Brother Andrew: God’s Secret Agent

Chapter 1
At the Border

Andrew pulled the car to a halt at the border. He had just crossed the Danube River from Bulgaria and was waiting to enter Romania. Four cars were stopped in front of him, and Andrew was relieved. Surely it will take only a few minutes to get across the Romanian border, he thought. He soon found out how wrong his assessment was. Forty minutes later the border guards were still inspecting the first car. When finally they waved that car on, the next car in line pulled up to the barrier. The guards then set to work inspecting it. An hour later everything inside the car had been meticulously spread out on the ground, along with the car seats and the hubcaps. The guards were now busy taking apart the engine.

Andrew stuffed his hands into his pockets and tried to look unfazed, though his heart was jumping through his chest. He had crossed the border into Communist countries numerous times before, but this was the first time he had seen anything like this.

What about my cargo—those precious Bibles! Andrew thought. If the guards stripped his car, they would be sure to find the contraband items. The Bibles would be taken from him, and he would end up in a Romanian prison, with no one from the outside knowing where he was. It was a heavy price to pay, but with God’s help, Andrew hoped to smuggle the Bibles through right under the guards’ watchful eyes.

Andrew did what he always did when facing such situations: he prayed silently about it. Then he did the exact opposite of what would seem to be the best chance of getting the Bibles over the border. Instead of keeping them hidden in the backseat of his car, he pulled out several of the Bibles and piled them beside him on the front seat, where the border guards would be sure to see them.

Finally, four hours after Andrew had pulled to a stop, a guard waved him forward. Now is the time to stay cool, calm, and collected, Andrew told himself as he drove his car up to the barrier. He smiled as he greeted the guards. “Nice day,” he said pleasantly as he reached for his Dutch passport.

Being calm and collected under pressure was something Andrew knew how to do. As a boy growing up in Holland, he had learned how to face danger coolly and calmly, first in the form of a game he used to play to challenge himself and then, for real, actively opposing the Germans after they had invaded his country.

Chapter 2
Pretend Spy

Adventure! That was just what eight-year-old Andrew van der Bijl needed, and it was what he was missing. As he walked down the main street of the Dutch village of Sint Pancras, Andrew was overcome with how boring life was. He knew every house in the village and every family who lived in them. He knew what everyone did, or was supposed to do. It was 1936, and he assumed that twenty years from now he could walk down the same street and find that things were just the same. He imagined himself as a blacksmith like his father, going deaf from the constant banging of metal on metal and his skin pockmarked with burns from embers flying out of the furnace. He sighed. Where was the adventure he read about in library books? In my imagination and nowhere else, that’s where, he told himself.

Andrew was halfway along the elm-tree-lined dike road when he decided to pretend that he was a spy creeping up on the Whetstras’ house. He checked to see that no one was watching, and then he ducked behind a bush. Slowly he crept up to the window of the house. He had to step over a spare pane of glass that was propped against the house. He peered in the window and watched Mrs. Whetstra humming to herself as she put a tray of cookies into the woodstove.

Suddenly Andrew was struck with an idea. What if he climbed up on the roof and blocked the chimney with the pane of glass at his feet? How funny it would be to see the smoke billowing into the kitchen and Mrs. Whetstra trying to figure out what had happened. It would be funny, too, to see whether Mr. and Mrs. Whetstra got really angry once they discovered that their chimney had been deliberately blocked. Andrew had never seen a member of the Whetstra family frustrated or upset. The Whetstras were the Holy Rollers of the village, always reminding others to praise God when things went wrong. It would be interesting to see what they did when things went wrong. Why, they might even cuss!

With this happy thought in mind, Andrew grabbed the pane of glass and crept around to the side of the house to where a ladder lay against the wall. He slipped off his wooden clogs and started climbing the ladder, using one hand to steady himself and holding the glass pane in the other. At the top of the ladder, he transferred himself to the thatched roof of the Whetstra house, keeping a low profile and doing constant reconnaissance in case someone glanced up at him. Then he silently balanced the glass pane on top of the chimney. Immediately wisps of smoke began to collect under it.

Quickly Andrew climbed down the ladder and took up his former position behind the bush and waited. Mrs. Whetstra was no longer in the kitchen, but it was only a minute or two before she came rushing back. She took one look at the smoky room, let out a little scream, opened the oven door, and started fanning the oven with her apron. She looked so comical that it was all Andrew could do to stop himself from laughing out loud.

Mr. Whetstra soon bounded into the kitchen and peered at the stove. Then he spun around, ran out the door, and shot up the ladder. Andrew watched as he pulled the pane of glass from the chimney top and looked around. Andrew ducked low behind the bush. His heart raced. Had Mr. Whetstra seen him? He didn’t think so. Balancing the glass pane in one hand, Mr. Whetstra climbed back down the ladder, set the glass where Andrew had found it, and went inside. Andrew heard him explaining to his wife what had happened as Mrs. Whetstra fanned the last few wisps of smoke out the window.

It was a confusing moment for Andrew, who had expected some show of anger, some flicker of frustration. Mr. and Mrs. Whetstra must have known that someone had put the glass on top of their chimney. Yet neither of them seemed concerned about the incident. Why was that? Andrew decided not to think about it anymore.

Since it was time to collect Bastian and bring him home for the evening, Andrew slipped out of his hiding place and continued along the dike road toward his home. Sure enough, his oldest brother Bastian, or Bas, as everyone called him, was standing by the third elm tree on the left. He stood there every day for hours on end, watching the people of the village go about their business. He never said a word to anyone. In fact, he couldn’t speak at all. Although he was six years older than Andrew, he had to be treated like the baby of the family. It was easy for even a stranger to see that something was very wrong with Bas. Bas lived in his own little world, a world consisting of being dressed by his mother in the morning, standing under the elm tree during the day, and eating meals. But oddly enough, there was one thing that Bas could do better than anyone else in the family, or in the entire village for that matter. He could play music.

That evening, like every other evening after dinner, Andrew’s father got up from the table, declared the meal to have been wonderful, settled himself at the pump organ, and began to play. Mr. van der Bijl did not seem to notice that his stiff, leathery fingers did not always hit the keys properly, and because he was partly deaf, he never seemed to notice whether he was playing too fast or too slow. In fact, sometimes his playing was so bad that Andrew wanted to put his hands over his ears.

While Mr. van der Bijl played, Bas would get down on the floor beside the organ and rest his head against the baseboard of the instrument. He would listen while his father tortured hymn after hymn on the keyboard. And then a strange thing would happen, something that amazed Andrew every time. Bas would crawl out from under the organ and tap his father on the shoulder. Mr. van der Bijl would slide off the organ stool, and Bas would take his place. As his hands floated across the keyboard and his feet worked the pedals, beautiful music would erupt from the organ. Bas played the same hymns his father had played, but this time they were played flawlessly and in perfect time. On warm summer evenings, it was not unusual for people from the village to gather outside the van der Bijl house and listen as Bas played the organ.

On the Sunday following the incident at the Whetstras’ house, Andrew went to church with his family. He knew that attending church was the high point of his mother’s week. Mrs. van der Bijl was not a well woman: she had high blood pressure and spent many hours each day sitting in front of the window. She always had the family’s radio tuned to the gospel station at Hilversum, and Andrew was sure she turned it up extra loud when he was around to make sure that he could hear it from anywhere in the house. The gospel station drove him crazy, as did going to the Reformed church each Sunday. His only consolation was that he did not have to sit with his family during the service. Because of his father’s deafness, the pastor had rigged up a special telephone-like device in the front pew for Mr. van der Bijl to use. But the short pew had only seven seating spaces, and since Andrew had three brothers and two sisters, there was not enough room for the whole family to sit in it.

Andrew would always eagerly volunteer to sit at the back of the church, and his mother would always thank him for the sacrifice he was making. But Andrew had a special reason for wanting to sit at the back of the church—he could easily slip out the door at the start of the service and slip back in before the service was over!

This Sunday was no different. As the congregation stood to sing the first hymn, Andrew slipped out of the church. During the winter he would run home, pull on his skates, and pass the time skating on the frozen canals. But today it was late spring, and the ice on the canals had long since melted. Instead Andrew headed for a nearby pasture, where several dairy cows were munching away on the lush, green grass. He flopped down in the grass a little ways from the cows and breathed in the scent of the flowering tulips and hyacinths while golden rays of sunshine spilled across his face. After several minutes of deep breathing and reveling in the sweet scent of the flowers, Andrew sat completely still. After Andrew had sat a few minutes like this, crows began to descend and perch on his shoulders. Sometimes they would try to peck his ears, and he would have to brush them off. But after a little while, the crows would come back and resume their stance on his shoulders.

Andrew seemed to have a sixth sense about when it was time for the church service to end. When he knew it was time to get back to the church, he would jump to his feet, the startled crows on his shoulders scattering into the air, and run as fast as he could toward the church.

Today, as usual, his timing was perfect, and Andrew arrived back at the church just as the last hymn was being sung. He waited patiently outside, and as the first members of the congregation emerged from the church he mingled with them. Then walking backward one step at a time, he reentered the church and found his parents. All the while he listened to the comments the parishioners were making about the sermon. Their comments might well be useful later on.

It was the custom in Holland for families to invite each other to their homes after church. The men would smoke thick cigars and drink even thicker coffee as they mulled over the morning’s sermon. This particular morning Mr. van der Bijl had invited the Whetstras to the house.

Back at the house, Andrew felt a sense of exhilaration as the conversation began. He loved to see how far he could go in fooling everyone. To do this he used every snippet of conversation he had overheard at the end of the church service.

“So what did you think of the sermon, Andrew?” his father yelled at him. His father was always yelling because of his deafness.