Category Archives: Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson to speak at March 5 virtual “Imprisoned for Christ” event

 

On Friday, March 5, EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson will be a featured speaker for the Voice of the Martyr’s “Imprisoned for Christ” virtual event. The free webcast begins at 6:30 p.m. (Central) and is scheduled to conclude at 10:00 p.m. (Central). Also featured will be Petr Jasek and Dan Baumann.

A longtime pastor in Turkey, Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and held imprisoned on terrorism charges until his release in October 2018. He told his story in God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Endurance, published in 2019. Jasek was arrested in Sudan in December 2015 and spent 445 days jailed with ISIS terrorists. He is the author of Imprisoned with ISIS: Faith in the Face of Evil. Baumann was arrested in Iran in 1997, falsely accused of espionage, and detained in a high-security prison for nine weeks. He tells the story in his book, Cell 58.

While all three struggled to find God’s purpose in their suffering, they ultimately recognized His faithfulness and love amid desperate circumstances.

Brunson, Jasek, and Baumann will share their testimonies and participate in a panel discussion moderated by VOM Radio host Todd Nettleton. In addition, Dove Award–winning artist Natalie Grant will provide worship music.

For more information and to register, go to www.persecution.com

16 months post-prison: an interview with Andrew Brunson

 
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Andrew Brunson

In October 2016, Andrew Brunson was arrested by Turkish authorities—along with tens of thousands of Turkish military personnel, civil servants, educators, journalists, and dissidents following a failed coup. Brunson, an EPC pastor of a small Protestant church in Izmir, became a pawn in a geopolitical chess game. He spent two years in a Turkish prison before he was released in October 2018.

After his release, Brunson became the focus of worldwide media attention. He was honored at the White House and invited to the United Nations when President Donald Trump delivered a speech on religious freedom. Brunson has written a book about his ordeal, God’s Hostage, (Baker Books) that was published in late 2019. In this interview conducted by EPConnection correspondent Peter Larson, Brunson reflects on his life and ministry in the 16 months since leaving Turkey.

First of all, how are you and Norine doing?

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Andrew and Norine Brunson participate in a question-and-answer session at the 39th General Assembly, held June 2019 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver.

To be free is just amazing. It’s the small things that I missed while I was in prison—just normal life. Things like having breakfast with my wife or being able to sit on a park bench. It’s been good to see my children. My first grandchild was just born, and my son just graduated from basic training in the Army. It was a miracle just to be there for that!

Have you been able to heal since your time in prison?

Actually, a lot of the healing took place while I was in prison, when I was able to surrender fully to that. I went through a period when I had a lot of nightmares. I had a psychiatrist examine me who has worked with the U.S. State Department on a lot of trauma cases. He said I had Post Traumatic Stress, but not a disorder. Writing the book was cathartic, going through the pain and hardship again. There was a healing process in that.

In your book you are very honest about the faith struggles you experienced in prison. It was really a “dark night of the soul.”

The missionary biographies that I had read did not prepare me for the experience of imprisonment. Many of them are triumphalist and focus mainly on victory. Prison was a lot tougher than I expected. It really broke me. I prayed, “Lord, if I get out of this I pledge to be very open about this.” The encouragement I want to give people is to keep going in spite of your discouragement and trust in the Lord.

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At the invitation of North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis (left), Brunson delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., on October 15, 2019.

You grew up in Black Mountain, N.C. Are you living there now?

Actually, I’ve been traveling a lot this year. We’ve been in Kansas City, but most of the time we’ve been living out of suitcases. Because of our high profile, we cannot do the kind of work we used to do. We cannot establish ourselves in a Muslim country and do church-planting work. So, in this season the Lord is going to use us in a different way.

One thing we want is some continuity in our lives. We want to have a home base we can work out of and establish a normal life.

What is the focus of your ministry now?

Our focus is still on the Muslim world and we have a number of trips ahead related to that. In the old Ottoman Empire—the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. Our desire is to see church planting in those places. We want to help the next generation to go into those places and equip local believers. For example, in March we’re going to be at a meeting in the Middle East with Muslim-background believes from many countries. Out of that we may be able to visit some of those places to train leaders, but we cannot live there long-term; they would probably kick us out or attack us.

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Upon Andrew’s release from prison in October 2018, he returned to his apartment in Izmir for a few hours before leaving the country.

How is your church in Izmir doing?

There’s really been a change in Turkey right now, a lot of oppression and missionaries being kicked out. But also, there is a growing interest in Christianity. People are coming to our church and asking questions. We are handing out 1,500 New Testaments every month. Younger people are being turned off by Islam. A lot of people are saying, “I don’t know what I believe anymore, but I don’t want to be a Muslim!”

Why do you think this change is happening?

Before I went to prison, I felt the Lord was telling me to prepare for the harvest. When I was in prison, I felt that assignment had been cancelled. Then, I began to realize that my imprisonment was an assignment from God. I was like a magnet that was drawing prayers to that part of the world.

So you are feeling hopeful about the church in Turkey?

What we need is a wave of the Holy Spirit to sweep through Turkey and the Middle East. In Iran, this has been happening for years—ever since the Islamic revolution. Any place where there are Iranians, they are coming to faith. I believe God is setting things in place for that to also happen in Turkey. In two of our locations in Turkey, they are maxing the building out.

What are some of your other ministry goals right now?

We are feeling a real burden to strengthen the next generation of Christians in the United States. There is increasing hostility in our nation to the Christian faith, and we are really not prepared for this. So when we have the opportunity to speak at colleges or conferences, we want them to be ready to stand firm, because it will be costly to be a Christian.

You are also engaged in ministry to the persecuted church, is that correct?

Yes, we want to highlight the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. Some of them are historically Christian groups that have been decimated. Some of these churches have not done a lot of evangelism; they are just trying to survive. This summer, we will be doing something with Open Doors. We have also worked with Voice of the Martyrs and groups like that. Recently, an Egyptian brother asked us to help him minister to Arab communities in Spain. There are so many opportunities and doors God has opened to us.

After your release from prison, the EPC launched a financial support fund to help with your transition back to the United States. How did that bless you?

The churches of the EPC contributed more than $150,000 to help us, and it came in very quickly. Jeff Jeremiah led that and there was a tremendous outpouring. We are so grateful for that. It helped us during the transition so I didn’t have to go out and raise support.

For 23 years you were an unknown missionary serving in Turkey. Now, your name is known worldwide. How does that feel?

I believe the Lord has kept us hidden this past year to a high degree. We were at the White House and the United Nations, but the rest of the time we were hidden away. We don’t feel like celebrities at all. It’s more that when we meet people who prayed for us, we are deeply grateful. Obviously, the Lord was using that prayer to sustain me, but He was doing so much more than that. I believe there will be a massive movement of God in the Muslim world. I think God is setting things in place for that.

If churches or individuals want to be involved in your ministry, how can they help?

We are setting up a 501(c)(3) non-profit for our ministry. People can contact me at andrewnorine@yahoo.com if they’d like to know more.

Andrew, thank you for taking time to update all of us on what you are doing. May God richly bless you, your family, and your future ministry!

Thank you very much.

by Peter Larson
EPConnection correspondent
Larson serves pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio

Andrew Brunson offers U.S. Senate prayer on anniversary of release

 

Andrew Brunson delivered the opening prayer for the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., on October 15. The EPC Teaching Elder’s prayer commemorated the one-year anniversary of his release from prison in Turkey and return to the United States.

“I pray that you grant to the Senators of the United States the spirit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and the courage to act by the counsel of the Lord in all matters, great and small,” Brunson said during his one-and-a-half-minute invocation.

A North Carolina native, Brunson prayed at the invitation of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and thanked the Senators for their efforts in helping secure his release.

“Before I pray I want to thank the Senate,” he said. “I’m standing here today because so many of you fought for me, and I’m deeply grateful. In a time of many divides you were unified in fighting for my release. Thank you.”

Arrested in October 2016, Brunson was held for two years on roundly disputed charges of membership in an armed terrorist organization. He was convicted on October 12, 2018, following testimony on the fourth hearing of his trial. The judge imposed a sentence of approximately three years, but granted a release on the equivalent of time served.

Andrew and Norine Brunson highlight Missio Nexus mission leaders conference

 

EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were among the featured speakers at the Missio Nexus “Future Mission” Mission Leaders Conference, held September 19-21 in Orlando, Fla.

In a question-and-answer session, the Brunsons discussed their time in Turkey prior to their detainment on October 7, 2016, as well as their journey between October 2016 and Andrew’s release from prison on October 12, 2018.

In his keynote address, Andrew shared thoughts on working with Muslims, based on his nearly 25 years of church planting among Muslim people groups in Turkey.

Missio Nexus is a the largest association of Great Commission-oriented evangelical churches and organizations in North America that focuses on the global Great Commission. Announced registration for the 2019 Mission Leaders Conference was 1,001.

2019 Leadership Institute, 39th General Assembly worship service recordings available

 

GA2019VideosVideo recordings of the 39th General Assembly are available on the EPC website at www.epc.org/ga2019recordings. Included are the Leadership Institute plenary sessions, worship service speakers, and several permanent committee verbal reports.

The videos feature Andrew and Norine Brunson; Doug Webster; Brad Strait, Lead Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church (the Assembly host church); Léonce Crump Jr., Senior Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga.; Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk; Mark Ingles, EPC Chaplain Endorser; Tom Ricks, Chairman of the EPC Church Planting Team; and more.

In addition, audio recordings of most of the Leadership Institute breakout sessions and select Networking Lunches are available.

New for 2019 is that these Leadership Institute sessions and Networking Lunch recordings also are available in podcast form on Spotify and iTunes—search for “Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

“I hear from more than a few people each year that they have a hard time deciding which seminar to attend because there are so many quality, relevant topics,” Jeremiah said. “We tried to address that this year by making the sessions available in podcast form for the first time. So for those who could not get to Denver for the event, they can get this training on their smartphone or other device.”

The videos also are available on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80 in the “39th General Assembly” playlist.

#epc2019ga

GA worship speakers include Andrew Brunson, Léonce Crump, Brad Strait

 

GA2019ThemeArt-WebBannerThe EPC’s 39th General Assembly features a dynamic slate of worship service speakers. This year’s Assembly will be held June 18-21 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo.

  • Chris Piehl, Cherry Creek Pastor of Students and Families, will speak prior to the opening business session at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19.
  • Léonce Crump Jr., Senior Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga., will preach on Wednesday evening, June 19.
  • Brad Strait, Cherry Creek Senior Pastor, will deliver the message at the Morning Worship Service at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 20.
  • Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey from October 2016 until his release in October 2018, will preach in the Global Worker Commissioning Service on Thursday evening, June 20.
  • Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly, will lead the Moderator’s Service of Communion and Prayer at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, June 21.

“Every year, people who attend GA thank me for making sure that vibrant preaching and worship are so well integrated into our Assembly,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “Pastors especially—even though they regularly and deeply study God’s Word—tell me how much they are refreshed and refueled through the GA worship services. I am excited about how God will speak to all of us through this year’s speakers.”

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Brad Strait

Brad Strait is the Senior Pastor of this year’s General Assembly host church. He has served as Chaplain for the Colorado House of Representatives, several fire and police departments, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Denver Rescue Mission. He holds several advanced degrees and teaches Leadership, Spiritual Formation, and Pastoral Counseling at Denver Seminary. He co-authored the EPC’s Leadership Training Guide: A Resource for Pastors, Elders, and Churches. He and his wife, Cathy, have been married for more than 35 years and have three adult daughters.

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Chris Piehl

Chris Piehl serves as Pastor of Students and Families for Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church.

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Léonce Crump Jr.

Léonce Crump Jr. is an author, international speaker, and the founder and Senior Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga. He has been in ordained ministry for nine years and holds graduate degrees from the University of Tennessee and Resurgence Theological Training Center. He is currently a Master of Divinity student at Reformed Theological Seminary and a member of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. He was an All-American wrestler and defensive end for the University of Oklahoma Sooners, and went on to play professional football for the New Orleans Saints. He and his wife, Breanna, have two daughters and one son.

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Andrew Brunson

Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were appointed as missionaries to Turkey by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) in 1993. He transferred his ordination to the EPC’s Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic in 2010.

The Brunsons, who were applying for Turkish permanent residency, were detained on October 7, 2016, in the coastal city of Izmir (biblical Smyrna). Norine was released on October 19 but Andrew remained imprisoned. At the time of his arrest, he was serving as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church.

On December 8, 2016, (after being detained for 63 days), Andrew was formally charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and sent to prison. On August 24, 2017, a Turkish court added three new charges, including gathering state secrets for espionage, attempting to overthrow the Turkish parliament and government, and trying to change the constitutional order. On March 21, 2018, the Turkish court accepted a 62-page indictment against Andrew and scheduled his first hearing for April 16, 2018.

Following each of the first three hearings in his trial (on April 16, May 7, and July 18, 2018), Andrew was returned to prison. Under consistent public and private pressure from the United States and others, the Turkish court released Andrew to house arrest on July 25, 2018, until the fourth hearing on October 12, 2018.

Following testimony in the fourth phase of his trial on October 12, 2018, the prosecution requested and received lifting of Andrew’s house arrest and travel ban. The judge issued a conviction, and imposed a sentence of 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days but released Andrew on the equivalent of time served. Andrew and Norine left Turkey later the same day.

On October 13, 2018, Andrew and Norine arrived in the United States. They and their family met with the President, Administration staff, lawmakers, and others in the Oval Office.

The Brunsons are currently serving in a recuperating capacity as Missionaries-in-Residence for their home church, Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.

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Tom Werner

Tom Werner is a Ruling Elder for Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo. A graduate of Depauw University, St. Louis University Law School, and Washington University Law School, he worked in law firms in St. Louis, followed by serving a St. Louis technology company as General Counsel and in various business capacities.

Werner served on the EPC Theology Committee and contributed to the EPC Leadership Training Guide. He has also served on the Ministerial Committee and as Moderator for the Presbytery of Mid-America, and has participated in mission projects to Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, and Albania. He and his wife, Susan, have been married for more than 40 years and have two adult children and three grandchildren.

Click here for more information about the 39th General Assembly, including daily schedules, links to online registration, and more.

May Jeremiah Journal offers 39th General Assembly highlights

 

In the May 2019 edition of the Jeremiah Journal, Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri provides some highlights of the upcoming 39th General Assembly, June 18-21 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colorado.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

2019 Leadership Institute features practical ministry helps, Andrew Brunson, noted prayer author Doug Webster

 

GA2019ThemeArt-WebBannerAndrew Brunson and Doug Webster are the keynote speakers for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s fifth annual Leadership Institute. The Institute is a strategic component of the EPC’s 39th General Assembly, to be held June 18-21 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo.

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Andrew Brunson

The theme of this year’s annual meeting is “Unstoppable,” based on Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7:7 to “keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking.” The theme connotes not only God’s sovereignty, but also the unstoppable, widespread prayer efforts since 2016 on behalf on Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder imprisoned in Turkey for nearly two years until his release in October 2018. Brunson will deliver the Leadership Institute plenary address on Wednesday morning, June 19.

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Doug Webster

Webster is the Wednesday afternoon plenary speaker. He is an EPC Teaching Elder and Professor of Preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., who has written several books on prayer.

Each plenary session will include a moderated time for questions-and-answers.

On Tuesday, June 18, four full-day tracks (Children/Family Ministry Training, Youth Ministry Training, Chaplain Training, and Transitional Pastors Training), and four afternoon-only tracks (Leadership, Reformed Theology, Congregational Ministry, and Prayer), offer a variety of practical ministry enrichment seminars. Each of these sessions is facilitated by a noted leader in his or her field.

Children/Family Ministry Training:

  • The Challenge Facing Families Today
  • Transformational Family Ministry: Catch the Vision!
  • What the Church Can Do
  • Panel Q&A
  • What the Family Can Do
  • Networking Within Presbyteries/Next Steps
  • Keeping Kids Safe: A Culture of Safety
  • Premises Liability Issues

Unstoppable Youth Ministry:

  • Unstoppable Youth Worker: Self Care
  • Unstoppable Youth Ministry: Ministering in Times of Trial
  • Unstoppable Partnerships for Youth Ministry
  • Creating Intergenerational Relationships Through the Catalyst of Prayer
  • Creating a Culture of Prayer In and Around Your Student Ministry
  • Premises Liability Issues
  • Keeping Kids Safe: A Culture of Safety

Chaplains Workshop (Open to all GA Attendees):

  • Biblical Leadership and Decision Making
  • Perseverance and Pursuing God Through Suffering: Lessons from a Five-Time Brain Cancer Survivor
  • “Indivisible” Movie Showing
  • Misplaced Identity and its Impact on the Family
  • Sharing, Interaction, Discussion, Support (Chaplain Stories from the Field)

Transitional Pastors Training:

  • Transitional Pastor Training
  • Introduction to Transitional Ministry

Leadership (Afternoon-only):

  • Forming Leaders for the Life of the World
  • Leading as a Shepherd
  • Turning Sessions into Spiritual Communities
  • How to Get Sued

Reformed Theology (Afternoon-only):

  • The Church and Its Common Doctrine
  • Christ Our Head: How the Church Finds Its Origin, Identity, and Hope in Jesus Christ
  • The Church in the Old Testament
  • Common Grace: A Tool for Common Ground in the Public Square

Congregational Ministry (Afternoon-only):

  • Serving Jesus in the Ordinary (Small) Church Context
  • Understanding Individuals and Families with Disabilities
  • Every Church can Welcome Individuals and Families with Disabilities
  • Implications of the Trinity for Spiritual Formation

Prayer (Afternoon-only):

  • Prayers for Prodigals
  • Praying the Prayers of the Bible

Click here for more information on the Leadership Institute, including full seminar descriptions, times, and speaker bios.

Click here for more information about the 39th General Assembly, including links to online registration.

39th General Assembly registration open

 

GA2019ThemeArt-WebBannerOnline registration for the 39th General Assembly is now open. The Assembly meets June 18–21 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo. The theme of this year’s annual meeting is “Unstoppable,” based on Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7:7 to “keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking.”

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Andrew and Norine Brunson

The theme connotes not only God’s sovereignty, but also the unstoppable, widespread prayer efforts since 2016 on behalf on Andrew Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder imprisoned in Turkey for nearly two years following his detention in October 2016. Brunson is this year’s featured speaker for the Wednesday morning Leadership Institute plenary session and Thursday evening worship service. His wife, Norine, is the featured speaker for the Ministry Wives’ Luncheon on Thursday.

In keeping with the theme, a special interactive Prayer Walk will provide opportunity for attendees to take a 30-45 minute, self-guided experience through a variety of stations of prayer, reflection, and worship.

The annual Leadership Institute on Tuesday will have four full-day tracks (Children/Family Ministry Training, Youth Ministry Training, Chaplain Training, and Transitional Pastors Training), and four afternoon-only tracks (Leadership, Reformed Theology, Congregational Ministry, and Prayer).

Highlights of this year’s Leadership Institute tracks are legal experts offering tips on keeping children and church facilities safe in both the Children/Family Ministry and Youth Ministry tracks; sessions on biblical leadership and decision making from a five-time brain cancer survivor in the Chaplain’s Workshop, as well as a showing of the movie “Indivisible” followed by a discussion led by Darren and Heather Turner, whose story was told in the film; “Turning Sessions into Spiritual Communities,” led by EPC Teaching Elder Doug Resler in the afternoon-only Leadership Track; Scott Redd, President of Reformed Theological Seminary’s Washington, D.C. campus teaching “How the Church Finds its Origin, Unity, and Hope in Jesus Christ” in the afternoon-only Reformed Theology track; two sessions on ministering to individuals and families with disabilities in the afternoon-only Congregational Ministry track; and best-selling author James Banks leading two sessions on prayer in the afternoon-only Prayer track.

The Wednesday afternoon plenary speaker is Doug Webster, an EPC Teaching Elder who has written several books on prayer.

The first of five business sessions convenes on Wednesday afternoon, June 18, at 4:00 p.m. Business sessions continue on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; and Friday at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. (if needed).

Worship service speakers include:

  • Brad Strait, Senior Pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church
  • Léonce Crump, Senior Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga.
  • Chris Piehl, Pastor of Students and Families at Cherry Creek
  • Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly

Numerous other gatherings are available that cover a wide variety of ministry interests, including Networking Lunches, World Outreach, Women’s Ministry, and more.

For complete information, see www.epc.org/ga2019.

39th General Assembly planning continues, speakers include Andrew and Norine Brunson

 
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Members of the EPC’s GA Core Team from the Office of the General Assembly met with staff and leaders of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo., on January 29. Cherry Creek is hosting the 39th General Assembly, June 18-21.

The 39th General Assembly will be held at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., June 18-21, 2019. The theme of this year’s Assembly is “Unstoppable” based on Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7:7 to “keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said the theme has multiple applications to the EPC in 2019.

“‘Unstoppable’ reflects the unstoppable gospel and our unstoppable Lord,” he said. “In addition, through Andrew Brunson’s ordeal in Turkey we experienced ‘unstoppable’ in a tangible way for two years as we lived in a season of unstoppable prayer for Andrew’s release.”

Jeremiah noted that when discussions began for a theme for the 39th Assembly, Brunson was still being held in Turkey.

“We prayed fervently that Andrew would be out of prison before the 2019 Assembly, but if the Lord had other plans we wanted to ensure that we were reiterating an ‘unstoppable’ force of prayer for him and Norine.”

The Brunsons are among the speakers at this year’s Assembly. Andrew will be the Leadership Institute plenary speaker on Wednesday morning, June 19, and preach on Thursday evening, June 20, during the World Outreach Global Worker Commissioning worship service. Norine will speak at the Ministry Wives’ Lunch on Thursday, June 20.

Other worship service speakers include Brad Strait, Pastor of Cherry Creek; Chris Piehl, Pastor of Students and Families for Cherry Creek; and Tom Werner, Moderator of the 38th General Assembly. Additional speakers, including Leadership Institute breakout session leaders, will be announced in the coming weeks.

Registration for the 39th General Assembly opens April 1. For more information, see www.epc.org/ga2019.

Andrew and Norine Brunson to attend State of the Union address

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson, pictured preparing to leave Turkey in October 2018.

EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, will attend the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., on February 5. The North Carolina natives will be guests of U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Tillis worked to help secure the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held in Turkey for two years on charges of terrorism and espionage. Though innocent of the charges, he was convicted on October 12, 2018. He was released on the equivalent of time served and returned to the United States, where he met with President Donald Trump at the White House on October 13.

“The Brunsons demonstrated tremendous grace and unshakable faith during Andrew’s nearly two-year imprisonment and house arrest,” Tillis said in a statement released February 4. “His plight caused Americans from every corner to pray for his release and for leaders in both political parties to work together to apply pressure on the Turkish government to secure his return to American soil. It’s an incredible feeling that nearly one year after I first met Pastor Andrew Brunson in a Turkish prison, where he faced an effective life sentence, I now have the honor of welcoming him and his wife, Norine, as my special guests to the State of the Union.”

Trump will deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building. The address is scheduled to begin at 9:00 p.m. EST.

Goal reached for Andrew Brunson recuperation fund

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson, pictured as they are leaving Turkey on October 12, 2018.

Editor’s note: This article replaces an earlier version that contained potentially sensitive information.

As of January 2, the goal for the EPC’s “Welcome Back, Andrew!” Fund has been met. Donations to the fund will be used to assist Andrew and Norine Brunson in their recovery from their ordeal in Turkey. The Brunsons returned to the United States on October 13, 2018, following Andrew’s two-year imprisonment on charges of terrorism and espionage.

When the fund was launched in October, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said the fund would be closed to new donations when the target was reached.

“I know I speak for Andrew and Norine—and Christ Community Church—that starting 2019 knowing that Andrew’s year of recovery is fully funded is an enormous blessing,” Jeremiah said. “I am thankful for so many churches and individuals who gave sacrificially so Andrew and Norine can have this time to recover and seek what God has for them in their next chapter of ministry.”

Andrew is serving as Missionary-in-Residence at Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C.—his and Norine’s home church. Gifts to the fund are financing the position (which was designed and created specifically for the Brunsons) for one year. Donations to the fund will cover court costs Andrew incurred with his conviction in Turkey of terrorism charges; relocation expenses; a travel allowance to help the Brunsons reconnect with their adult children (who live in three different parts of the U.S.); and seek medical and spiritual assistance as needed.

WORLD Magazine names Andrew Brunson its 2018 “Daniel of the Year”

 

BrunsonWorldDanielAndrew Brunson has been named the WORLD Magazine “Daniel of the Year” for 2018. The publication gives the annual award to an individual who exhibits bravery in defense of God’s authority by helping the persecuted.

Brunson and his wife, Norine, were missionaries and church planters in Turkey for 23 years prior to his arrest on October 7, 2016. At the time of his detainment he was serving as pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church. His trial on charges of espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order, attempting to overthrowing the Turkish parliament, and membership in an armed terrorist organization began on April 16, 2018.

He remained imprisoned until July 25, 2018, when he was released to house arrest. On October 12, 2018, he was convicted on terrorism charges and released on time served. He and his wife, Norine, returned to the United States on October 13.

Click here for WORLD Magazine’s full-length feature on the Brunsons, their ministry in Turkey, details of his imprisonment, and their return to North Carolina.

Fund established for Andrew Brunson recuperation/recovery

 

WelcomeBackAndrewFundThe EPC has established a fund to assist Andrew and Norine Brunson in their recovery from their two-year ordeal in Turkey. Andrew will serve as Missionary-in-Residence at Christ Community Church in Montreat, N.C., for one year, and gifts to the fund—dubbed the “Welcome Back, Andrew! Fund”—will be sent to the church to finance the position. Christ Community Church is the Brunsons’ home congregation.

Richard White, Pastor of Christ Community Church, said the role was designed and created specifically for Andrew and Norine.

“With the challenges of resettling back in the U.S. after 25 years in Turkey—plus the crush of requests we knew he’d receive—we wanted to provide Andrew and Norine the opportunity of a safe place to rest and recover,” he said. “Andrew’s primary responsibility as our Missionary-in-Residence will be to heal, and then to discern God’s direction for their future.”

In addition to compensation and benefits, donations to the fund will cover court costs Andrew incurred with his conviction in Turkey of terrorism charges; relocation expenses; a travel allowance to help the Brunsons reconnect with their adult children (who live in three different parts of the U.S.); and seek the medical and spiritual help they will need in the months ahead.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said the goal is to raise $160,000 and the fund will be closed when the target is reached.

“Throughout Andrew’s 25 months of unjust incarceration in Turkey, churches and individuals constantly contacted our office asking if they could provide financial help to the Brunsons,” he said. “Our response up to now has been that the time had not yet come, but we will be ready when it does. Now is that time.”

The fund was authorized by the EPC National Leadership Team. The Session of Christ Community Church approved the position on October 22, and Andrew accepted the offer on October 27.

“Let’s build on the memorable prayer, fasting, and advocacy efforts we made for Andrew and Norine by supporting the Missionary-in-Residence position at Christ Community Church,” Jeremiah added.

Click here to donate to the Welcome Back, Andrew! Fund.

Brunsons leave Turkey, to have Oval Office meeting with President

 
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Andrew and Norine Brunson board an aircraft at a private terminal at Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport in western Turkey on October 12. The Brunsons are scheduled to arrive in the United States on October 13. (Photo credit: Family Research Council)

Andrew and Norine Brunson left Turkey on a military aircraft late on October 12, local time. They are expected to arrive at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 13, after a stop at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. The Brunsons are expected to then go to the White House for a meeting with President Trump.

“This is the day our family has been praying for,” Andrew said in a statement. “I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States. My entire family thanks the President, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support.”

Trump was in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a campaign stop when told the military aircraft carrying the Brunsons had cleared Turkish airspace.

“We’re very honored to have him back with us,” the President said. “He suffered greatly.”

Brunson was convicted of terror-related charges and sentenced to three years, one month and 15 days in jail earlier on October 12. The judge then reduced the sentence to time served on good behavior, ordered him released, and lifted the house arrest and international travel ban.

After the ruling, the Brunsons went to their home in Izmir for several hours before being driven to the Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport in western Turkey.

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest. Brunson was indicted in March 2018 on charges of being a “member and executive” of the Gülen organization and supporting outlawed Kurdish militants. He faced up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of all the charges.

Administration, others celebrate Andrew Brunson release

 
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Andrew Brunson (left, wearing red tie and glasses) leaves the court in Aliağa, Turkey on October 12 after being convicted of terrorism charges but released on time served. (Photo: AP / Emre Tazegul)

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and others took to social media to celebrate the release of Andrew Brunson on October 12. Brunson was convicted by a Turkish court on terrorism charges and sentenced to 37 months in prison. The judge reduced his sentence to two years for good behavior, and ordered Brunson released on time served.

He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest.

Brunson is scheduled to be flown to a U.S. air base in Germany by military transport on October 12 before returning to the United States.

In a statement to the court before the verdict was issued, Brunson tearfully refuted all the allegations.

“I’m an innocent man,” he said. “I love Jesus. I love this country.”

Brunson’s defense attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said the verdict was “the best of a bad situation. He is going to go (to the United States) but I hope he is able to come back. He is someone who absolutely loves Turkey.”

RELEASED! Andrew Brunson convicted but released on time served; return to U.S. expected soon

 
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Andrew Brunson (center) is shown being transported from his home in Izmir, Turkey, to the court in Aliağa on October 12.

A Turkish court lifted the house arrest and international travel ban against EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson on October 12, while sentencing him to 3 years, 1 month, and 15 days on charges that he assisted the Fethullah Gülen organization. The Turkish government blames Gülen for the failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers the organization a terrorist group.

By removing the travel restrictions, Brunson is free to leave Turkey.

The October 12 hearing was Brunson’s fourth appearance in court.  At the close of the proceedings, the prosecutor asked for a 10-year sentence but requested that the court release Brunson from house arrest and lift the international travel ban.

“Finally, after two long years, Andrew has been released,” said EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “God has shown Himself faithful—as He always does—to Andrew, Norine, and their family, as well as to the thousands and thousands of people who have been praying for the Brunsons for so long. Let’s continue to pray for their safety and quick departure from Turkey.”

Turkish and other international media reported that at several prosecution witnesses retracted earlier statements during the October 12 hearing in Aliağa, Turkey.

News media around the world began reporting on October 11 that a “secret deal” between the U.S. and Turkish governments had been reached. Under the agreement, Brunson would be released after certain charges against him were dropped, in return for a commitment by the U.S. to ease economic pressure on Turkey. It is unclear if the October 12 decision is in response to the reported pact.

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was originally detained on October 7, 2016, and held until July 25, 2018, when he was released from prison to house arrest. Brunson was indicted in March 2018 on charges of being a “member and executive” of the Gülen organization and supporting outlawed Kurdish militants. He faced up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of all the charges.

Pray for Andrew Brunson

 
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Bill Campbell

by William P. (Bill) Campbell

It was July 18, 2018. I sat in the cavernous Aliağa courtroom in Western Turkey, watching Andrew Brunson boldly testify to the gospel of salvation and forgive the Turkish officials for persecuting him without cause. It was a message that needed to be heard by everyone, I thought. I was glad so many were listening in: a group of officials and witnesses at the stand, the armed guards, and the entourage of reporters, Turkish pastors, and varied observers in the aluminum bleachers in back of the courtroom.

How powerful it would be if the world could catch the spirit behind Andrew’s words.

It can! Maybe not come from the flurry of news media that followed the hearing, or from the transcribed court proceedings that will serve as public record in Turkey. I am referring rather to the influence of your life and mine as we pray for Andrew’s release. Every day that Andrew is detained in Turkey and God’s people pray, it is not only the American government that is being influenced to action. The God who reigns over the nations also is being stirred to action—hopefully to free Andrew, impact Turkey, and change each of us. Our prayers are His pen through which He can transcribe truths on our hearts. Realize this:

  1. Andrew and the pastors in that courtroom set a high bar for boldness that should inspire us to be more fearless as we live for the Lord with all of our freedoms. In the courtroom, the pastor who interpreted for me had already offered himself as a witness in Andrew’s case. He knew that in so doing, he put himself under the careful scrutiny of a government that is making it very difficult to be a Christian. Each of the Turkish pastors present with me had already spent time behind bars because of their faith. At any point, one or all might face prison for the rest of their lives. And Andrew, if not released, faces a 35-year prison term. Interceding for such courageous believers can birth courage in our hearts.
  2. Andrew’s predicament can also remind us to pray for Turkey. Several days of conversations I had with Turkish believers revealed a deep-seated concern that Andrew’s case may be evidence of a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the country. According to accounts I heard, Turkish citizens who have offered even a mere suggestion on social media that they are not happy with the current situation in Turkey are often required to begin reporting every few days to a government office confirming that they are fully supportive of the government. One more slip and they may find themselves joining company with more than 150,000 others who have been detained or imprisoned on various charges since the attempted overthrow of the government in July of 2016. Surely as we pray for Andrew, we must pray for Turkey.
  3. When we pray for Turkey, we will quickly find ourselves praying for the world. Turkey is a gateway to both East and West. It was originally from Turkey that Christianity was launched around the globe. It was there also that the first seven councils of the church were held. Oddly, Turkey—the cradle of early Christianity—is now one of the least-Christian countries in the world. There are nearly as many active churches in the small town from which I write, Hendersonville, N.C., as there are in the entire nation of Turkey (about 250). Depending on how “Christian” is defined, Turkey is between 0.2 and 0.4 percent Christian. The stark contrast between what was and what is may seem depressing, but it should actually give us great hope. An old Korean proverb says, “Where water once flowed, it can flow again.” Let us pray for God to bless the beautiful land of Turkey and all of its people. Let us offer petitions to Him for that nation with this realization: what God has done before, God can do again. May Turkey continue as a democracy, may all peoples be welcome there, and may the Church flourish.
  4. Praying for Andrew may cause us to recognize how quickly we may lose our freedoms if we don’t stand strong in our faith. Sadly, the Church in America tends to be influenced by its culture more than it influences culture. We must once again heed the messages found in the letters to the seven churches as recorded in Revelation 2-3. By the way, each of these seven churches was situated in what is now Turkey. Only partially uncovered ruins remain in each location. But the truths in those letters live on. They call us to be genuine Christians—willing to follow Christ even when things are tough and when we face slander, opposition, and difficulty.

Conclusions for Today

It is natural to become discouraged in our prayers for Andrew as we experience delay after delay. It is supernatural, however, to realize that God is at work for good—even on Andrew’s behalf—and that our prayers are being heard. The sovereign God who used Joseph’s imprisonment (Genesis 39) as part of His greater purpose can and will use Andrew’s detention in ways we have not anticipated and may never fully understand. God is at work. And we must never give up.

 

Campbell serves as Pastor of Hendersonville Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville, N.C. He also is the founder and president of Scripture Awakening, a ministry that provides resources to help people read, study, and live the Scriptures. 

Prayer Guides and other resources, including an in-depth, 31-day prayer initiative for Andrew and Turkey, are available at www.epc.org/freepastorandrew.

EPC issues Call for Prayer and Fasting ahead of October 12 Andrew Brunson hearing

 

AndrewBrunsonPrayerGuide201810HorizontalThe trial of Andrew Brunson, EPC Teaching Elder imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016, resumes on Friday, October 12. In an effort to stand with and pray for the Brunson family, the EPC is issuing a Call to Prayer and Fasting for the week of October 8.

“Recent speculation in the media that Andrew could be released on October 12 should cause us to ramp up our prayer efforts,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “We all desperately want that outcome, so I hope that every one of our 600 congregations will participate in this week of prayer and fasting.”

Six specific prayers are suggested for the days leading to the October 12 hearing:

  • Pray for Andrew and Norine’s continued physical safety, as well as perseverance in prayer and protection from discouragement.
  • Pray for God to prepare all of the players in the trial: the prosecution, the defense, every witness, and Andrew himself. Pray for God’s wisdom to prevail over all aspects of the trial.
  • Pray for Andrew to be emboldened to give a clear gospel witness, and that those in attendance (including media, guards, attorneys, and others) would hear and understand the gospel message.
  • Pray for media representatives at the trial to be safe, and for journalists to write reports that will glorify God.
  • Pray that unless the Lord has a purpose in keeping Andrew in Turkey, that he will be released from his current house arrest, allowed the freedom to travel, and acquitted of the charges.
  • Pray that God will use the trial and its outcome to open doors for the gospel in Turkey.

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.

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

Also available is an in-depth, 31-day prayer initiative for Andrew and the nation of Turkey, which was developed by EPC Teaching Elder William P. (Bill) Campbell. Campbell serves as Pastor of Hendersonville (N.C.) Presbyterian Church, and also is the founder of Scripture Awakening, a ministry that offers resources to help people read, study, and live the Scriptures. Campbell attended Andrew’s trial on July 18, 2018, in Aliağa, Turkey.

Senators, Administration, religious freedom council applaud Turkey court ruling as Brunson leaves prison for house arrest

 

In response to a Turkish court’s ruling July 25 to release Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest, officials in Washington, D.C., have issued statements supporting the decision.

Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) issued a joint statement in which they called the move a “step in the right direction.”

“Today’s decision by the Turkish Court system to move Pastor Andrew Brunson from prison to house arrest is a step in the right direction and will help alleviate some of the unacceptable hardship and anguish Pastor Brunson and his family have endured over the last 20 months,” the senators said. “The Government of Turkey should now release Pastor Brunson and immediately return him to the United States, an action that would begin to restore the longstanding friendship between our two nations.”

The United States Council on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also welcomed the court’s ruling.

“It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga in the statement. “This is welcome news … but it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted on July 25 that house arrest was a positive development, but Brunson “should have been freed long ago.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said via Twitter on July 25 that the decision was “long overdue.”

Brunson left the prison at approximately 5:30 p.m. local time in Turkey (10:30 a.m. Eastern). Live television footage showed Brunson being put into a vehicle outside prison and driven away guided by a police motorcycle escort. His Turkish lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt , confirmed that Brunson will be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is banned from leaving the country.

“These officials in Washington have been our ‘heroes on the Hill’ and have worked hard for Andrew’s release,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “But we need to remember that this is not over. Even though Andrew will be at his home in Izmir, he will be closely monitored and his movements will be restricted. We should continue to pray and advocate for his complete freedom until that time when he steps off the plane onto American soil.”

On July 23, Tillis and Shaheen announced a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress assessing Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program. The provision is based in part on legislation the three senators introduced earlier this year in response Brunson’s continued imprisonment and Turkey’s intention to purchase an S-400 missile system from Russia. Last week, they introduced a bill that would prohibit international loans to Turkey until the detention of U.S. citizens ends.

On July 24, Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline Furnari spoke to the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, hosted by Pompeo. Furnari’s 12-minute testimony can be watched below.

Click here to watch the full one-hour segment of the day’s proceedings. Furnari begins her talk at 20:30.

Andrew Brunson moved to house arrest

 
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Andrew Brunson

Turkish media is reporting that Andrew Brunson has been moved from prison and put under house arrest. According to the Daily Sabah, the EPC Teaching Elder has been moved to his home in Izmir due to “health issues.”

The Second High Penal Court in Izmir issued the ruling on July 25, which also included an international travel ban meaning Brunson cannot leave the country. The same court ruled on July 18 that Brunson be returned to prison until the hearing in the trial, scheduled for October 12.

“We are very thankful for this court ruling to allow Andrew to be detained at his house instead of behind bars, where he has spent more than 21 months,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “At the same time, this trial is not over. He is still facing serious charges so we press on in praying, fasting, and advocating for Andrew.”

Brunson has lived in Turkey since 1993 and was arrested in October 2016. He was indicted on charges of having links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999 and whom Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup attempt, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey calls a terrorist group.

President Trump, others continue to condemn Andrew Brunson detainment

 

A Turkish court’s decision to return Andrew Brunson to prison at the conclusion of the July 18 hearing until the next hearing on October 12 has drawn intense, bipartisan criticism.

Late on July 18, President Donald Trump said on social media that not granting Brunson’s release was a “total disgrace” and added that the EPC Teaching Elder “has been held hostage far too long.”

On July 19, six Senators introduced a bill to direct the top U.S. executive at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to block future loans to Turkey, except for humanitarian purposes. The bipartisan bill—dubbed the Turkey International Financial Institutions Act—was authored in response to “the unjust detention” of nearly two dozen U.S. citizens, including Brunson.

In a statement, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said, “Until Turkey begins acting like a NATO ally again, we will continue to pursue measures like sanctions and loan restrictions against them. We desire cooperation and strengthening ties between our countries, but the U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of its own people.” Lankford was joined in the proposed legislation by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

A spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a quick resolution to the impasse on July 19.

“We continue to call on the Turkish government to quickly resolve (Brunson’s) case in a timely and transparent and fair manner,” said Heather Nauert.

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Andrew Brunson

On July 18, the four senior members of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (USCSCE, also known as the Helsinki Commission) released statements condemning Brunson’s ongoing imprisonment.

“The cruelty of today’s decision is astonishing,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)., USCSCE  Co-Chair. “By extending Pastor Brunson’s indefinite detention and setting his next trial date for mid-October, the Turkish government has declared its intention to keep this innocent man in jail past the two-year anniversary of his arrest without conviction or any credible evidence against him. There is no room in NATO for hostage-taking. Pastor Brunson should be freed immediately.”

Sen. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), USCSCE Co-Chair, also called for Brunson’s immediate release, “otherwise this cruel abuse of a U.S. citizen should have serious consequences for our country’s relationship with the Turkish government.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), said the Turkish court’s decision “represents yet another miscarriage of justice in this case. I remain deeply concerned that Mr. Brunson remains in prison in Turkey. The Turkish government must drop its spurious charges and release Mr. Brunson immediately.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), described Brunson’s trial as “conspiratorial charges, anonymous witnesses, and political agendas, and bears no resemblance to a credible judicial process. Even as the Turkish government prepares to lift its nearly two-year state of emergency, we should not be fooled into thinking that the rule of law is returning to Turkey. Pastor Brunson’s wrongful imprisonment proves that nothing is likely to change.”

The USCSCE echoed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issued a statement on July 18 declaring “The government of Turkey continues to make a mockery of justice in its treatment of Pastor Brunson.”

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah expressed gratitude for the statements of condemnation.

“I am thankful that so many of our government officials have recognized Andrew’s situation and are speaking out against his continued incarceration,” he said. “We will continue to persevere on Andrew’s behalf, and look forward to the day—hopefully very soon—when he steps off a plane onto American soil.”

Brunson is an EPC Teaching Elder from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey since 1993. He was been held since October 2016, and was indicted in March 2018 on charges of terrorism and espionage. Among the accusations in the indictment are charges that Brunson was a “member and executive” of the Fetullah Gülen organization—which the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan blames for a failed July 2016 coup attempt and considers a terrorist group—and supported outlawed Kurdish militants. He faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.

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.