With 28 days remaining before the next hearing for U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, U.S. lawmakers and international groups are turning up the pressure on Turkey’s leaders to release the North Carolina native. For more than 600 days, Pastor Brunson has been imprisoned on false accusations of espionage and terrorism since his arrest in October 2016.
In what the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) called “the most significant legislative action on behalf of Pastor Brunson to date,” U.S. lawmakers are working to deny Turkey access to 100 key U.S.-built F-35 fighter jets–with Pastor Brunson’s release being the major point of contention. The U.S. Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which includes a provision that, if passed, would significantly curtail the modernization of Turkey’s air force.
“What we offered in the NDAA is an examination of whether or not that relationship [between the U.S. and Turkey] makes sense because of the way they are treating one of our American citizens and not letting him come home …” said North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis who has visited Pastor Brunson in prison and is one of the major proponents spearheading efforts to free him.
And last week, U.S Senator Roger Wicker introduced a bipartisan resolution urging President Trump to take action against seven countries, including Turkey, for what it described as “severe violations of religious freedom.” Wicker called for sanctioning Turkish officials responsible for Pastor Brunson’s imprisonment.
“Our founding fathers made religious freedom a cornerstone of our country …” he said. “This resolution is a blueprint for action in a region where governments have often attacked religious freedom instead of protecting it.”
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Leadership Support Continues to Grow
In another recent development, more than 100 members of the European Parliament signed a letter demanding Pastor Brunson’s release from Buca prison in Izmir, the port city where for 23 years he and his wife Norine raised their children and pastored a small congregation.
In two letters from the EU’s legislative arm, 102 European lawmakers from more than a dozen countries demanded Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan free Brunson. One letter, signed by 75 members of the EU parliament, followed a resolution voted on in February demanding the pastor’s release. In the letter, lawmakers call Pastor Brunson “an innocent political prisoner” and criticized Erdogan’s administration for its handling of the case.
The other letter, signed by members of 27 deputies of the Council of Europe, called the case a “scandalous situation,” and a “blatant violation of (Brunson’s) rights.”
President Trump also voiced continued support for Brunson. In April, Trump said in a Twitter post that Brunson is “not a spy,” and in late May during a meeting to celebrate the release of U.S. former missionary Joshua Holt jailed in Venezuela, the President addressed Pastor Brunson, assuring him that U.S. officials are working on securing his release:
“Pastor Brunson – I hope you can hear us – we’ll be helping you at some point,” Trump said. “We’ve been working on it for a while. He’s been there a long time, and he’s a totally innocent man.”
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, offers the same message. In an interview with CBNNews.com, Brownback, who attended Brunson’s first hearing on April 16, said he believes that ultimately, the pastor will be released. But he added that, “it doesn’t make any sense what the Turkish government is doing,” and that Turkish officials are “using this at a high level.”
And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently advocated for Pastor Brunson’s release, sitting face-to-face with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. In his June 4 meeting with Cavusoglu, Pompeo talked about Brunson and his unjust imprisonment. Reportedly, Cavusoglu said Pastor Brunson’s situation has been “improved.” In his conversation, he noted that Pastor Brunson now has access to books without restriction and is receiving medical aid whenever needed.
The Turkish leader has denied that the case is politically motivated.
“It is not hostage diplomacy,” Cavusoglu said in an interview. “Brunson is accused, and the indictment is there… It is a purely judicial process. It is not a politically motivated process.”
However, lawmakers and human rights groups have continued to call out Turkey, saying the case is unjust and is, in fact, motivated by politics and religion. The trial, they say, is a “sham.” During the most recent hearing on May 6, seven “secret” witnesses for the prosecution appeared via video (their faces and voices distorted beyond recognition)–six of whom had never met Pastor Andrew.
One witness claimed the pastor had met frequently with a local leader of the FETO network, one of Turkey’s most prominent terrorist organizations. During the hearing, Pastor Brunson vehemently denied knowing or ever meeting the named individual and said he had never “knowingly or willingly” met with any FETO member.
Brunson reportedly told the court: “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. Our church had several Turkish followers. Our doors were open to everyone. I strived to prevent politics from entering the church.”
On the second day, the head Turkish judge essentially declared that he would not allow any of Pastor Andrew’s witnesses to testify, proving further that Brunson is not receiving a fair trial and instead, is being held as a hostage.
Accused of ‘Christianization–an Act of Terror’
The 62-page indictment accuses Brunson of “Christianization,” calling it an act of terror, and alleges that the pastor had links with the FETO network of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, which is accused of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016; and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), leading a 35-year armed separatist struggle against the Turkish state.
Last summer, Erdogan said he would release Brunson in exchange for Gülen, who is currently in U.S. custody. Later in the year, he said he would not extradite any foreign prisoners unless the U.S. returns Gülen to Turkey.
In response to the letters from U.S. lawmakers, Turkey’s ruling party sent a letter to Trump reminding him of Erdogan’s demand for Gülen’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. Halavurt has said that he thinks the Brunson trial will probably last “two years at the very least.”
PRAYING AND HOLDING OUT HOPE FOR THE BRUNSONS
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, millions of people in the Body of Christ throughout the United States and around the world have 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 2,500 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–as well as the many pastors around the world who are imprisoned and attacked for their faith? (Research for the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List reports that every month, 66 churches are attacked.) A few reminders to consider:
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.”
…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 1,500 members of the Body of Christ have expressed their hearts. #standingwithPastorBrunson
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