Travis Weber is Vice President for Policy at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Stream on October 18, 2018.
Now that Pastor Andrew Brunson’s time in Turkey has come to an end, here are six takeaways.
1. God Answers Prayer
Yes, we would all say we know this. But these events are a reminder of this truth. Many around the world were praying for Pastor Brunson’s release, and he was released this past Friday.
I flew to Izmir last week to attend his latest court hearing. I spent some time walking around the city on Thursday, and felt burdened and impressed to pray. Yes, let us speak to God about our concerns, because he is near and wants to hear them.
2. Pastor Brunson Provides an Example of Faith Under Fire
While the experience was incredibly stressful and taxing for him, Pastor Brunson stood strong in prison. Locked in jail for two years, at times in solitary confinement, he spent hours each day in prayer. What else could he do?
In Friday’s hearing, he was firm yet respectful in declaring his innocence. Despite being falsely maligned in Turkey, he bore no ill will towards its people. On the contrary, he proclaimed his love for them. After all he had been through, he told the court Friday, “I love Jesus. I love Turkey.”
Looking to Pastor Brunson’s example of faith under fire is an encouragement to U.S. Christians. If he stood strong in prison, can’t we model his example when facing far less opposition in the United States?
3. Being Present and Standing in Solidarity With Fellow Believers Matters
Being present for those facing opposition encourages them — and it engages us. When Pastor Brunson looked back at the viewing gallery during his day in court, he was encouraged to see his supporters staring back, and praying for him. In prison for two years, isolated in a foreign country, he was very concerned about being forgotten by fellow Christians.
Yet in addition to encouraging him, going there to stand with him made me more invested in his situation. My emotions were engaged as I saw and realized what had happened to him, in a way I could not have understood just by reading about it from a distance. Not everyone will be able to make such a trip, but we should all consider how to be there for those we know are suffering if given the opportunity. One simple way we can do this is by agreeing to pray for the persecuted.
Pastor Brunson shared with us that one of his greatest fears in Turkey was being forgotten, and yet thanks to all who signed our prayer pledge (the day before his last hearing, we delivered a list to him with thousands of signatures) we were able to show him that many fellow believers, despite their geographical distance, were standing next to him in prayer.
4. Advocating and Celebrating Relief for the Religiously Persecuted Overseas is a Spiritually Unifying Event
Many Christians in the United States were focused on Pastor Brunson’s situation, and many were praying for him. Despite areas of disagreement and difference on matters of public life, engagement on behalf of those suffering for their faith around the world is an issue upon which American Christians, and indeed many other Americans, can agree.
Advocacy on this issue can be a point of unity for the church in public life.
5. Our Government’s Engagement on Religious Persecution Matters
The perspective and engagement of the U.S. government on stopping religious freedom violations worldwide matters. The priority that our elected leaders give to dealing with this problem also matters. This in part is affected by how much they hear from us, the American people — including the American church — on this issue. We must pray, and we must act. We must do both.
Indeed, our faith compels us to act. The more we know about Pastor Brunson’s situation, the more we cannot help but to want his freedom — and that leads us to do all we can do to achieve it. Knowing of similar situations worldwide will lead us to want to act on them.
6. Pastor Brunson Showed Us How to Model Faith in the Public Square
Upon being freed and returning to the United States, Pastor Brunson was called to the White House to meet with President Trump. Just imagine: In less than 24 hours, he went from nearly returning to a Turkish prison to meeting the President of the United States. Yet Pastor Brunson didn’t use the opportunity to draw attention to himself. Rather, he and his wife Norine used it to pray for the president, separately noting that “every president” needs prayer.
Pastor Brunson’s example of faith in the center of the national media spotlight brought attention to God, and not himself. It will hopefully bring increased spiritual awareness to our country at large, and open opportunities to share the gospel. This is the type of public witness we can all emulate.