Today, after years of prayer and petition before the Lord, Andrew Brunson has been set free from imprisonment in Turkey. Praise be to God.
Many of us have been following the news throughout the duration of Brunson’s unlawful detainment. We watched in confusion as authorities arrested him in October of 2016, sending him to a detention facility.
I’m very thankful for the work of President Trump and his adminstration in working for Pastor Brunson’s release, and particularly for his vocal advocacy.
Persecution is Real
We were horrified to hear the accusations made by Turkish authorities implying his “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” We waited impatiently as Congressional figures, President Trump, Vice President Pence, and so many others eagerly advocated for his release.
If anything, this long period of waiting opened the eyes of churchgoers in the West to an important reality: Persecution is real. It’s not just something that happened back in the second and third centuries during the days of the early church.
Still to this day, it happens all over the world to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The right to independently exercise one’s religions beliefs—to worship God without fear of repercussion or government intervention—is not afforded to all people everywhere. Consider this reality as you go to church this Sunday, recognizing the blessing that it is to come before God so freely; we mustn’t so easily take these liberties for granted.
Even in the 21st century, we understand that religious freedom is still a cause worth championing. Just because we don’t see persecution or discrimination of this magnitude happening in our own backyard doesn’t deny its prevalence on a global scale.
In broader terms, hopefully many of us have learned a bit more about what God’s faithfulness really looks like. We see that even when things seem hopeless—when we feel that our prayers are unanswered and our cries unheard—God is still on the move.
God’s supposed ‘silence’ is never a sign of his inaction. He is always working, many times behind the scenes of the world’s stage. That’s why prayer matters.
When difficult times like this come again—and come they will—there are several things we must remember:
Prayer is potent
Pastor Brunson himself knows this to be true. Upon his release, he told reporters: “This is the day our family has been praying for, I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States.” It was a long time coming, but for many Christians still undergoing persecution, the horror continues.
Many of us, if we are honest, wondered in our hearts if Brunson would ever be free, even as we asked God to do the miraculous. And now the day has come.
I am reminded that so often we doubt as we pray. God tarries and we wonder if he hears, if he cares. James 5:16 reminds us, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
Lesson for us: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
The Body of Christ is powerful
Here at Wheaton College where I work, we have been reminded nearly every week of Pastor Brunson’s situation. The internal prayer email which goes out has been calling us to intercession since the time he was imprisoned. Two nights ago, many on campus took part in a prayer vigil for Brunson.
This is the beauty of community. We are never alone. We stand together.
Our spiritual bonds connect us even when time and space prohibit our physical gathering. When difficult times come, we can find reassurance that we are not alone. We all go through hard times, and we are to lean on each other as we seek the Lord together in these times.
Lesson for us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:14).
God’s glory is paramount
Scripture promises us that God works all things for the good. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” War, peace, mourning, weeping, tearing down, building up, keeping, and throwing away. Good and bad.
How many of us can look back on the difficult parts of our lives and see that those times were critical for our growth, or the growth of others?
How many of us, for example, have interceded to God in prayer for Brunson and have found our own spiritual lives renewed? God’s glory cannot be compartmentalized into good moments. It is so vast and wide that it transcends all seasons of life. His glory is what we seek even in the difficult seasons of life.
Lesson for us: “Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1).
Today is a day when I want to set aside my worries and thank God for his Brunson’s release. It is a reminder to me, and I think to all of us, that our prayers matter, his church matters, and he desires to use all seasons of life for the good of us, and for the sake of his fame.
May it be so.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.
Laurie Nichols and Gabriella Siefert contributed to this article.