$50,000 Challenge Grant Doubles Your Impact

Help provide immediate support for persecuted Christians in Africa

U.S. Pastor Brunson Publicly Forgives His Persecutors—as Turkey Calls for Fourth Hearing

U.S. Pastor Brunson Publicly Forgives His Persecutors—as Turkey Calls for Fourth Hearing

[Above photo: Philip Kosnett, the U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires, talks to media after attending the third hearing for imprisoned U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson at a court inside the prison complex.]

After numerous optimistic reports indicating that U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson would finally be released at the end of his third hearing in Turkey, the court has once again continued the trial, this time to October 12. The judge also again sent the North Carolina pastor back to prison for another three months. Pastor Brunson is accused of having links with the organization that Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt, as well the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

At the time of his fourth hearing, Pastor Brunson will have spent more than two years of his life in a Turkish prison.

“My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

The humble response from Pastor Andrew Brunson came after two hours of testimony for the prosecution during the third hearing held in Aliaga, south of Izmir. Three witnesses testified, including members of Pastor Brunson’s church in Izmir, where for 25 years he and his family led Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Christian congregation.

According to a World Watch Monitor report, the witnesses made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations,” following a pattern that has characterized the testimonies at the previous two hearings in April and May.

‘He Presented the Gospel’

Pastor Bill Campbell, who leads a church in Hendersonville, North Carolina, was among several supporters who attended the third hearing.

“As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew,” Campbell told EPConnection after the trial. “Andrew’s testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.”

In a Facebook post, Andrew’s wife, Norine, posted that “the Lord was absolutely glorified!!! He explained why he was here, he gave the gospel. He publicly forgave all those who have come against him, forgiving as he has been forgiven.”

She continued: “He said, ‘It is a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ. Blessed am I, as I suffer for Him. Blessed am I, as I am slandered. Blessed am I, as I am being lied about. Blessed am I, as I am imprisoned. Blessed am I, as I share His suffering.’ I am incredibly proud of him as I am quite sure he doesn’t feel that blessing at this point.”

Campbell also said that a witness who was supposed to speak against Andrew actually spoke in his favor. Still, Campbell observed, “It felt like they had decided the outcome before the trial.”

Additionally, the court heard a witness for the defense—the first time since the trial began in April. However,  the judge refused to hear the witness that Pastor Brunson initially requested to testify, saying the witness is also implicated in the indictment. The witness who appeared is reportedly less familiar with Pastor Brunson.

Media also noted that after the hearing, Pastor Brunson waved at supporters, saying only “thank you” in English.

A ‘Cruel Political Decision’

Since his detainment began in October 2016, Pastor Brunson’s defense and supporters, including U.S. government leaders and the European Union, have said that he is a political hostage. They contend that Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is keeping him imprisoned for diplomatic leverage. In September 2017, Erdoğan publicly declared that he would “swap” Brunson for the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Erdoğan claims led the failed coup against his leadership in 2016.

“You have one pastor [of ours] as well,” Erdoğan said last September. “The pastor we have [Brunson] is on trial. [Gülen] is not—he is living in Pennsylvania. Give him to us. You can easily give him to us. You can give him right away. Then we will try [Brunson] and give him to you.”

The decision to continue the trial and send Pastor Brunson back to prison is a “cruel political” one, says Nate Schenkkan, director of special research for Freedom House, which works to defend human rights. Schenkkan, who focuses on Turkey, tweeted that the trial is “a case study in the absurdity of the present Turkish justice system.”

“It would be a farce if it weren’t so serious,” he wrote. “Letting him out would have been a simple, cost-free way for the Turkish government to show it was concerned about the relationship with the United States. Holding him for at least three more months is a new low.”

Philip Kosnett, U.S. charge d’affaires in Turkey, told reporters outside the courtroom before the hearing began that Brunson’s case was a “critical one for the United States and had ramifications for its relationship with Turkey.”

“The sooner Andrew Brunson can be reunited with his family, the sooner we can start focusing on other issues in the relationship,” he said.

Following the hearing, Kosnett shared his frustration.

“I’ve read the indictment, I’ve attended three hearings. I don’t believe that there is any indication that Pastor Brunson is guilty of any sort of criminal or terrorist activity. … We have great respect both for Turkey’s traditional law as a haven for people of all faiths and for Turkey’s legal traditions. And we believe that this case is out of step with those traditions,” he said in a written statement.

Kristina Arriaga, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair, also attended the hearing. USCIRF has previously condemned the charges against Pastor Brunson and has called for his immediate release. Arriaga shared her disappointment, saying that Turkey’s government continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson:

“Today I was hoping to see the judge order his complete release and put an end to the miscarriage of justice that Pastor Brunson’s entire case represents. Turkish authorities still have not provided one good reason for depriving Pastor Brunson of his liberties.

Arriaga called on the Trump administration and U.S. Congress to continue to apply pressure, including targeted sanctions against official connected to the case.

@POTUS I urge you to continue to support Pastor Andrew Brunson in your talks with President Erdogan and in Congress' efforts to free him. It has been too long, and he needs to come home. #standwithPastorBrunson Click To Tweet

Senator Thom Tillis, who has lobbied Congress to place sanctions on Turkey, expressed his disappointment in a joint statement with Senators Jeanee Shaheen, Lindsey Graham and James Lankford:

Previous Optimism

The discouraging decision comes after several weeks of cautiously optimistic reports that Pastor Brunson would be released after this third hearing.

In late June, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Lindsey Graham visited Andrew in prison and then met personally with Erdoğan in Ankara to discuss U.S. sanctions on Turkey, of which Pastor Brunson’s imprisonment is a key factor. Last month, the U.S. Senate passed a bill including a measure that prohibits Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets because of Brunson’s imprisonment. After the meeting, the senators reportedly said they believed the president had not been “properly briefed” about the seriousness of the sanctions, but that he “now understood.”

And following the NATO Summit, Erdoğan and Trump, who has publicly called for Pastor Brunson’s release, reportedly discussed the case during a phone call, according to the Turkish pro-government daily newspaper, Sabah.

The Turkish government has said that any decision was up to the court. “They say that the government should release him,” said Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglusaid. “Is it in my power? This is a decision the judiciary will make.

But Gönül Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute, offered a contrary perspective from Cavusoglu’s statement. Tol noted that a panel of three judges will decide Brunson’s fate and that the Turkish judiciary is “under the complete control of Erdoğan,” he said. 

A former opposition member of the Turkish parliament, Aykan Erdemir, told the tk Al-Monitor that “powerful forces are working against Brunson.” Erdemir is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Both the pro-government media and the prosecutor’s office have dug themselves deep in framing Brunson as a terrorist, and it will be a challenge for them to pull a U-turn.”

He added that Erdoğan’s nationalist allies “have a proven track record of anti-Christian and anti-missionary prejudice and would not welcome Brunson’s release.”

According to Brunson’s Turkish attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, political trials in Turkey often convene and recess multiple times with years going by before they’re completed. In May, Halavurt told reporters that he thinks the Brunson trial will probably last “two years at the very least.”

Praying Against the Darkness

If convicted, Pastor Brunson faces 35 years in prison–essentially a life sentence for the 50-year-old pastor. The indictment demands up to 15 years in prison for crimes in the name of the Gulen movement and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and up to 20 years for obtaining state secrets for political or military espionage.

Since the official indictment and the first hearing on April 16 when a judge continued the trial the first time, the Body of Christ throughout the United States and around the world has fasted and prayed fervently for Pastor Brunson’s release and safe return to his family. On the Open Doors Prayer Wall for Andrew and his family, as well as on our social media, more than 3,500 people have written and shared their heartfelt prayers for him, Norine and their three children.

How do we pray and continue to hope for this family as the trial continues for yet a fourth hearing … a few reminders to consider:

Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Instead, Paul reminds us that we pray against the principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). The 62-page indictment accuses Pastor Brunson of “Christianization,” calling it an act of terror.” As much as we may be tempted to villainize President Erdoğan and his government, as Christ’s Church we are called to pray against the darkness. Pastor Brunson’s case is set against a backdrop of increasing Christian persecution and darkness in Turkey, which is No. 31 on the World Watch List.

Prayer is our greatest weapon. It goes beyond strongholds and into places we could never venture. And if you believe the Book of Acts, prayer can break chains, release prisoners, bring aid and relief to suffering saints like no other resource. Throughout his life, Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew has witnessed Acts-like prayer. He says that prayers can go where we cannot… there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”

God is sovereign; we don’t know His ways. Throughout history, God has used persecution as part of His sovereign plan to spread the gospel and strengthen believers. Persecution of Christians was prevalent in both the Old and New Testaments. Scripture tells us repeatedly that we will not always understand God’s ways. But we continue to pray even when things don’t make sense in our heads and hearts, trusting God and His wisdom–remembering that He is good and nothing is happening that He’s not aware of or allowing.

God is the master of timing. Throughout Scripture, we see that God is not in a hurry. For 400 years, the Israelites prayed for deliverance from Egypt. Even Jesus knew this. In the Gospels, Jesus says “my hour has not come.” We continue to pray knowing that God is the master of time and therefore the master of timing.

God is still working. Places or circumstances don’t limit God’s power. When Joseph was thrown into a cistern by his brothers, God was still working. When he was unjustly imprisoned, God was still there, using the circumstances to mature Joseph and ultimately save His people. And God still works through our prayers. When we pray, we show that we are trusting God to work even when our finite view limits our perspective.

In His Word, God has shown us how to pray for the persecuted. We can find insight and practical help in the scriptures:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32).

And finally, we can pray the powerful prayer Pastor Brunson recently shared, asking God to use Him: “Father, cause to burst into flame in the love You have for Jesus, that I may be a servant, ardent lover of Him, willing to undergo whatever is asked.”

#standwithPastorBrunson

Remember to write and share your prayers on our Prayer Wall where more than 1,700 members of the Body of Christ have expressed their hearts.

Sign up to get updates on Pastor Andrew Brunson and Christian persecution around the world.

No Homecoming for Boko Haram Victims—One Woman’s Story of Scorn, Sorrow and Saving Faith

No Homecoming for Boko Haram Victims—One Woman’s Story of Scorn, Sorrow and Saving Faith

When Esther was rescued from Boko Haram captivity, she thought her living nightmare of almost a year was over.

But it had only just begun.

Though the young Nigerian woman carried a child she thought she could never love, she was at least free from the violence, the constant rape, the incessant torment from her captors that she had endured ever since the day Boko Haram guerilla fighters attacked her village, killing her father and forcing her and other young Christian girls into waiting vehicles. They were taken into the dense Sambisa Forest where the terrorist group had established their rape camps.

The Boko Haram hallmark is brutal violence: suicide bombings, mass murder, forced conscription of young men and boys, and the destruction of villages, towns, churches, markets, and schools. But Boko Haram is perhaps best known for its widespread abduction of women and girls—an estimated 3,000 since 2009. 

Since last year, the group has expanded to Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and has pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

‘Bad Blood’

As Esther walked back into her village, she anticipated a homecoming of support and healing from those who had known her.

Instead, she was met with rejection and abuse.

In captivity, Esther resisted constant pressure to abandon her Christian faith in favor of Boko Haram’s extreme radicalized brand of Islam, and she was brutally punished for it. She was  repeatedly raped multiple times by different men.

But to villagers long terrorized by the extremist group, Esther was just another one of the “Boko Haram women,” girls kidnapped by violent militants, married off to fighters, raped, beaten and enslaved.

Esther and baby Rebekah–the villagers called Rebekah ‘Boho.’

Esther was pregnant with a child conceived by the rapes (and as a result had no idea who the father is, an infant whose only future in the villagers’ eyes was one of violence and terror. Family and friends said the child would inherit its father’s “bad blood”—the violent tendencies of an extremist.

When the child was born, Esther named her Rebekah. The villagers only called her “Boko.”

Esther is not alone.

Esther’s story is hauntingly familiar in the places where Boko Haram is active. For many women, her story is more than familiar—it is their own.

Salamatu was kidnapped at age 15 and raped in captivity. She was able to escape her kidnappers, but when she arrived at a refugee camp in northern Nigeria, all she found was more oppression.

“They say my daughter is a Boko Haram baby,” she told NPR.

Amina and her daughter, liberated wives of Boko Haram fighters, experienced more trauma in their refugee camp than they did at the hands of the extremists, one activist said.

Adrienne survived a brutal sexual attack at the hands of Boko Haram. When she returned to her hometown, vulnerable and alone, Adrienne and her newborn child were ostracized.

While many of these women have sought help—and even found some semblance of recovery—many continue to be ostracized and abused.

No Safe Haven, Only Stigma

In the town squares of impoverished villages and among the ramshackle homes of refugee camps, women freed from Boko Haram are not seen as victims of conflict, but as direct threats to the safety of others.

According to a February 2016 Unicef report, villagers and other refugees fear the freed women have been indoctrinated and radicalized by their captors. The recent increase in female suicide bombers, both women and children, throughout Nigeria has also reinforced the belief that women and girls held captive by militants are contributing to the region’s overall insecurity. Reports of kidnapped women coming home and killing family members as part of the initiation protocol for Boko Haram have made community members even more wary of women returning home from captivity.

A new report (June 2018) by the Heritage Foundation finds that Boko Haram has used significantly more female suicide-bombers than any other terrorist group in history. From June 2014 to the end of February 2018, Boko Haram “deployed 469 female suicide bombers who killed more than 1,200 people and injured nearly 3,000 others.” Children are a prime target, the report said, as they can easily be manipulated, particularly those “ripped from their families in kidnappings.”

By using women to carry out such attacks, more male militants are available for more conventional fighting. Women and children are also less likely to be stopped and searched, says Yonas Dembele, persecution analyst at World Watch Research. He adds that Christians and Western interests are Boko Haram’s prime targets.

“The militants abduct school children and Christians, rape and torture the women, and then recruit them to carry out attacks,” Dembele says, adding that since 2011, Boko Haram fighters have killed more than 20,000 people in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries.

The belief that babies and children born of the “Boko Haram women” have inherited “bad blood” from their parents is rampant; the “bad blood” idea is popular in Nigerian witchcraft. As a result, children conceived in Boko Haram captivity are seen as genetically tainted through the sins of their fathers, consigned to a life of violence and terror.

Husbands and fathers of victims also have mixed feelings about the women, with some completely unwilling to take them back, fearing discrimination and consequences from Boko Haram.

At the Foot of the Cross

In trauma counseling from Open Doors, Esther and other Boko Haram victims learned to place their burdens at the foot of the cross.

As the abuse from the villagers continued and Esther’s child grew, faith became the young mother’s only refuge—and it brought more healing to her than any community could.

Leaders at Esther’s church invited her to attend an Open Doors trauma care seminar, where coordinators encouraged her and other participants to seek freedom at the foot of the cross—literally. A caregiver asked Esther and others to write out their burdens on pieces of paper, then pin them to a hand-carved wooden cross.

“When I pinned that piece of paper to the cross, it felt like I was handing over all of my sorrow to God,” Esther said.

When the caregiver removed the notes from the cross and burned them, Esther says she “felt like my sorrow and shame disappeared, never to come back again.”

With the help of the seminar and continued trauma counseling, the young woman’s life has improved exponentially. One year after her return, villagers still struggled to accept Esther and her daughter, but they knew something had changed in the young woman. This teenage mother who had endured unspeakable agony at the hands of a brutal regime was surprisingly—impossibly—at peace.

“Some of those people who used to mock me now ask me my secret,” Esther says. “I tell them, ‘I forgave my enemies and now trust God to take vengeance in His time.’”

God has used Open Doors to provide for Esther and Rebecca’s physical needs, including food aid. She now lives with her grandparents, and finally feels the support and care of a family—and the child Esther thought she could never love now means the world to her.

“Rebekah has become my joy and laughter amid sadness.”

Open Doors continues to reach out to and serve Boko Haram survivors like Esther, but the need is still great as violence and kidnappings continue. Please pray with us for Esther and our brothers and sisters in West Africa where the insurgency continues.

Stand with believers in Nigeria through relief and support

Get exclusive stories and prayer updates from Open Doors!

Is Another Boko Haram Emerging in Previously Untroubled Southeast Africa?

Is Another Boko Haram Emerging in Previously Untroubled Southeast Africa?

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the regions of West Africa, East Africa and Central Africa have become a stage for religious, ethnic, and political conflict, including ongoing violence and attacks from Islamic extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab in East Africa and Muslim Fulani militant herdsmen in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. But the lower half of Africa–predominantly Christian–has been previously untroubled by violent Islamic extremism. Now questions are being raised about the possible emergence of another Boko Haram in Southeast Africa.

Attacks Raising Alarms

As persecution of Christians increases throughout the world, Southeast Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe) is now seeing violence, as well. A number of attacks in Mozambique, including several beheadings, have raised alarms over the emergence of a new extremist group and a jihadist movement in the southern half of Africa.

Human Rights Watch reports that the group al-Sunna wa Jama’a (a term for the Sunni Muslim sect) has killed 39 and displaced 1,000 people in a spate of attacks in the energy-rich country of Mozambique, where the population of 30 million is predominantly Christian.

Until recently, little was known about the group known locally as ‘al-Shabaab’ (which means “the youth”). While some, including Mozambique’s government, say there are no ties to the Somali group of the same name, others say the Somali militants are actually financing the group.

‘They read loudly Arabic words from the book’

The group carried out its first attacks in October 2017, targeting police stations in the coastal town of Moćimboa da Praia in Mozambique. In March, one person in the province was killed; homes were torched. Officials believe the al-Sunna wa Jama’a group carried out the assault and believe the same group has been carrying out armed operations against the government since October.

June 2018 was a particularly violent month of bloodshed and loss. Residents report attacks on June 5- 6 and June 12 in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado. On June 5, a group of men armed with machetes and AK-47 assault rifles reportedly raided the village of Namaluco. They killed six people and set on fire more than 100 houses. The assailants, who had their faces covered, also spoke Swahili, the main language spoken in the region.

And on June 12, just before 2 am, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down when a group of six men stormed another village. Reportedly, the assailants were carrying machetes and had their faces covered.

One villager in Naunde explained how the attackers caught a community leader: “When he realized they were looking for him, he tried to run away but one of the men chased him, grabbed him by the arm, held the machete, and cut his head off … there in front of everybody.”

Aisha, a woman whose house was reduced to ashes, told Human Rights Watch that she woke up at about 2 a.m., after hearing gunshots and people screaming.

“I went outside and saw a group of people with their faces covered,” she said. “Two of them had big guns. The other three had machetes. The ones with machetes also had a small book in their hands. They read loudly Arabic words from the book, before setting the houses on fire.”

Another woman, Anshia, explained how she managed to escape:

“I was running behind my husband and my three older children, when I remembered that I had left the baby in my room. I went back. They had already set my house on fire. One of the men grabbed my hand and slapped me in the face. I managed to escape when I fell on the floor. Then I ran inside the house, took my baby and used the other side of the house to reach the road and run.”

On June 12, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes were burned down in Nathuko village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Who Is al-Sunna wa Jama’a?

According to a study released last month out of Maputo (May 2018), many of the militants are disaffected by poverty and unemployment, and some have reportedly traveled to regional countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia, for religious or military training.

The study said they are influenced by followers of Sheik Aboud Rogo, a Muslim cleric in Kenya with alleged links to al-Shabaab in Somalia. He was shot and killed in 2012 by suspected government agents in Kenya, which triggered violent protests by supporters.

The new extremist group reportedly numbers in the hundreds, operates in largely autonomous cells, and has tapped into the thriving illegal trade in ivory, timber and rubies in Mozambique’s border area.

Members of the Islamist group mark their difference from the country’s mainstream Muslims–who comprise 17 percent of the Mozambican population–with shaved heads, beards and white turbans.

“The birth of Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah is very similar to what was seen with Boko Haram in Nigeria,” commented Éric Morier-Genoud, senior lecturer in African history at Queen’s University Belfast, in an article for news website The Conversation. “It started as a religious sect which transformed into a guerrilla group.”

The group’s objective seems to be “to impose sharia law, a goal that’s perfectly consistent with their attacks on symbols of the government’s presence,” said Nick Piper, director of the Signal Risk consultancy firm, in an interview with france24.com. However, Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah has not made any political demands.

Praying with African believers

  • Pray that God would strengthen the church in this area and that they could be light to the many in northern Mozambique who have lost loved ones in these attacks.
  • Ask God to pour out His Spirit of love, order and calm over this area.
  • Pray that this emerging movement would be halted and for the salvation of these young men who are potential recruits to al-Sunna wa Jama’a.

Why a Turkish Newspaper Is Reporting the ‘Imminent’ Release of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson

Why a Turkish Newspaper Is Reporting the ‘Imminent’ Release of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson

A little over a week before the next hearing for U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, a Turkish newspaper, the Hurriyet Daily News, is reporting that “many” diplomats in Ankara expect the “imminent release and deportation” of the North Carolina pastor.

In a column for the Hurriyet, entitled “Pastor Brunson’s Detention Has Become Too Costly for Turkey,” lead Turkish commentator Serkan Demirtas suggested that the continued detention of Pastor Bunson would further complicate the situation between Turkey and the U.S.

That is why many diplomats in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, expect his potential release followed by his deportation, pending trial on the July 18 hearing,” he wrote. He added: “Of course, it is impossible to foresee what the court’s decision will be, but his release would sure help the ongoing reconciliation process between Turkey and the U.S.”

Phillip Kosnett, American Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey recently echoed Demirtas’ comment, saying that the country’s continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson on spying and terrorism-related charges is impeding U.S.-Turkish relations.

Kosnett has said there is a “strong sense of unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats” on the need for Pastor Brunson to be released and “a similar sense of unity between Congress and the administration that in order for the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. to progress, we need to resolve that status not only for Brunson but also for other American citizens and local Turkish employees of U.S. missions who we feel are detained unjustly under the state of emergency.”

An article in the Hurriyet quoted Kosnett saying that resolving those cases would improve “prospects for progress” in other areas of co-operation.

The articles ran before Erdogan’s recent blanket decree firing more than 18,000 civil servants for unspecified “links with terror groups” and the government’s increase in the number of arrests for “insulting the president.” Erdogan was recently elected to a five-year term and now has near-absolute political power.

Meeting in Turkey

Kosnett’s comments come after reports ran about the bipartisan meeting between U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Jeanne Shaheen and Turkey President Erdoğan. The two leaders traveled to Turkey to lobby for the release of Pastor Brunson, whom they visited in prison in Izmir.

Following their previously undisclosed trip, Shaheen told the New Hampshire Union Leader: “Pastor Brunson has been unjustly imprisoned and kept away from his family for well over one year. The opportunity to see him and his wife, Norine, and to appeal directly to President Erdogan, were my main objectives on this trip.

“Any time an American is wrongfully detained anywhere by a foreign government, it is our country’s duty to do everything we can to bring him or her home.”

The Turkish presidency did not issue a statement after the meeting.

The senators’ visit took place before Erdogan’s scheduled meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels.

‘Because I am a Christian Pastor’

Pastor Brunson is accused of espionage and terrorism while he led a small church in Izmir. Over the last two hearings in April and May, the prosecution has produced no credible evidence. The trial has been widely criticized as a “sham” with Pastor Brunson being used as a political pawn. Erdogan has essentially said he will trade Pastor Brunson for Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric Turkey has accused of starting a coup. Erdogan has demanded Gulen, now living in Pennsylvania, to be extradited by the U.S.

But Andrew is clear that his imprisonment is Christian persecution. From his prison cell, he has written: “Let it be clear. I am in prison not for anything I have done wrong, but because of who I am–a Christian pastor. I desperately miss my wife and children. Yet I believe this to be true: it is an honor to suffer for Jesus Christ, as many have before me. My deepest thanks for all those around the world who are standing with me and praying for me.”

The 62-page indictment bears more evidence that he is a victim of persecution, with “Christianization” being called “a hostile act.” Turkey is No. 31 on the World Watch List.

If convicted, Pastor Brunson faces a life sentence of 35 years. He has vehemently denied all the charges.

“My service that I have spent my life on has now turned upside down. I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus, but these claims are shameful and disgusting … There is not one photograph or tape recording praising the PKK at the Resurrection Church.”

Praying With the Brunsons

Please continue to pray with the Brunson family as the third hearing approaches in Izmir on July 18. 

In His Word, God has shown us how to pray for the persecuted. We can find insight and practical help in the scriptures:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).

 “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32). #standingwithPastorBrunson

Remember to write and share your prayers on our Prayer Wall where more than 1,600 members of the Body of Christ have expressed their hearts.

Sign up to get updates on Pastor Andrew Brunson and Christian persecution around the world.

How Malaysia and North Korea Inspire Us to Pray Impossible Prayers

How Malaysia and North Korea Inspire Us to Pray Impossible Prayers

I recently returned from Malaysia (No. 23 on the World Watch List) where secret believers at a secret church told us how their government had been persecuting Christians for decades. They said Malaysia had recently gone through an election in May to vote for a new prime minister. Malaysian Christians had been praying for a change that would give them the freedom to follow Jesus in their country.

Answered Prayers for Malaysian Believers

At the same time as the election in Malaysia, hundreds of churches around the United States had joined a 30-day prayer campaign for the country.

But this convergence wasn’t planned.

The U.S. churches didn’t choose the dates to coincide with the election. I doubt few even knew about it. Still, the Spirit called them to pray for Malaysia–and to join with the Malaysian church–during the exact same time as this pivotal turning point for the country and Malaysian Christ followers. 

The election outcome was a surprise to the whole country. For the first time in 60 years, the government changed leadership. Now, for the first time in 20 years, the country has a different prime minister who has pledged more freedom for Christians.

The Lord answered prayers in Malaysia.

Answered Prayer Beginnings in North Korea

We’ve also recently witnessed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet with President Trump in a historic meeting. North Korea is currently ranked No. 1 on the World Watch List as the most difficult place to live as a Christian. For decades, believers in North Korea and around the world have been praying for the isolated country and religious freedom.

While we have yet to see what the June 11 summit will produce, we do know that the meeting is unprecedented. Never before has a sitting U.S. president met with the leader of the North Korean regime. We continue to pray that God will use the summit and that it will be the beginning of religious freedom for the underground church of 300,000 believers in North Korea.

3 Powerful Truths About Prayer

Neither of these major political events in Malaysia or North Korea was predicted or expected to happen. However, both provide hope for Christians, persecuted and free. They inspire us to continue to fervently pray, especially when it seems as if we’re praying impossible prayers. And they show us that prayer does indeed bring change:

1.Prayer changes hearts. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.” Scripture shows us that through prayer, the Lord can change the hearts of leaders and advance His Kingdom.

2.Prayer changes the world. Through our prayers and petitions, the Lord hears us. He hears our groans for our persecuted brothers and sisters and does indeed change the circumstances of this world. The election of Malaysia’s new prime minister and the U.S. meeting with Kim Jong Un are recent examples of how the Lord can and does begin to put the wheels of change in motion through our desperate prayers.

I love what Open Doors Founder Brother Andrew says: “Our prayers can go where we cannot … there are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”

3.Prayer is ongoing; we need it now as much as ever. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul reminds us,  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

The secret believers in Malaysia asked that we continue to pray for them. They have renewed hope with a new prime minister and a new government, but they’ve asked that we pray now more than ever that their new leader would do as he said and provide freedom to persecuted Christians. We must also continue praying for our persecuted family in North Korea as world leaders meet and provide hope for their future.

The Lord answers prayers and has called us to pray without ceasing. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that we are in a spiritual fight “against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Please join us as we lift hearts and voices in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. We need you in the battle.

Click here to become an Open Doors Prayer Partner today.