I’m reading the astoundingly good book God’s Smuggler, which is the memoir of a Dutch Protestant missionary who smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. At its core, the book is all about trusting God. On almost every page there is some example of how God comes through when we place 100% of our trust in him and hold nothing back.
One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was when the author, Andrew van der Bijl (a.k.a. Brother Andrew), talks about a unique type of missionary school he attended in Scotland. As Brother Andrew explains, this school didn’t set up traditional church missions: they didn’t wait until they had money or even had sources of funds secured in order to start a mission. “If they thought God wanted a man in a certain place, they sent him there and trusted God to worry about the details,” he writes.
At the two-year school the students studied theology, homiletics, world religion, linguistics, as well as practical skills that could aid native people in need, like brick laying, plumbing, building huts out of palm fronds and crafting mud jars that can hold water. But here’s where it gets interesting: they were also given a crash course in trust.
Students were sent out on several local missions in which they’d learn to rely on God’s providence in real ways. They were given a one-pound bank note and told to go on a missionary tour through other areas of Scotland. They’d have to pay their own transportation, lodging, and food, as well as any expenses related to mission work such as event refreshments and location rental for meetings. And there’s more: they were not allowed to ask for collections or even mention money at their prayer services or at any other time. Though they were allowed to accept gifts, they could not specifically ask anyone for anything. And they had to pay back the pound note at the end of the trip.
The stories of how God provided for their missionary work are just astounding. Here’s one of my favorites:
Brother Andrew and his friends had had a successful meeting with some young people in Edinburgh, and they suddenly felt prompted to invite them to a tea party the next day, despite the fact that they had none of the materials people would expect for a proper tea (cake, bread, butter, cups…even the tea itself) and they had no money. Without being asked, the invitees volunteered to bring almost all of the ingredients, down to the plates and cups. But Brother Andrew and the other missionaries still didn’t have cake, an absolute requirement for a tea party in Scotland. He recounts what happened next:
That night in our evening prayer time, we put the matter before God. “Lord, we’ve got ourselves into a spot. From somewhere we’ve got to get a cake. Will you help us?” [...]
Morning arrived. We half expected a heavenly messenger to come to our door bearing a cake. But no one came. The morning mail arrived. We ripped open the two letters, hoping for money. There was none. A woman from a nearby church came by to see if she could help. “Cake,” was on the tip of all our tongues, but we swallowed the word and shook our heads.
“Everything,” we assured her, “is in God’s hands.”
The tea had been announced for four o’clock in the afternoon. At three the tables were set, but we still had no cake. Three-thirty came. We put on water to boil. Three-forty-five.
And then the doorbell rang.
All of us together ran to the big front entrance, and there was the postman. In his hand was a large box.
“Hello, lads,” said the postman. “Got something for you that feels like a food package.” He handed the box to one of the boys. “The delivery day is over, actually,” he said, “but I hate to leave a perishable package overnight.”
We thanked him profusely, and the minute he closed the door the boy solemnly handed me the box. “It’s for you, Andrew. From a Mrs. William Hopkins in London.”
I took the package and carefully unwrapped it. Off came the twine. Off came the brown outside paper. Inside, there was no note — only a large white box. Deep in my soul I knew that I could afford the drama of lifting the lid slowly. As I did, there, in perfect condition, to be admired by five sets of wondering eyes, was an enormous, glistening, moist, chocolate cake.
Neat, huh? And that’s one of the less amazing stories at Providence at work for Brother Andrew and the other missionaries — I chose this one because I didn’t want to spoil any of the real jaw droppers for those of you who plan to read the book (which is everyone, I hope!)
While he was still at the missionary school, Brother Andrew had begun to worry about having enough tuition money to get to graduation, and this brought him to a turning point in his relationship with God. While taking a long walk one night, he pondered his stress about where the funds would come from for him to do this work he was sure God wanted him to do. And he realized:
The question was not one of money at all. What I was worried about was a relationship.
At the chocolate factory [where he worked before going to missionary school], I trusted Mr. Ringers to pay me in full and on time. Surely I said to myself, if an ordinary factory worker could be financially secure, so could one of God’s workers.
I turned through the gate at the school. Above me was the reminder “Have Faith in God.”
That was it! It wasn’t that I needed the security of a certain amount of money, it was that I needed the security of a relationship.
I walked up the crunchy pebblewalk feeling more and more certain that I was on the verge of something exciting. The school was asleep and quiet. I tiptoed upstairs and sat by the bedroom window looking out over Glasgow. If I were to give my life as a servant of the King, I had to know that King. What was He like? In what way could I trust him? In the same way I trusted a set of impersonal laws? Or could I trust him as a living leader, as a very present commander in battle? The question was central. Because if He were a King in name only, I would rather go back to the chocolate factory. I would remain a Christian, but I would know that my religion was only a set of principles, excellent and to be followed, but hardly demanding devotion.
Suppose on the other hand that I were to discover God to be a Person, in the sense that He communicated and cared and loved and led. That was something quite different. That was the kind of King I would follow into any battle.
And that, in essence, is what Brother Andrew learned in all these exercises of trust he went through at his missionary school: that God is not a King in name only. He is a present leader, here among us, leading each of us in battle at each moment. Once Brother Andrew internalized this truth, his life was never the same again, and he set off on a mission that would change the lives of countless people across the world.
As I reflect on this idea of trusting God as an active, involved leader rather than a set of impersonal principles, I keep thinking, “I need to go to Trust School!” I think it would be good for someone like me to have an experience like Brother Andrew’s, where I was forced to stop trying to control every single thing and actually put real trust in the Lord. Naturally, I keep fixating on the idea of spending a week at some faraway “trust bootcamp,” but I know that that’s just me avoiding taking real action again. Something tells me that I’m already in Trust School, but I’ve been sleeping through the classes.
So how do I wake up to a more clear understanding of God as a real leader, whom I can trust with matters both large and small? That’s the question that’s been fascinating me lately, one that I’ll probably be writing about more. But meanwhile, what do you think? How can we transform daily life into Trust School?
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