving will be spiritual as well as material. He reasons that poverty should not be the expected result of service to God. (He does not speak in his work about vows of poverty, which I think are valuable and separate from this idea of The Royal Way. The distinction I would draw is between poverty as default and poverty as choice. The former calls into question the provision of God, and the latter is focused on the sanctity of person in poverty.) I can imagine many possible objections to this idea, but I think it would be a waste to attempt to anticipate and address them all. The reasoning he provides in the book is sound. God ought to, based on his promises and nature, provide in a kingly way, not in barely-managing-to-survive way.
The second meaning of The Royal Way comes from Brother Andrew’s response to his service to a king. If we serve a king, he reasons, we should act like it. We should serve in confidence, authority, and conviction. As a kingly servant, Brother Andrew would refuse to compromise in his missionary work. Even in hostile circumstances and before unfriendly eyes, he would be direct in his work and the spreading of the gospel. At times, it seemed that deception, trickery, or deceit would have been most profitable: to lie would get him through that checkpoint or out of that conversation with authorities. Instead, he would pray and act in faith, right out in the open.
I have drawn immense encouragement from both meanings of The Royal Way. In the first, I have often been concerned about our material provision for this next year (and maybe beyond) as we have become missionaries and are relying on God’s support. While He has already provided so much, I have a tendency to be nervous or fretful at times about our finances. However now, in prayer, I can return to the fact that I am in service to a king and, in submission, I can be confident in the king’s care for his servants.
And, as servants to a king, we will not stoop to behavior that would be unfitting for our station. Already, Jessica and I have been put in situations where deceit or trickery has felt like the path of least resistance: “Well they won’t know if we don’t mention that we travelled internationally in the last 10 days” or “It doesn’t really matter if we start working without our visas.” However, while it is tempting to listen to the voice that says we would be ultimately doing it for a good cause, it has been helpful to return to our responsibility in following The Royal Way and to act—to the best of our ability—above reproach from God and man.