A North Carolina pastor who has been imprisoned in Turkey for two years has been released from house arrest, according to published reports. A Turkish judge freed pastor Andrew Brunson Friday and sentenced him to time served. President Donald Trump, who has been working diligently for Brunson's release, tweeted his relief.
My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
In a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice, who has represented during his prison stay, Brunson said shortly before leaving Turkey en route to the U.S.: "We are grateful for the President's commitment and efforts in securing my release. My entire family thanks the President, the Administration, and Congress for their unwavering support. This is the day our family has been praying for—I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States. It's been an extremely difficult time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day. I am thankful for the representation of the American Center for Law & Justice—especially ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow and ACLJ Senior Counsel CeCe Heil—as well as the many others who worked so hard to obtain my freedom. I look forward to returning home and being reunited with my family."
Since Brunson was arrested in October 2016, millions of believers have been praying for him to be set free during his two-year ordeal. Those prayers were answered Friday.
"This has been a long road of persecution for pastor Andrew Brunson," says founding Coalition member and Save the Persecuted Christians Director Dede Laugesen. "We are joyful and so thankful for pastor Brunson's long-awaited freedom. We praise God for this wonderful turn of events and thank the many people who worked on his behalf, including high-ranking officials within the Trump administration and influential and committed attorneys. Despite the joy we feel today, we must never forget there are millions of Christians who are not free to believe in Christ. Many remain jailed, persecuted in their own communities or even shunned in their own homes. We pray all will someday experience the freedom Andrew Brunson is savoring today."
According to the The Washington Post, Brunson was released under a "secret deal" that lifted sanctions on Turkey in exchange for Brunson's release. The missionary has been used as a political pawn by Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan. The Trump administration levied multiple tariffs against the Middle Eastern country in an attempt to get them to release the pastor.
Brunson was charged with committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member," in reference to outlawed Kurdish militants and the network of a U.S-based Muslim cleric blamed for a failed coup attempt. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison, or the equivalent of a life sentence.
"For two years, Christians in America and across the world have hit the floor with their knees in prayer for Andrew Brunson's release from his Turkish imprisonment. Today, our prayers were answered," says Ronnie Floyd, the president of the National Day of Prayer and senior pastor of Cross Church.
"I'm so thankful we have an administration that not only has made religious freedom one of its top priorities but has fought day and night for people who, like Brunson, have been imprisoned for their faith. As we celebrate Pastor Brunson's release, let us continue praying for the men and women who are still behind bars and facing persecution for their faith. As Scripture says, 'Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body' (Heb. 13:3, ESV)."
Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted his praise and thanks on Facebook:
"We thank God for the long-awaited release of Pastor Andrew Brunson by the Turkish government. The New York Times says they will allow him to fly home. This is an answer to prayer. I know that his family and friends here in North Carolina are anxious to welcome him home. Our thanks to President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their hard work on this issue—it wouldn't have happened without them."
Persecution watchdog groups were thrilled at the announcement as well.
"Open Doors USA is relieved to hear of Pastor Andrew Brunson's release from house arrest to freedom. Turkey has done the right thing in allowing him to return to his home country. I applaud President Trump for the unrelenting pressure his administration applied to Turkey on this matter, in part through tariffs and sanctions. The president has rightly recognized that economic leverage can help bring positive change for human rights and can convey a powerful message of solidarity with oppressed religious minorities, especially persecuted Christians. In this case, it worked and was helpful in the release of an American Christian," says David Curry of Open Doors USA.
"Pastor Brunson was wrongly imprisoned for his faith and work as a Christian pastor. Turkey's latest attack on faith, which underscores why the Open Doors World Watch List ranks it as the 31st most dangerous place to be Christian, is a clear message that religious minorities are increasingly imperiled in Turkey," Curry says. "Pastor Brunson's case serves a reminder to us all that tens of thousands of Christians worldwide remain in prison simply because of their faith. Open Doors will continue to advocate for religious freedom around the world, and I urge others to join in the fight. Everyone should have the opportunity to choose their faith or no faith. As a lead indicator of a country's stability, freedom of religion benefits more than religious adherents—it benefits an entire nation, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should recognize this fact more clearly today than before."
Here's what other faith leaders are saying:
Pastor Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center
America woke up to some truly extraordinary news today, that Pastor Andrew Brunson has been released by the Turkish Government and is finally coming home! On behalf of all Americans, especially Christians, we give him and and his family a heroes welcome and we pray they would quickly adjust to life back in the United States. I also want to commend President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Brownback, Senator Tillis, and all the other officials who made Pastor Bronson's case a priority and worked diligently behind the scenes to makes this day a reality.
Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters
I thank God for pastor Brunson's release and look forward to his return to the United States. I am also grateful that President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Brownback, Senator Tillis and other U.S. officials refused to take 'no' for an answer for this man's release. This administration stayed true to its citizen.
May the Lord strengthen Pastor Brunson and his family as they work to turn the page on this difficult chapter in their lives. And may God protect and give peace to our other brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to endure hardships and severe persecution around the world because of their faith in Him. Let us never forget them!
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church
Very soon we will get to say four words we've been waiting to say for a long time: Welcome home, Pastor Brunson. Pastor Brunson's release is the direct result of months, if not years, of prayers, meetings, conversations and back and forth trips by administration and dedicated officials determined to secure his freedom. We should be extremely grateful for their tireless work. Every human being has the right to worship freely and without fear. America was founded on this belief, and I pray we continue to defend it at home and abroad.
Jason Yates, CEO of My Faith Votes
Pastor Andrew Brunson is finally free! Turkey's bogus charges against Brunson were unfair and tried to paint a faithful servant of Christ as a political bogeyman. In response, My Faith Votes months ago called for Christians to boycott Turkish goods and avoid tourist travel to the country. Turkey wasn't safe for Pastor Brunson, but the risks he took for the sake of the gospel reveal a valiant faithfulness to Christ. Today, we celebrate his release and thank the Trump administration for bringing economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on Turkey. The price of maintaining its sham court case against Brunson was simply too high. We also thank the Trump administration for prioritizing religious freedom. No person of any faith should ever be exploited as a political pawn and President Trump's fearless support of Pastor Brunson exemplifies his commitment to defending this ideal.
Jentezen Franklin, pastor of Free Chapel
The release of Pastor Andrew Brunson is nothing short of a miracle. What's seemed for years like a hopeless situation is now an answer to prayer for the pastor and his family and for Christians around the globe. Let this be a reminder to despots near and far that America will not back down from defending the human rights and freedom of religion for everyone, everywhere. I thank the president for making this a high priority and I pray the leaders of other free nations will follow his example.
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