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Travel | January 18, 2013

A clandestine mission


Bible smuggling groups turn to college students to carry the gospel across dangerous borders

Brianna Walden in Laos (Courtesy photo)

After traveling for 30 hours, the two girls crashed on twin beds in the primitive hotel room in the heart of Laos, a southeast Asian country known for its brutal religious oppression.

They heard a sharp knock at the door. Hearts pounding, they glanced at each other.

"There was that instant uncertainty," Brianna Walden, now 23, recalls. "I felt like part of an action film."

Walden's friend answered the door to find a man holding a manilla envelope.

"Are you Brianna Walden?" he asked.

Walden jumped up, ran to the door, and said, "Yes."

Their eyes locked as the man handed her the envelope filled with instructions, codes, and a cell phone with two numbers they could text.

"Thank you," Walden said.

"No, thank you," the man replied. He then turned and disappeared down the steps of their hotel.

Little had prepared Walden for this interaction.

"It was at that moment that it all became real for me," Walden said. "I realized that I was there to do something that meant the world for these local Christians. It was at this moment that I resolved that this would not be the only trip that I was going to do this, that I would be going back."

A junior at Hillsdale College, Walden joined a team of 11 people with Vision Beyond Borders (VBB) to take Bibles into Laos. The organization seeks to fulfill the Great Commission by smuggling Bibles across borders of countries where the gospel is restricted and getting them into the hands of Christians. Since its conception 20 years ago, VBB has delivered more than 900,000 Bibles all over the world.

Walden heard about the opportunity to go in the summer of 2009, while helping at a Christian youth camp. She said God convicted her to go, but it was not until the following summer that he made it clear, "now is the time."

With her parents' approval, Walden wrote 93 letters to friends asking for prayer and financial support. The response brought enough to cover her travel expenses and bring additional Bibles.

She joined a team headed to southeast Asia, where they made VBB's first "cold drops" into Laos. In a cold drop, team members do not have established contacts, but pray for friendly people and approach them with Bibles and other gospel materials.

If authorities had discovered the team was more than just a tourist group, they would have confiscated the materials and deported and fined them. Worse, the local Christian contacts would have been jeopardized.

In this environment, Walden said, prayer is essential. She cited the command in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to "pray without ceasing."

"I have never better followed the commandment than when I was in Laos," she said. "It's so easy to trust God in another country where you don't know the language and you can't do it on your own strength. You have to call out to God."

She plans to return with VBB on a second trip this May. This time, she hopes to bring a team of students recruited from her college. Students make some of the best smugglers.

When VBB team leader Mark Drye started taking teams to Asia three years ago, he said the average age was late 40's to mid 50's. He began recruiting younger people, and now the average participants are in their mid 20's.

"It's pretty wearing," Drye said. "You need a lot of energy throughout the day. Typically, the younger crowd comes out better." Drye hopes to take a team of 4-6 young men to China in May, and said they will probably be able to bring in about 10,000 Bibles in two weeks.

Walden is studying political economy, and has a "definite passion for international issues." She hopes to have a career influencing public policy, and said her trip to Laos gave her a bigger heart for the world beyond the United States. "It has given me the desire to be an advocate for religious liberty across the world," she said.