Turkey (MNN) — American pastor Andrew Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October and is being charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” An appeal was issued last month for Brunson’s release, but the appeal was denied.
A petition created by the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) for Brunson’s release currently has over 160,000 signatures. Click here to add your signature to the petition. Brunson is from Black Mountain, North Carolina. He and his family have lived in Turkey for 23 years.
Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs, USA says, “Reportedly, the family has said when [Brunson] was called to the police station, he thought he was going down to pick up his permanent residency card which would mean [he] can stay in Turkey…. Instead, when he got there, they detained him and initially it was said, ‘We’re going to deport you.’ They detained he and his wife. Subsequently, they transferred him to a prison, they let his wife go, and now he is charged with being connected to terrorist groups. It’s unclear what that means.”
Court documents only cite an anonymous source for these charges laid against Brunson. Nettleton says the arrest appears to be a political move.
“It seems to be two possibilities. One is the Islamic leader [Fethullah] Gulen who is in the United States, the Turks have asked the U.S. to extradite him back to Turkey, and the U.S. has said no. It is possible that Andrew Brunson is, in some ways, a pawn in that game to try to encourage the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen.
“The other possibility is just that [Brunson] was caught up in the crackdown that is going on across Turkey since the coup attempt last year. The numbers are staggering, more than 40,000 people have been arrested since the coup attempt — political party members, military personnel, journalists, teachers, judges, lawyers.”
So the big question for Brunson is… what now?
“The interesting thing is we don’t know what now,” says Nettleton. “The reality is the situation in Turkey right now is so fluid and they are under emergency powers. The government basically can do whatever they want without checks and balances. So really, I think right now we wait and see, and hope and pray he can be released. My understanding is the U.S. embassy there has made inquiries, they have followed the case and are working towards his release and his freedom, but at this point he is in the hands of the Turkish government.”
It’s not the first time the Church in Turkey has been targeted, especially now living in a post-failed-coup nation. The overwhelming majority of Turkey is Muslim, accounting for 99.8 percent of the population. Because of this, says Nettleton, “Christians are often seen as somewhat unpatriotic. The identity in the minds of so many Turks is ‘to be Turkish is to be Muslim’. So if you’re not a Muslim, it’s like you’ve turned your back on your national identity…. Any Christian sort of has a mark of suspicion against them.”
Even though the “what next” is still up in the air, there’s a few things you can do. You can sign the petition with ACLJ for Brunson’s release. And then the most helpful thing you can do is pray and take Andrew Brunson’s case before the throne of God.
“Pray for especially Andrew Brunson, for his wife Norine. This is a very challenging, difficult time for them. Norine has been allowed to visit him, but it’s been very controlled and it hasn’t been regular. So I think one of the very specific prayer requests is pray that she will be able to visit him and see him and interact with him on a regular basis as a means of encouraging him.”
Nettleton asks, “I think another thing we can do after we pray is make sure our leaders here in America — our congressmen, our senators, our state department — is aware that we’re following this case and that we care about a Christian American citizen who is detained in Turkey. Encourage them to make inquiries and to really press the Turkish government that this is not a terrorist, this is an American Christian who has lived there for [over] 20 years, who loves Turkey and loves the people of Turkey, not a threat to the government, and he should be released immediately.”
Please also pray for the Church in Turkey as they live out boldness of faith. This season in Turkey has several people looking for answers — the government may fail, the military may fail, the Islamic faith may fail. Where else can they find hope?
“People who are not Christians are also going through this time of upheaval and maybe that gives them an extra spiritual sensitivity or an extra willingness to hear the Gospel. So pray that Christians in Turkey will be faithful in spite of so much going on around them, and also pray for God’s protection over them.”