By Michael Ashcraft —
For decades, Antti and Esko would smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations starting from his hinterland farm in Finland. It was a private, top-secret volunteer operation they’ve kept mum until now.
“We never spoke to anyone about this,” Antti recounts on a 2018 Stefanus video. To do so could jeopardize their safety and cut off the supply of Bibles to people hungry for Scriptures under repressive governments that banned Christianity and punished anyone found with God’s Word.
“The people there in the country that were working with us, when they were caught, some of them got three years, some got five years,” Esko says. “Mr. Horev who was one of the leaders of this operation (the Mission Behind the Iron Curtain), he got five years in prison, and after he had served that, they added two more years on to his sentence.”
Antti and Esko never got caught. Theirs was a game of cat-and-mouse, a Christian version of spy wars as was similarly carried on by Brother Andrew and is being carried out now in restrictive Islamic countries.
Antti had a great love for Scripture and felt he could help brothers just across the border in the neighboring Soviet Union. Through the Finnish forest, there were no check points, no fence, so getting in and out was relatively easy.
He rode his bike in, carrying 20 New Testaments, two under his jacket on his shoulders, and the rest hidden in pockets inside loose trousers. Later he devised a gas tank with a hidden compartment to hide 40 Bibles.
But the cry for more Scripture was endless, so Antti secured a nine-seater Bedford minivan that could conceal 250 Bibles.
“When we realized the need was so big, we had to constantly create news of doing it,” Esko recounts. Eventually they started to build pre-fabricated housing components to transport through the Soviet Union to Greece and Cyprus.
In between the pre-fab wooden house structures loaded on tractor trailers, they stowed 40,000 Bibles to be unloaded under the cover of night by local collaborators in the USSR, Romania and Czechoslovakia. They also took children’s Bibles and tracts.
Antti’s route was through Leningrad, Moscow, Tula, Oryol, Kiev, Kishinev, Romania, Bulgaria and finally Greece. That’s where they unloaded the housing structures to be sold, providing the front for the smuggling operation.
“There was a feeling at night in Romania when the Bibles were unloaded, a very special moment that I will never forget,” Esko says.
From a barn on his farm, Antti built the housing panels and structures to be shipped to Greece.
“There were many answers to prayers during those years and God’s protection,” Esko says.
Before beginning his long drive, Antti would prayerfully search the scriptures for a particular promise. When “impossible situations” confronted him, he would meditate on the verse to retain his faith and trust in the Lord.
“From those scriptures we got the strength to go forward,” Esko says.
One verse was Psalm 121:8: The Lord will protect your going and your coming, now and forevermore.
In 1975, Antti and Esko and two others traveled to Norway to meet with leaders of the “Mission Behind the Iron Curtain.” They prayed for help because they lacked finances and the Lord supplied their needs.
“The meeting that we had at that time and the long-lasting relationships we built were God’s clear guidance,” Antti says.
Ironically, the fall of the Wall of Berlin in 1989, which opened up the Eastern countries to an influx of Christian missionaries and Bibles, brought depression for Esko. His life had been dedicated to the secret mission, and now there was no need for him anymore.
“I was rejoicing because there was freedom in the East and that gave me great joy,” Esko says. “But I also felt very confused. I could have never imagined that God would bring the wall down. In some ways, I was for a while lost in my own way. I didn’t know what to do next.
“Now looking back, it was in God’s hands and it was his timing, and after that millions have heard the Gospel.”
Michael Ashcraft is a Christian financial professional in California selling life insurance and annuities.