U.S. Pastor Brunson Released from Prison as U.S. Prioritizes Religious Freedom

Pastor Andrew Brunson (C) is escorted by police officers while he is being transferred to his home where he will remain in house arrest, on July 25, 2018, in Izmir, western Turkey. (AA Photo)

The news came in the middle of the first-ever religious freedom forum at the State Department: Pastor Andrew Brunson would be released from a Turkish jail after nearly 21 months for false charges of sedition. But he is under house arrest until his next hearing on October 12.

Vice President Pence told foreign ministers at the State Department gathering that this was not enough. He and President Trump demanded Brunson’s immediate release or Turkey would face large sanctions.
President Trump tweeted:

“The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!” 11:22 AM – Jul 26, 2018

Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline gave an emotional speech to the State Department gathering the day before Brunson’s surprise release.  Andrew felt “blessed” to suffer for his faith, she said. “I cannot tell you how proud I am of my father and what an example of Christ’s love he continues to be to the world as he is wrongly imprisoned for his faith.”

“One day soon, we all want to be at your father’s arrival ceremony on U.S. soil,” Pam Pryor, a State Department official, told Jacqueline.

At a hearing last week, the Turkish judge refused to release Andrew. President Trump called the decision a disgrace. The U.S. Congress took steps toward sanctioning Turkey until it stops “arbitrarily detaining or denying freedom of movement to United States citizens”, causing the Turkish lira to drop.

Pas. Brunson’s wife asked people to pray for Andrew. Christian Freedom International linked people to the Brunson’s Facebook page to send encouraging notes to the distraught family.

This week foreign ministers and religious freedom advocates from around the world gathered at the U.S. State Department for the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. “We believe religious freedom is central to the world and to America’s place in the world,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We make it a real priority.”

Over 80 countries with good records on religious freedom or have taken steps to improve were invited to discuss “concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and to ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

“The news of Brunson’s partial release gives hope that prayers and actions can free victims of religious persecution – and that the U.S. is serious about making religious freedom a priority,” said Wendy Wright, Christian Freedom International’s President, who participated in the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

Survivors of religious persecution, or their close relatives, shared their stories at the Ministerial. The first was the wife of Pastor John Cao, who is imprisoned in China for building schools for the Kachin in Burma/Myanmar.

The Chinese pastor was “shocked by the poverty he saw” while visiting the Kachin people, she said. Cao worked with other Chinese Christians to open 16 schools for around 2,000 students. He was arrested last March and sentenced to 7 years in jail and fined $3,000.

“It is clear to us now that John was set up for arrest because of his faith-driven work,” she said. The charge against him “is often used to prosecute human traffickers.” Cao had crossed the border many times over 3 years to bring volunteers to the schools.

Please pray for Christians like Pastors Brunson and Cao who suffer for their faith.

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