October 15, 2018 - Monday
Pastor Brunson: Home, Free
There are so many words I could use to describe the last 72 hours, but there's one that I keep returning to -- grateful. When I touched down in Turkey on Thursday to see Pastor Andrew Brunson, no one -- least of all me -- knew what to expect. Pastor Brunson had been on trial before. And although the international pressure on Turkey, led by the U.S., was building, there was no guarantee that this outcome would be any different from the three previous hearings. Praise God that after two long years, it was.
There were times in the courtroom when things looked grim. After hours of testimony, Turkish officials read a 62-page indictment that recommended Pastor Brunson be taken out of house arrest and thrown back in prison for 30 more years. At that point, the anxiety and fear was palpable. The judge called a recess, and Andrew huddled with his attorney and Norine. When Norine returned, she said the court was not allowing Andrew to call any further witnesses or to present any evidence. The few close supporters who were allowed inside began to pray.
When the three judges returned, Andrew was asked for his plea. He said, "I am innocent." The court recessed again. The judges returned after about 10-15 minutes. It was then that they went through a convoluted reading of the charges and the rendering of their verdict. In the end, they found him guilty of a crime, and then sentenced him to three years and one month. They gave him credit for the two years and one month he had served. They also removed the travel ban and the house arrest. Then, they abruptly adjourned.
A question remained about the one year that was yet to be served. It was clear then that an opening had been given for him to leave the country, so the wheels went into motion to get Andrew and Norine out of the country. The embassy had already gamed out several potential scenarios. There were no flights out of the country Friday or Saturday. It was at that point the request was made for a military flight, and the White House asked me, as a representative of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to accompany the Brunsons home.
It was about six hours before all the details were worked out and the flight took off. There was a lot of uncertainty in that interim period, as others had been freed from jail only to be rearrested and put back in prison. The race to the airport, with media speeding in and out of the embassy motorcade, added to the anxiety of whether we would even make it to airport. Once we did, and the plane cleared Turkish airspace, reality started to sink in. After two of the worst years of the Brunson's' lives, they were finally on their way back to a country that refused to give up on them.
One of the things I took away from my time with Andrew and Norine is how overwhelmed they were to see how much the American people cared for them. The night before his trial, when I had a chance to visit, they were both visibly moved by the number of you who pledged to pray for his release. In the end, God answered those prayers, at least in part, by an administration that is making it clear to the world: America comes first.
It makes it all the more fitting, then, that the first thing Pastor Brunson did in the Oval Office was to do what so many had done for him -- pray. "You really fought for us, unusually so," he said emotionally. "From the time you took office, we know that you've been engaged."
"Lord God, I ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on President Trump," he said kneeling beside him. "That you give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom on how to lead this country into righteousness. I ask that you give him perseverance and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great leader for this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance, and we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus's name, we bless you. Amen."
Pastor Brunson is now the 18th prisoner this president has freed. And "unlike his predecessor," the American Thinker points out, the president has managed to bring these prisoners home without freeing terrorists or paying millions of dollars in suspected ransom payments." Who knows how many more there will be because of this administration's refusal to back down? Elections have consequences. And for Pastor Brunson and tens of millions of people around the world, they're life-changing ones.
For more on my trip home with the Brunsons and this overwhelming victory for religious liberty, don't miss my interview with "Fox & Friends."