As part of the Great Commission in the Bible, Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
These powerful verses remind me of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native who was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned in Turkey. Pastor Brunson was living in Turkey with his family for more than two decades and led a small congregation with his wife, Norine. They made it their mission to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately in 2016, Pastor Brunson was falsely accused of terror-related crimes and arrested, where he faced up to 35 years in prison. After two years of imprisonment and a stressful trial, Pastor Brunson was convicted and sentenced to time served. The world watched as Pastor Brunson languished in a Turkish prison for two years.
As I prayed for the safety and release of Pastor Brunson, time and again I came back to the verse, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Pastor Brunson said he was always sure God had a plan to end his suffering, and his recent release was truly an answer to so many prayers. It was also the result of a lot of people, including myself and Senator Thom Tillis, other North Carolina members of Congress, and President Donald Trump, who were working hard to get his release.
As your Congressman and someone who always tries to stand up for religious liberty, I made sure I did everything in my power to ensure Pastor Brunson’s safe release back to the United States. In July at an international summit of leaders from 57 nations, I represented the United States and put forward a human rights resolution urging the release of Pastor Brunson. I was proud to see my amendment adopted and to send a strong message to Turkey: the world will not tolerate these human rights violations – especially by a NATO ally and partner – and Pastor Brunson must be set free.
This was significant progress, but I know Pastor Brunson would not have been released without the hard work of President Trump. He went above and beyond to put economic and political pressure on Turkey in an effort to secure Pastor Brunson’s release.
With that said, I still have concerns about the troubling pattern of human rights abuses and ongoing religious persecution by Turkish authorities. The current regime led by President Erdoğan is continuing to consolidate power at the cost of human rights. While President Trump has done an outstanding job projecting American leadership on the world stage, we must continue to demand better from our NATO partners.
One of the most inspiring moments of this ordeal was seeing Pastor Brunson kneel in prayer with President Trump in the Oval Office. There you had a humble preacher from North Carolina praying with the leader of the free world – it was a remarkable moment and one I will never forget.