Before recounting her experience in Turkey where she and her husband, pastor Andrew Brunson, were imprisoned, Norine Brunson expressed gratitude.
Photo by Kathleen Murray
“First of all, I just really need to thank you,” she told the SBC Women’s Session on June 10 preceding the SBC’s annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
“You need to hear it from my mouth. We’d love to thank the thousands, I don’t know how many, tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand people, who prayed for us” when her husband was arrested after 25 years of ministry in Turkey, imprisoned for over two years and finally released last fall.
She also spent 13 days in a Turkish detention center.
In an interview with Donna Gaines during the SBC Women’s Session at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, Brunson recounted how she met her husband Andrew at Wheaton College, married and later joined him as missionaries to Turkey with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a move she admits she resisted.
“I got on the plane and I cried. My life was done,” she remembered thinking, though knowing that God wanted her to go “joyfully and expectantly.”
But within four years, Brunson realized the Lord had worked in her heart.
“This was a huge grace, because He tied my heart there,” she said. “So, when there were hard things that came, we knew we were supposed to be there.”
And there were joyful moments as well, she said.
“The joy of being the first one to share the gospel with somebody, to pray with them – they’ve never prayed with a Christian, they’ve never heard how we just talk to God,” she said. “These kind of things, you can’t beat them.”
Expressing gratitude to see God’s miraculous work among the Muslims in Turkey, she said, “This is the time for the Muslim world,” when many Muslims are “having dreams” and “supernatural encounters out of the grace of God.”
But with the miracles came major challenges.
The Syrian war caused a flood of refugees into Turkey, including the Kurds, whom even the Turkish believers disdained and did not want to reach with the gospel.
Albeit a sensitive issue, the Brunsons’ Turkish church ministered to the refugees, which likely led to complaints and the subsequent attention of Turkish authorities. The Brunsons ministered in a police state, so it was normal to have secret police frequent their church.
“It’s just the way it is. It’s part of life. You don’t know exactly who is who,” with the risk for deportation always prevalent, she said.
One day, the Brunsons received phone calls indicating they needed to go to the police station. Initially thinking they were to receive their long-term residence permits, they “happily went.”
But upon arrival, “we were told that, no, we were not getting a visa; we were not getting a residence permit. In fact, we were being deported. In fact, we were being arrested,” she recounted. Normally, she said, expatriates are given 15 days to pack up their things, put their affairs in order and leave the country.
“It was a real shock to go from expecting to stay to all of a sudden we’re leaving,” Brunson continued.
“And it was clear that there was a situation that was developing even that day.”
Upon arriving at the police station, both Brunsons were arrested and placed in “not a nice” detention center, where ISIS fighters and others were detained.
“Praise God, they put the two of us together in one room, so we were apart from the others. That was good,” she said.
But with no access to a lawyer, they were forced to sign papers saying they were “a threat to national security.”
Moreover, after receiving a phone call, an official “circled the terrorism box” on the form.
“I felt there that something is really not right. This is not a normal ‘OK, we’re going to deport these people and get rid of them,’” Brunson said. “I think that it started with them being unhappy with the refugee ministry, wanting to get rid of us, and then someone higher up said, ‘Wait a minute, don’t deport them. We can use this somehow.’”
She added, “We had no contact. We couldn’t see a lawyer. We saw the U.S. consulates approaching; they were turned back. We couldn’t be in touch with our kids. So, it was difficult.”
Brunson was suddenly released 13 days later, without explanation. She remembered wondering if God was preparing a spiritual harvest in Turkey, especially in light of the tens of thousands of people who were arrested during a coup attempt in 2016.
“I thought, ‘Wow, these people’s lives are being turned upside down, and maybe God wants us among them in prison to share the gospel, and maybe the harvest is going to start in prison.’”
Her husband, however, was imprisoned for two years.
“So how can you be prepared for something like that? … It wasn’t one of the costs that we had counted. We counted up, ‘OK, deportation,’ but not imprisonment. And it was difficult,” she said.
Brunson said she had to cast herself on God and spend long periods of time with Him.
“And when you’ve prayed everything you know how to pray, you just sit in His presence and just say, ‘Lord, strengthen me.’ I would not get out of bed in morning without literally taking His hand and saying, ‘Lord, You take me through this day.’”
Her husband was finally sentenced to time served and released in October 2018, which Brunson credited, on the human level, to “unprecedented engagement by President Trump” but, even more on the spiritual level, to the “unprecedented supernatural prayer movement” from the prayers of God’s people all over the world.
Upon her husband’s release, the family immediately was forced to leave the country.
“We never wanted to leave Turkey. Our books are there, my grandmother’s china. This is where we were living 25 years, so we had no plans to leave Turkey whatsoever. So there’s loss of all that, of our church. We’re watching what they’re going through now as Turkey goes into really dark times.
“But I will say, it was such a relief to leave Turkish airspace and to feel like “we’re out of this now, we’re really out of it.”
Her daughter and sons also were impacted.
“You don’t go through this without feeling some of it,” she said, noting God had prepared her daughter before this happened to be the “face of the family” who did media interviews and testified before Congress and the United Nations.
Both of her sons were admittedly angry. Trying to give them the right perspective, she remembered urging them, “We have to move towards forgiveness. It’s a process sometimes, but we don’t have an option.”
She has prayed for God to reward her kids for all they have endured.
After the ordeal, the Brunsons were invited to the White House, “which was just amazing” and have shared their story to multiple outlets.
A book about the ordeal, God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance, will be released this October.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is the director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.)