Pastor Andrew Brunson returned to the United States Saturday after two years of imprisonment and detention in Turkey, meeting with President Trump and taking the opportunity to pray with him.
“From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours. That’s not bad,” said President Trump.
Trump welcomed Pastor Brunson home at the White House after helping secure his release.
Brunson, a Christian missionary to Turkey originally from North Carolina, was arrested in October 2016 and accused of aiding terrorists through the church he operated with his wife. Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, Brunson was released for time served and allowed to leave Turkey, returning home on Friday.
Turkey accused Brunson of participating in a 2016 coup to overthrow the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Brunson was facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted if convicted of espionage, but those charges were dropped Friday.
Brunson, who moved to Turkey in the mid-1990s, was arrested and accused of having links to the Gülenist movement, which Turkey says orchestrated a failed 2016 military coup.
On Friday, a Turkish court sentenced Brunson to three years in jail but accounted for time served and suspended the rest of his sentence, making it possible for him to leave the country. Brunson’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is also a member of Trump’s legal team in the Russia inquiry. Brunson could have faced up to 35 years in prison. His supporters have said the charges against him are absurd.
Brunson prayed for the commander-in-chief in the Oval Office saying, “I ask that you give him strength. I ask you to protect him, make him a great blessing to this country and fill him with your wisdom and strength:”
“Lord God, I ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on President Trump, that you give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all of the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom in how to lead this country into righteousness. I ask that you give him perseverance and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you protect him: from slander, from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great blessing to this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance. And we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus’ name, we bless you. Amen.”
“We pray for you often, as a family,” Brunson told the president as he asked if he and his wife, Norine, could pray with him. “My wife and I pray for you.”
“I want to pray that the spirit of the Lord would rest on the president, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. Amen,” Norine Brunson prayed.
Preachers and others took to social media to pray and welcome Pastor Brunson home.
Jack Graham tweeted “Two reasons many of us who are evangelical Christians support President Trump is his support of religious freedom & his commitment to a conservative Supreme Court. This week we’ve seen 2 exceptional examples in the release of Pastor Brunson and the investiture of Judge Kavanaugh.”
“Today we are just incredibly grateful after two very long years,” Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said.
President Trump was asked what he did differently from previous administrations to secure the release of 19 Americans including Pastor Brunson, given the U.S. did not make a deal.
“They’re tending not to take them out of our administration and that’s good,” President Trump replied. “I like that and I think I can tell you why, but I won’t, but they tend not to take them out of our administration and you know what, it’s going to stay that way.”
Trump told the press that the situation with Pastor Brunson began under a previous administration. “They were not going to work out anything,” said Trump. “We took it over, we inherited it, and I think have at this moment gotten 19 different people out of various countries that were being held.”
President Trump remarked that he had talked with Pompeo once a day about Pastor Brunson’s situation. The Trump administration for months has advocated for Brunson’s release and backed up its demands by levying economic sanctions on some Turkish government officials and exports, damaging the value of the lira and sending Turkish currency into freefall.
“This is a time to thank the administration and people in government who supported us,” Brunson told reporters Saturday. “We love this country. Last night we arrived in Germany on a plane that President Trump sent to take us from Turkey. And the Ambassador to Germany met us there at 1:30 in the morning, I couldn’t believe it. And he had an American flag to give us that had flown over the embassy in Berlin. And I took it and I very naturally just, I kissed it.”
“I especially want to thank the administration, you really fought for us, unusually so from the time you took office I know you’ve been engaged,” Brunson said to Trump, adding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and so many others were involved as well. Those three, along with Ambassador Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, have been working consistently to get Brunson released.
Brunson’s release still leaves Turkey frustrated by the Trump administration’s refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of engineering the failed coup.
Trump re-emphasized Saturday that “no deal” was made with Turkey for Brunson’s release but the matter was a showing of good will that could repair the relationship between both countries.
“There was absolutely no deal made,” Trump said during the meeting with Brunson.
The president reserved the most plaudits for Brunson, commending him for the way his plight “galvanized” the country and members of Congress from both parties.
“You are very, very special to all of us,” Trump said, patting Brunson on his knee.
“Right now the whole world is a fan of yours, the whole world is a fan,” Trump said. “It’s a great honor to have you back home.”
“There’s so much interest, and it’s your faith, it’s your strength, what you’ve done, gone through — I know what you’ve gone through,” the president added.
• wire services