Pastor Andrew Brunson on how his faith survived 2 years in a Turkish prison


JUDY WOODRUFF: American evangelical Pastor
Andrew Brunson spent two years imprisoned in Turkey on what the U.S. calls bogus charges. His case created a crisis between the U.S.
and its NATO ally. For Brunson, it caused a crisis of faith and
a battle with depression. And a warning: There will be a brief mention
of suicide in this segment that is upcoming. Brunson has written a new book about his ordeal
that is titled “God’s Hostage.” Our Nick Schifrin sat down with him and with
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who played a key role in his release and in Brunson’s story. NICK SCHIFRIN: Before Pastor Andrew Brunson
became an unwilling media sensation and then flash point of U.S.-Turkish hostility, he
lived a quiet life in Turkey for 25 years. He built a small Christian congregation near
the Aegean Sea, and with his wife, Norine, helped refugees from neighboring Syria. But in July 2016, elements of the Turkish
military launched a failed coup. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cracked down
on the military and all aspects of society. He rallied supporters and arrested hundreds
of thousands he accused of terrorism. And the Brunsons were also both arrested. In Turkey, they had spent every day together. But when Norine was released, Andrew was isolated
and shuttled between prisons for two years. Norine visited the prison every day and kept
a vigil. And Turkish TV kept Brunson in the news, accusing
him of being a CIA agent and supporting Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania
who Turkey blamed for the coup attempt. Turkey wanted to trade Gulen for Brunson. MIKE PENCE, Vice President of the United States:
Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now, or be prepared to face the consequences. NICK SCHIFRIN: The Trump administration refused
and imposed sanctions, and Congress maintained bipartisan pressure. North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis: SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): And the charges that we
have seen to me are specious. And I think that we have got to continue to
support the family. NICK SCHIFRIN: New Hampshire Democratic Senator
Jeanne Shaheen pushed Erdogan for Brunson’s release. And on October the 12th, 2018, he was released,
almost two years to the day after his arrest. Last week, I sat down with Brunson and Shaheen
together in Washington. PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON, Former Turkey Detainee:
We were arrested to be deported. And then somebody decided to hold us, and
I think that was to intimidate other missionaries, so they would self-deport. At some point, I became, obviously, a use
for leverage to try to gain concessions from the U.S. There is a human story and the God story. What Erdogan was doing, I was his hostage,
but when God had completed what he wanted to through my imprisonment, then he caused
my release. NICK SCHIFRIN: The first night, you describe. And you write this: “Being locked up behind
a big metal door in a foreign country, hearing the keys turn and the bolt slam for the first
time is sobering. It’s a sudden loss of control and plunge into
uncertainty.” Can you describe what that felt like? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: A total loss of control. It was very scary. So, I was saying, God, you’re the one keeping
me here, when I have — I’m desperate to get out. I’m full of fear. And you’re the one who could release me. And you’re not doing it. And you’re doing this to toughen me up. And so I was having — it was taking me into
a crisis of faith. NICK SCHIFRIN: Do you think you lost your
faith? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: No, I didn’t lose my
faith. I was actually desperate to hold on to it. I wasn’t wanting to walk away from it. But I was afraid that I was going insane at
times. NICK SCHIFRIN: Did you feel forsaken? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: At times, I did. And I was very surprised. Many of the biographies I have read of who
I would call Christian heroes, my heroes, they show very strong people. And I expected that, when I was suffering,
I would also have that strength. And, instead, I felt very broken and weak. NICK SCHIFRIN: And you write very honestly
about not only your crisis of faith, but your crisis of depression. How deep was your despair at one point? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: At one point, the Turkish
government wanted to give me three life sentences in solitary confinement with no parole. So I thought this. I could waste away here and spend years in
this terrible isolation, and I’d much rather be in heaven than spend the rest of my life
in a Turkish prison. And that’s what was leading me to think of
suicide. I’m glad I didn’t do it. The combination of despair and anxiety is
very dangerous. So, when I think I may not ever get out, I
just wanted to escape the situation. It’s not that I wanted to die. It’s that I didn’t want to live, I couldn’t
imagine living in these circumstances for a long period of time. NICK SCHIFRIN: Senator Shaheen, let me turn
to you. How important was this case to you? And how did it become a bipartisan issue? SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): You know, I think the
passage that you read in the beginning, that Andrew describes what it felt like to be locked
in that cell, is an experience that no American citizen should ever have to deal with in a
foreign country, especially someone who’s trying to do good, who’s lived there, whose
family has lived there, who then is taken into custody for no reason. I mean, those were totally trumped-up charges. There was no — there was no spying. No, it clearly was not due process. PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: The charges against
me were just ridiculous and had no base. I knew that there would — I could be released
through the judicial process, but this was not being driven by the courts. NICK SCHIFRIN: Meaning it was being driven
by the top? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: Sure. And I knew that there was one person in the
end who would make the decision to release me or not. NICK SCHIFRIN: The president of Turkey. PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: Yes. NICK SCHIFRIN: During the trial, when you
had to defend yourself, you described how you found your voice. Can you describe that and what that trial
was like? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: I chose to forgive
people, which I have to forgive them anyway, because that’s what I’m required to do as
a Christian. Actually, Jesus said that we’re supposed to
rejoice when we’re persecuted for his sake. So, I said, I’m blessed to actually be suffering
for his sake. And that’s when I felt — I felt almost a
holy defiance, I would say. We didn’t know, when we went to the final
court session, it ended up being the final court session. I didn’t know that I would be released. I packed two bags, one to go to come to the
States and the other to return to prison. So, in the court session, they declared me
guilty of terrorism. But then they said, we’re suspending this
for time served and while you appeal it, and your travel ban is lifted. And that basically means, please leave as
soon as you can. So it was such a roller coaster to go from
being convicted of terror, thinking I’m going back to prison, and then we’re rushing to
the airport to get on an Air Force plane and leave Turkish airspace as soon as possible,
in case they change their mind. So, within 24 hours, I go from being convicted
of terror to visiting the White House. Overwhelming feeling of gratefulness to all
the people who were involved in both Congress and the administration, and how wonderful
to be back with my children and with my wife. NICK SCHIFRIN: Do you also give President
Trump some credit? SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: I do. Listen, this is the way government is supposed
to work. People are supposed to work together, both
houses of Congress, with the administration, to accomplish whatever the goal is in the
interests of the American people. We should be able to weigh in for every American
who is falsely imprisoned around the world to try and make sure we can get them released. NICK SCHIFRIN: And was the president’s personal
involvement important? Was the White House’s involvement important? SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: So, I think so. Clearly, he has a relationship with President
Erdogan. And I think the more pressure we could put
on Turkey, the better. NICK SCHIFRIN: After everything you have been
through, how do you feel about Turkey today? PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: We still love the Turks. I don’t really like the Turkish government. But I feel like they stole two years for me,
but it’s — God has redeemed it. And I believe that what I went through, what
I suffered is actually going to bring blessing to Turkey. So we have no regrets. My faith has deepened as I went through this. It’s been — I would say it was severely tested. And because it was tested, and I came out
of it, it’s proven now. So, it’s tested and proven. NICK SCHIFRIN: Senator Shaheen, Andrew Brunson,
thank you very much to you both. PASTOR ANDREW BRUNSON: Thank you. SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: Thank you.

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