The first year of his imprisonment was full of fear and grief over the uncertainties. He suffered over separation from his family and from Christian fellowship. “If I’d been let out after the first year, I’d have been lying on the floor, curled in a fetal position with PTSD,” Brunson confessed. “The second year God started to rebuild me.”
DANIEL OF THE YEAR
The sun competes with autumn leaves for dazzle on a late October morning in Black Mountain, N.C. Orange and black streamers line fences ready for Halloween, and an oversized spider looms black and quasi-menacing over a collection of pumpkins and hay bales in the town square.
In February a motorcade bearing the body of Billy Graham, the evangelist known as “America’s pastor” who died at his home here, departed from this mountain retreat of 8,000 residents en route to Washington, D.C. Eight months later and with less fanfare, another and more recently renowned American pastor—Andrew Brunson—made the trip in reverse.
After meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office and traveling to New York for televised interviews, Brunson with his wife Norine and family members returned to the church and community they and generations of mission-minded pastors have called home.
Halloween regalia gave way to hand-made posters welcoming them along the road to Montreat, a Presbyterian retreat and conference center. The return to North Carolina marked the end of a 6,000-mile journey from Izmir, Turkey, where the Brunsons served for 23 years as missionaries and church planters.
Jailed in October 2016 and subsequently charged with espionage and terrorism, Andrew Brunson found himself catapulted to the center of global headlines and U.S.-Turkey relations. Norine, jailed briefly then released, never left Turkey, knowing she might not be allowed to return to support her husband. Now they were home to family and friends.
Inside Christ Community Church, fellow churchgoers jammed the fellowship hall, eating cake and drinking coffee while standing in line to greet the couple. Children waited, too, shyly, for an opportunity to tell the freed Brunson they had prayed for him. Each time, he took their hand and thanked them, then asked if he could pray for them too, and did.
Brunson’s case grew to encompass the hottest-button issues of foreign policy and to pit against one another two long-standing NATO allies. For Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demonizing the 50-year-old Christian became a way to burnish his rising reputation among hard-line Islamist allies in the region, while in effect holding Brunson hostage for hoped-for U.S. concessions.
For President Donald Trump, whose evangelical base helped him win the 2016 election and continues to offer fervent support, securing the pastor’s release became a priority, reassuring believers at home while signaling resurgent American muscle in the shifting alliances of the Middle East.
But the case Turkey built against Brunson also put the pastor at the center of a worldwide church movement. Thousands mobilized in congregations as far removed as Brazil, Israel, and China to pray for his freedom. His dramatic release on Oct. 12 came after 21 months in various prison cells and nearly three months under house arrest in Izmir, constantly under government surveillance and confined by a state-ordered travel ban.