“I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different,” Andrew Brunson told a Turkish court this week.
The Evangelical pastor of a small church in Turkey is accused of espionage and links to terrorist organizations. But Turkey’s president let slip the motive behind the charges: Brunson is an American and a Christian pastor. He is being held hostage in exchange for Fethulla Gulen, a Turkish Muslim cleric living in the U.S.
“Give him [Gulen] to us,” President Erdogan said, “then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you.”
“They want a cleric from us, you have a cleric, too,” Erdogan also said. “Extradite [Gulen] so that we can prosecute him.”
Pas. Brunson was arrested in October 2016, the same year that Erdogan survived a failed military coup. Since then, his government has jailed over 50,000 people – including judges, journalists, teachers and soldiers. Erdogan blames Gulen, a former ally, for orchestrating the coup and labeled Gulen’s movement, a blend of mystical Islam and democracy, a terrorist organization.
Brunson “appears to be being held simply because he’s an American citizen who as a man of faith was in contact with a range of people in this country who he was trying to help, in keeping with his faith,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass.
On April 16 – after 18 months in jail – Brunson’s trial began. He faces 35 years in jail.
The pastor became emotional during his testimony. He has lost over 50 pounds in jail and is reportedly on anti-depressants for a psychological breakdown. He is the only English speaker, the only Christian, and the only American in his prison, and is alone in his cell.
Jail and the accusations have taken a huge toll on him.
“He was dislocated from reality” said a U.S. official who visited him in jail.
Yet he was clear-speaking at his trial. “I love Turkey. I have been praying for Turkey for 25 years,” he told the judge.
But at the end of the day, the judge delayed the trial until May 7. He sent Brunson to solitary confinement in a notorious prison. His lawyers called it “devastating” for the pastor, and saw the judge’s delay as an “escalation.”
Brunson became emotional and said solitary confinement has affected his state of mind, reported al-Monitor.
His daughter said Brunson feels broken and confused, but his faith has been strengthened. His Turkish defense attorney said, “He missed his daughter’s wedding, he missed his child’s graduation. He is demoralized for staying in prison for so long despite not having committed a crime,” reported FOXNews.com
In January, Pas. Brunson wrote, “One of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison. Thank you for not forgetting! It is a great encouragement to know there are people praying for me – it reminds me that I am not alone, and that I need to stand firm, with my face pointed in God’s direction always. Thank you for standing with me in this most difficult time.”
The trial was scheduled as tensions grow between the U.S. and Turkey over the war in Syria and against ISIS. Brunson’s imprisonment and trial delay are seen as political moves to pressure the U.S.
A team of U.S. officials attended the trial, including U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Sen. Thom Tillis. President Trump and Vice President Pence have asked Erdogan to release Brunson.
The State Department called the charges against Brunson “ridiculous.”
The indictment against him cites secret witnesses and says he is guilty of “committing crimes on behalf of the organization despite not being a member of the organization, and disclosing State information that must remain confidential for political and military espionage.” He’s accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant group, and Gulen network.
A pro-Erdogan newspaper said Brunson is a “high-level CIA agent” and a “high-level member of the Gulen movement,” and he would become the CIA chief if the coup had succeeded.
“Andrew was a normal American Christian, he is not a spy. I know him,” Ihsan Ozbek, chairman of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, told the New York Times.
“To the extent that I am known, I want to be known as a servant and lover of Jesus Christ,” Brunson wrote to his wife Norine. “I have prayed for this land and its people for many years for God to pour out great blessing. In my weakness, I pray daily for strength and courage to persevere and remain faithful to my King until the end. My deepest thanks to my family around the world that is standing with me and praying for me.”
A NASA employee with dual citizenship and two employees of U.S. consulates have also been arrested.
Brunson and his wife Norine, who was arrested with him but released after 13 days, have three children. Norine is praying:
“May the truth be known. May the Lord’s name be glorified. May Andrew be set free.”
“You Are Worthy of My All” was written by Andrew Brunson in fall 2017 while in prison in Turkey.
You are worthy, worthy of my all My tears and pain I lift up as an offering Teach me to share in the fellowship of Your suffering (Philippians) Lamb of God You are worthy of my all.
You are worthy, worthy of my all Adopted as a son, a brother to my King Indeed I will share in Your glory if I share Your suffering (Romans 8) Jesus, You are worthy of my all.
You are worthy, worthy of my all But my heart faints, drowned in sorrow, overwhelmed Make me like You, Cross-bearer, persevering, faithful to the end To stand the trial and receive the crown of life.
You are worthy, worthy of my all This is my declaration in the darkest hour Jesus, the Faithful One who loves me, always good and true You made me Yours, You are worthy of my all.
I want to be found worthy to stand before You on that day With no regrets from cowardice, things left undone (that is, I want to complete what God has planned and not miss out because of fear) To hear you say “Well done, my faithful friend, now enter your reward” Jesus, my Joy, you are the prize I’m running for. (Joy – I say that with my will, not my feelings)
You are worthy, worthy of my all You are worthy, worthy of my all
What can I give to the Son of God, who gave himself for me
Here I am, You are worthy of my all.