After reading the story of Andrew Brunson’s experience in a Turkish prison, it was an easy decision to add him to my pantheon of heroes. In his book, God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance (Baker Books, 2019), Brunson documents his intense emotional, mental and spiritual hardship, during 735 days languishing in Turkish prisons. Though pastoring a church and overseeing a house of prayer for 23 years at the time in Izmir, Turkey, he was unprepared for the ordeal. His memoir openly reveals bouts of fear, depression, losing his sanity, suicidal thoughts, no sense of God’s presence and a sense of God abandoning him. Brunson’s wife Norine visited him continuously and worked tirelessly to get him released. At times, during what he described as “faith meltdowns” she exhorted him to repeat phrases that stated he needed to live and not take his life. Brunson’s mother visited him, and shared: “Andrew, there’s a very long line of people who have suffered for Jesus Christ. It stretches back 2,000 years. And it’s now your turn to stand in that line.”
The Washington Examiner summarized the rather absurd charges against Brunson:
Compromised media colluded with a corrupt political system to demonize the innocent pastor, who was accused of using his religion to undermine the government. The charges against him carried potential life sentences. He would face both solitary confinement and group detention with devout Turkish Muslims who disliked him because of his nationality and faith. (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/i-think-were-very-close, accessed July 1, 2020).
Eventually, at least three activities strengthened him to endure.
Firstly, after his wife brought him a guitar, he started to sing. Brunson described the moment:
I had led worship with a guitar for years, but this seemed so distant now, and I did not feel like singing. But I carried on, as a discipline. I was determined to reclaim a part of me that existed long before I was a prisoner and to worship, even from a broken heart. Overwhelmed by the idea of wasting away I opened my mouth to pour out my feelings, but instead of accusation or complaint, something entirely different came out: “You are worthy; worthy of my all.” I started to sing these words, over and over. In my heartache I was declaring that Jesus was worthy of whatever I may suffer, and as I did, more words came. (p 166, 170).
Reflecting on the singing later, Brunson shared:
This song became my prayer. I did not want to become a coward. I began to fight every day to be willing to pursue God, to love Jesus even if it cost me staying in prison. I started every day with a ritual reminding myself who Jesus is and who I am in him.
(Following his release, Brunson recorded the song “Worthy Of My All” at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOPKC). It is available as a free download https://unceasingworship.com/andrewbrunson/).
A second event involved Brunsom starting to dance. He had read about Richard Wurmbrand responding to the Scriptural command to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” which led to Wurmbrand dancing during his fourteen years of persecution and beatings in a Romanian prison. Brunson writes: “Each day for a minimum of five minutes, I would leap around the courtyard. . . I danced as an act of the will.” (p 166).
Though strengthened by both song and dance, Brunson still faced attacks of confusion and anger toward God. This led to a third response, defiantly declaring statements of truth and trust. Brunson shared the experience brilliantly:
I made a solemn decision, and announced it to God, almost in defiance: Whatever you do or do not do, I will follow you. If you do not speak to me, I will follow you. If you do not let me sense your presence, I will follow you. If you allow me to be deceived, I will follow you. If you leave me in prison, I will follow you! I will not give up! I may be terrified, I may be weak, I may be broken, but I am going to hold on. I will run to Jesus or, if necessary, crawl to Jesus. (P 159)
With no end in sight, as one year dragged into a second year, Norene Brunson kept up her relentless pursuit for her husband’s release. She contacted senators, White House officials and Turkish lawyers. People were praying from across the planet. Within Turkey Brunson was treated scandalously by the press. Eventually his case reached the USA president. The Washington Examiner picks up the story:
When his predicament drew the attention of President Trump, the firm diplomatic response from the United States would disrupt world markets and catapult the unassuming pastor into the international spotlight. Brunson became a pawn of the Turkish government. The USA put pressure for his release with tariffs and sanctions. None of it worked.
At Brunson’s fourth and final court date he had the fortitude to speak directly to the judge and jury. He recounted his words during a Fox interview: “They’re saying I’m a terrorist. No, I’m not. I’m declaring Jesus Christ. I want all of Turkey to know I’m here for one reason: to declare Jesus.”
(https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/andrew-brunson-ex-imprisoned-pastor-in-turkey-says-2016-dark-dream-has-happened. Accessed July 1, 2020).
On October 12, 2018 the Turkish court convicted Andrew Brunson of aiding terrorists, and released him on the basis of the time he served in prison. Within 24 hours of his release he was at the White House, thanking President Trump and praying with him.