Senators press for release of Andrew Brunson, threaten further legislative action


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Clockwise (from top left): Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis, R-N.C.)

In response to Andrew Brunson’s return to custody following hearings on July 18, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis, Jeanne Shaheen, James Lankford, and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement calling for his immediate release. The court in Aliaga, Turkey, remanded the EPC Teaching Elder to prison until the trial resumes on October 12.

“Pastor Andrew Brunson has languished in a Turkish prison for the last two years, causing tremendous hardship and heartache for him and his family,” the senators said in the statement. “He is an innocent man and has been unlawfully detained simply because he is an American pastor who assists all those in need, no matter their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Turkey and the United States are longstanding NATO allies and it is imperative to the interests of both nations that Turkey starts behaving like one. We call for the immediate release of Pastor Brunson and other American citizens currently detained in Turkey, including Serkan Golge. We encourage the Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure the release of these innocent people before Congress is forced to press for even stricter legislative measures that will be difficult to unwind.”

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Andrew Brunson

Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016. In April, he was indicted on charges related to terrorism and espionage. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

In April, the four senators led the effort to craft a bipartisan letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calling for Brunson’s release. The letter was signed by 71 senators. Tillis has visited Turkey twice, including meeting with Brunson and attending his trial on April 16. Shaheen and Graham visited Brunson in prison in June, and also met with Erdoğan and pressed for Brunson’s release.

In previous legislative actions, Tillis and Shaheen secured a provision that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a plan to Congress to remove Turkey from participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation introduced by Lankford, Tillis, and Shaheen. Lankford and Shaheen have worked with Graham to include sanctions in this year’s State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations bill. Those measures target Turkish officials complicit in the unlawful arrest of Americans.

The senators are part of a growing chorus of condemnation in Washington, D.C., against the court’s ongoing decision to keep Brunson imprisoned.

In an article titled “The Brunson farce” published July 17 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in response to speculation following discussions between Erdoğan and President Trump, Aykan Erdemir wrote that Brunson should be released “not because of a deal, but because there isn’t a shred of evidence against him.” Erdemir is a senior fellow at the FDD and a former member of the Turkish parliament.

On July 18, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement declaring that “Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.” The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission.

U.S. Religious Freedom Commission condemns Andrew Brunson court decision


USCIRFIn a strongly worded statement issued July 18, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) decried the decision by a Turkish court to return Andrew Brunson to prison until the next phase of the trial on October 12.

“The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson,” said USCIRF Vice-Chair Kristina Arriaga. “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. The Trump Administration and the Congress should continue to apply pressure, including using targeted sanctions against officials connected to this case, until Pastor Brunson is released.”

In its statement, the USCIRF reported that former church members testified against Brunson for more than two hours on July 18. When the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, he said: “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Click here to read the entire statement.

Andrew Brunson to remain in custody, next hearing October 12


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Andrew Brunson

A Turkish court ordered Andrew Brunson returned to prison on July 18, and set his next hearing for October 12. The EPC Teaching Elder is being tried on charges of espionage and aid to terrorist groups.

“I am deeply saddened by this morning’s ruling,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Thankfully, our Lord was not surprised and continues to be in control of the situation. Our disappointment today is matched by our resolve to continue to pray and advocate for Andrew and Norine.”

Bill Campbell, Pastor of Hendersonville (N.C.) Presbyterian Church, attended the hearing in Aliaga, Turkey.

“As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew,” Campbell said via encrypted text message following adjournment of the proceedings. “Andrew’s testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.”

News media present for the trial reported that the court heard testimony from three witnesses for the prosecution, and one for the defense—marking the first time in the trial’s three hearings that the judge permitted a defense witness to speak.

“The court allowed a favorable witness,” Campbell said, “and one who was to speak against him actually spoke in Andrew’s favor. It felt like they had decided the outcome before the trial.”

Media reported that the judge asked Brunson to reply to the witnesses, several of whom were former members of the Izmir Resurrection Church which Brunson led for more than 20 years.

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

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

EPC calls for Day of Prayer and Fasting ahead of July 18 Andrew Brunson hearing


AndrewBrunsonPrayerGuide201807HorizontalThe trial of Andrew Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016, resumes on Wednesday, July 18. In an effort to stand with and pray for the Brunson family, the EPC is issuing a Call to Prayer and Fasting for Tuesday, July 17.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, has been communicating with Andrew’s wife, Norine, by encrypted text message.

“She is so thankful for our ongoing prayers and support,” Jeremiah said. “On July 7, she posted on her Facebook page, ‘Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for persevering in prayer with us. I pass on your comments to Andrew from time to time. YOU, the body of Christ, are truly amazing! Where else do people love and pray for others they’ve never met? What a testimony YOU have been.’”

Jeremiah also suggested praying Scripture in four specific ways in advance of the July 18 hearing:

  1. That Andrew will be strengthened, emboldened, and released: Pray Isaiah 42:3 (A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness, He will establish justice.); Isaiah 40:31 (Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength); and Luke 4:18 (The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free).
  2. That Norine will not grow weary: Pray Exodus 17:12 (When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady until sunset.) and Isaiah 40:29 (He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak).
  3. That the Brunson’s children (Jordan, Jacqueline, and Blaise) would walk in the steadfast love of the Lord: Pray Lamentations 3:22-23 (Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness).
  4. That Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, would be directed by the Holy Spirit: Pray Proverbs 21:1 (The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases).

Prosecutors in the case have asked for a 35-year prison sentence on charges that Brunson helped terrorist organizations and worked to convert Turks to Christianity.

At least one media outlet in Turkey is speculating that Andrew could be home soon. The article, titled “Pastor Brunson’s detention has become too costly for Turkey,” offers the opinion that “many diplomats in Ankara expect (Andrew’s) potential release followed by his deportation pending trial on the July 18 hearing” yet cautions that “it is impossible to foresee what the court’s decision will be, but (Andrew’s) release would sure help the ongoing reconciliation process between Turkey and the U.S.”

“We all fervently hope and pray that Andrew’s release is the outcome of next week’s hearing,” Jeremiah said.

A printable prayer guide/bulletin insert in pdf format with these Scripture prayers can be downloaded at www.epc.org/news/freepastorandrew.

Bart Hess Award presented to Restoration Church (Munford, Tenn.)


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Mike Gibson (right), Pastor of Restoration Church, receives the Bart Hess Award from Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, on June 22 at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn., is the recipient of the 2018 Bartlett L. Hess Award for church revitalization. The award was announced on June 22 at the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

“Receiving this award came as a shock,” Pastor Mike Gibson told the Assembly. “When I found we would be receiving this, I asked God, ‘What I am supposed to do with this award when I am supposed to be cultivating humility?’ because I can have some trouble in that area. I believe He told me ‘This is to encourage and inspire churches who have been where you’ve been, to know that I am in this and you can go forward.’ There were so many times I was ready to give up, thinking the ministry was never going to take off and have an impact in our community. But I know something like this—or bigger—can happen in any church.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said Restoration Church received the 2018 award because its leadership was not only willing to ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also was willing to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Launched in 1911 as Munford Presbyterian Church, they have a rich history and beautiful sanctuary,” Jeremiah said. “However, they were in decline. But under Mike’s leadership, that decline was reversed. To reach the unchurched in their community they changed their name and their image, and the Lord brought them scores of new people. Lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church, and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC.”

Jeremiah will present the award to the congregation on Sunday, August 19.

The Hess Award is given annually to the EPC church that has demonstrated the most innovative approach to church growth or revitalization. Church growth—in both its spiritual and numerical aspects—is an essential part of the mission of the church. The award provides a vehicle by which positive, reproducible innovation is encouraged and shared with others in the EPC. It is named for Bart Hess, founding pastor of Ward Church in suburban Detroit, who was instrumental in the establishment of the EPC in 1981.

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‘Pray for Andrew Brunson’ wristbands available at epcresources.org


Wristband-PrayForAndrewBrunsonE600In response to high demand following the 38th General Assembly, “Pray for Andrew Brunson” wristbands are now available at www.epcresources.org. The blue flexible wristbands were provided for GA Commissioners and guests as part of their registration materials.

“I was blessed by the positive response to the wristbands from GA attendees,” said EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “Many people told me they wanted to take some home to their churches to show their support for Andrew, but we just didn’t have enough. We are very pleased to be able to make them available again, especially with Andrew’s trial resuming on July 18.”

Cost per band is 25 cents, plus shipping. Click here to order.

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38th GA sings Andrew Brunson’s ‘Worthy of My All;’ hears daughter read letters from prison, describe family’s ordeal


Addressing the 38th General Assembly on June 21, Jacqueline Furnari—Andrew Brunson’s daughter—described her family’s ordeal over the 20 months since her father’s imprisonment in Turkey.

“October 7, 2016—more than a year and a half ago—is the day my parents were called into the police station,” Furnari said. “This was my oldest brother’s 21st birthday, and he never got his birthday (telephone) call.”

She said that her parents had been working to secure permanent resident status so they could stay in Turkey long-term, and thought they were being summoned for questions related to their application.

“What they were not expecting was to be told that they had been deemed a threat to national security and that they were going to be deported,” she told the Assembly. “This all happened so quickly that they were barely able to tell a few family members what was going on before their phones were taken away and they were taken into custody.”

The Brunsons’ daughter added that she did not find out until several days later.

“My aunt called me and asked if I had an update,” she said, adding that the next two weeks were “absolutely terrifying” for her and her two brothers.

“We didn’t know why they were taken,” she said. “We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know how they were being treated; how they were being kept. We had absolutely no information and no way to get that information. All we knew was that something was very, very wrong.”

Andrew’s wife, Norine, was released after nearly three weeks of detention. “It was a relief to get some news and understand what was starting to happen,” Furnari said. “But at the same time that conversation I had with her was heartbreaking because she had just said goodbye to my dad and didn’t know when she would see him again.”

She read portions of several letters her father had written to her from prison.

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Andrew Brunson

“’I am attempting to follow His example,’” she read. “‘I declare with my will that I will submit to Him. I am kept here by force, but I can choose to submit with my will even though my emotions are severely distressed and not at all wanting to submit. I am trying to be faithful even when overwhelmed with fear—faithful to declare God’s character even when I don’t understand. I ask you to pray for me in this, to be faithful to the end.’”

The letter also contained the words of a prayer Andrew told her that he prays each night:

“’Father God, I ask that you pour out on me the courage and strength, the endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness of Jesus,’” she read, adding that he also wrote, “I declare God’s character, and pray that He uses this time to work deeply in my life.”

Furnari concluded by reading a message Brunson penned to the EPC:

“’My brothers and sisters of the EPC, I am so grateful to you for standing with us during this difficult time—for praying for us. I know a number of people have fasted, and I thank you for doing this. It’s a great blessing to us to be part of the EPC family. I pray every day to be faithful to the end, and it is my desire to show the great worth of Jesus Christ by being willing to suffer for Him. I ask that you pray for me in this, that I will be faithful to the end. I hope that next year I will be able to thank all of you in person rather than through my beautiful daughter, but again, thank you for standing with us. Your brother, Andrew.’”

Furnari also testified that she and her family have seen God at work in the midst of the situation. In an interview with EPConnection, she said when her father wrote his song, “Worthy of My All,” that she knew he was “going down a better path.”

“When he was arrested he went through a really dark time,” she said. “At some point, he was allowed to have his guitar but he couldn’t bring himself to play it, or even touch it. But the moment I heard he written a song I knew that he was doing a lot better. He had it in him to pick up that guitar and not just sing the usual worship songs, but write one for God to express his aguish, but also his desire to honor God in his situation.”

Click here or on the image above to watch Furnari’s entire presentation, followed by Assembly attendees singing Andrew’s modern hymn, “Worthy of My All.”

Click here for more information about Andrew Brunson, including a timeline of events, sheet music for “Worthy of My All,” and more.

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