Andrew Brunson’s Witness to the Watching World
When I attended Andrew Brunson’s trial last July, his wife, Norine, expressed to me her concern that Andrew’s prolonged detention may cause us to lose heart in our prayers for Andrew’s release. Sitting in the trial and spending time with believers in Turkey rekindled my passions in this regard. Now, I write with the thought that you might also benefit from a fresh perspective on Andrew’s plight.
Gleanings from the Previous Trial
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 to the forgiveness he offered 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. But how much better if the world could catch the spirit behind Andrew’s words.
Actually, they could. It may 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 is also being stirred to action, hopefully to free Andrew, potentially to impact Turkey, but certainly to change each of us. Our prayers are His pen through which He can transcribe truths on our hearts, such as the realization that:
- 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.
- 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.
- When we pray for Turkey, we will quickly find ourselves praying for the world. Turkey is a gateway to the East and to the 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, North Carolina, U.S.A., as there are in the entire nation of Turkey — around 250. Depending on how one defines Christian, Turkey is somewhere between 0.4 % and 0.2% 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, offering petitions for its government 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.
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 the Church influences our culture. We must once again heed the messages found in the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3), which were situated in 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, even 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 Genesis 39 imprisonment 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.