You'll Never Get into Red China with that Passport

(This story is taken from a fantastic biography about Brother Andrew, called The Narrow Road)

And then one day in Moscow I took a seat in a bus next to a Chinese man. There were hundreds of Chinese in Moscow in those days, but this man wore a cross in his lapel. We got to talking, in English, and he told me that he was the secretary of the Shangha YMCA. I was astonished. The "Y" still open in Shanghai? Yes, he assured me, open and busy: he gave me his card and invited me to visit him.

And from that day on, a hope-beyond-hope began to grow within me of someday ministering to the isolated Christians or China.

But there were so many questions to answer before we could begin. How many Christians were there in China anyhow? I knew that the vast majority of the population never had been Christian. On the other hand, China had probably been the scene of more missionary effort than any other country. What had become of the devotion of so many men and women? Were the congregations they had founded still functioning? Were they suffering persecution? Were they meeting in secret? If they still existed were they as hungry for Bibles as the churches in Eastern Europe?

These were the questions we needed answers to. And so when in 1965, a speaking tour took me to California, I decided just to keep going: to visit Taiwan to talk with people who knew China and then to try to get onto the mainland itself. I was counting on my Dutch passport: Dutchmen under some circumstances were still permitted to travel behind that stronger-than-iron curtain.

But now, even on the plane to Hong Kong, I discovered that I had started out all wrong. The man next to me, a Hong Kong banker, looked at me oddly when I told him I was bound for China. "Didn't you get aboard at Taiwan?" He said.

"Yes, I spent ten days there."

"Let me see your passport." He flipped through the pages looking for the Taiwan stamp but stopped short at the American visa. "United States!" He said.

"Yes. I've just come from there."

"Man, you'll never get into Red China with that passport." Now usually I enjoy it when people tell me a missionary adventure is impossible, because this allows me to experience God's way of dealing with impossibilities. But no sooner had I checked in at the Hong Kong "Y" than I began to hear more discouraging facts.

All of Hong Kong, it seemed, was filled with missionaries who had tried and failed to get into mainland China. They included doctors and teachers with long records of service to the people. Today none of it counted: the fact that they had been accredited under the pre­Communist regime automatically barred them from the country.

When I'd heard these things for the one hundredth time, my confidence wavered. Maybe I could get a new passport with none of my earlier trips stamped in it.

I took the ferry from Kowloon, where the Hong Kong "Y" is located, across to the main part of the city on its rock island and went to the Dutch consulate. I found the consul behind a screen of thick pungent smoke, puffing at a long-stemmed clay pipe, which made me ache for Holland. When I told him I wanted to go to the China mainland, he took the pipe from his mouth and began to smile. When I went on to explain that I was a missionary, his smile broadened. When I told him frankly that I wanted to look for Christians there and explore the possibilities of getting Bibles to them, he actually began to laugh.

"May I see your passport?" He said. He ruffled through the pages, shaking his head. "Impossible," he said, stabbing the damaging visas with the stem of the pipe.

"Sir," I said, "that's why I'm here. I want a new passport." "Impossible," he said again. The consulate in Hong Kong had no authority to issue passports. If he were to send my request to Indonesia, he'd have to show legal cause, and there was none. He sent a cloud of smoke spiraling to the ceiling. And I knew the interview was over.

At first I was disappointed with the failure of my stratagem; then suddenly I knew I was glad. Now there was no possibility of my getting into China by my own cleverness. I believed that the desire to go to China had come from God: I would leave the means to Him too. The next morning I would simply go to the Chinese consulate and apply for a visa, knowing that if God really wanted me to go, the necessary papers would be forthcoming.

First, though, I had some homework to do. I thought of Joshua preparing to invade the land of the Canaanites, and how he had sent spies ahead to scout out the land. Perhaps this is what I must do: spy out the land of Chinese officialdom. It was dark now-store, and offices were shut-but I set out in search of the Chinese "travel agency," as the tourism department of that government was called.

As I had expected, it was closed. On a large pillar outside the door, a sign announced in English: "Chinese Travel Service." On the dark sidewalk in front of the barred door, I began to pray the Prayer of Victory, binding any force that could could prevent me from going where God willed, proclaiming the fact that Christ had been victorious once for all over any power opposed to the rule of God. Back and forth in front of the building I walked. I prayed for two hours there in the dark.

The next morning I was back again. This time the door was open. At the top of a flight of stairs sat a Chinese soldier. Behind him was a large room jammed with people. I chose a line, and while waiting, I prayed for the officials and clerks on the other side of the counter, praying that God was opening channels with which to reach these citizens of China.

And then it was my turn. I stepped forward, and the man in the pale blue "people's uniform" looked up at me inquiringly.

"Sir," I said in English, "I want to make application for a visa to China."

The man took his eyes off mine and began stamping papers. "Have you ever been to the United States or to Taiwan?" He asked. "Yes, sir. I've just come from Taiwan, and before that I was in California."

"Then," he said with a smile, "you cannot possibly go to China, because these countries are our enemies."

"But," I said, smiling back at him, "they are not my enemies, for I have no enemies. Will you give me the forms?"

We held each other's eye. I do not know what the other man was doing, but I was praying. He looked at me steadily, without expression, for a long time. Then at last his gaze broke. "It will achieve nothing," he said with a shrug. But he handed me the application forms.

When I had filled them out, he told me that I could not have my answer before three days. The application, with the incriminating passport, would have to travel up to Canton.

That night I had dinner with an old China missionary. "They said I might hear after three days!" I told him jubilantly.

My host threw back his head and roared. "That just shows how little you know the oriental mind!" He said. "They always tell you 'three days.' Three days is Chinese for never."

Resolutely I closed my ears to his merriment. For those three days I fasted and prayed almost continually. I did more than this. I went to the local Bible shop and purchased supplies of Chinese Scripture to take with me behind the Bamboo Curtain. I made arrangements to store some of my clothes, since I would have so little room in a suitcase filled mostly with Bibles. And I waited.

On the third day 1 returned to my room at the "Y" to find a note telling me to telephone the Chinese travel agency. Instead of returning the call, I went directly to the office. I tried to read the face of the Chinese official as he looked up and saw me. But he was as inscrutable as his countrymen's reputation. At last I reached the counter. Without a word, he handed me my passport; attached to it was a piece of paper, stamped with the all-important visa for travel in his country.

Open Doors, Brother Andrew with John & Elizabeth Sherrill, The Narrow Road, Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2001, p. 291-296.

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