You perhaps remember Andrew. You may have prayed for him. Andrew Brunson is the 50-year old American pastor who was arrested in Turkey on the charge of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” His real crime was serving as pastor of a 25-member Presbyterian church in Ankara, Turkey. He and his family had served there for 23 years.
Ruthie and I had the privilege a few days ago of hearing him personally tell his story. It was an amazing 40-minutes. On October 7, 2016, Brunson went to a government office in Turkey to update some paperwork. He and his wife, Norine, had fallen deeply in love with the Turkish people and were making application for permanent residence there. But this day he was arrested and put in prison – he was told it would be a life-sentence – for allegedly being part of a recent coup against the government.
Conditions instantly became nearly unbearable. He was housed with 21 others in a cell that was initially built to house eight. In the next 24 months he would lose 50 pounds. The food would barely maintain life, the water was vile, and he had nothing except the clothes he was wearing the day he was arrested. He was allowed out of the cell one hour per week for “exercise.”
During one seven week stretch he was held in solitary confinement and had no contact with any other human. It was here in his story that he spoke emotionally about what the treatment had done to him. Prayer was his only lifeline. He knew he was not guilty, but the government had found “witnesses” who said he was. He wrestled with his trust in God. Nearly a quarter of a century he and Norine had invested in helping these people learn about the true God, and now feelings of abandonment frequently swept over him. Knowing that countless people around the world were praying gave him hope.
But as the dark interminable days passed, Brunson began to sense a new closeness to God. No sound, no conversation, no music, no idea of what was happening in the Turkish government. He began to develop a new sense of the presence of God. They spoke often and intimately. He learned new meaning for the word trust. As Jonah praised God from the belly of the fish, Brunson learned that God is trustworthy even when the events of the next day are uncertain.
After two years, in the autumn of 2018, Brunson stood trial. The Prosecutor was determined to find him guilty. And he did. And then inexplicably released him. On October 12 a million Christians around the world breathed a sigh of relief and hallelujah. Brunson told the group of about 600 of us that evening that it was the most painful and precious time of his life. But the prayers of others and of his own in a difficult time built in him a love for God greater than he had ever known.
It’s true: learning to trust Him in the valleys makes us strong.
By Don Jacobsen