JERUSALEM, Israel – After two years of prison and detention, Pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after one final hearing in a Turkish court. He left the city of Izmir in a US military plane bound for Germany, his lawyer said.
President Donald Trump said Brunson would probably visit the White House on Saturday after landing in the US.
Shockingly, the court upheld its bogus terrorism conviction of the Christian pastor but is still allowing him to leave Turkey anyway. But Brunson maintained his innocence, telling the court, "I love Jesus. I love Turkey."
My thoughts and prayers are with Pastor Brunson, and we hope to have him safely back home soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2018
"We are grateful for the President's commitment and efforts in securing my release," said Pastor Brunson, as he prepares to leave Turkey en route to the US. "My entire family thanks the President, the administration, and Congress for their unwavering support. This is the day our family has been praying for – I am delighted to be on my way home to the United States."
Brunson was seen boarding a plane to leave Turkey hours after his hearing.
— David Brody (@TheBrodyFile) October 12, 2018
Pastor Andrew Brunson is coming home! Thanks to the strong leadership of @POTUS Trump and the steadfast prayers of millions of Americans, this innocent man of faith will soon be home!
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 12, 2018
"I thank God for Pastor Brunson's release and look forward to his return to the United States," said Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters. "I am also grateful that President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador Brownback, Senator Tillis, and other US officials refused to take 'no' for an answer for this man's release. This administration stayed true to its citizen."
Turkish flag, Photo, AP
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, "I am overjoyed that Pastor Andrew Brunson is finally free from his cruel and unjust imprisonment and house arrest, and is coming home safely to the US. For almost two years he was the victim of efforts by President Erdogan and the Turkish state to crack down on religious freedom as he languished in prison—and was then transferred to house arrest in July—on absurd charges of espionage and supporting a terrorist group, while his family suffered enormously.
The American pastor's arrest brought two NATO allies face to face in a major geopolitical confrontation over the fate and future of this evangelical minister.
Pastor Brunson's ordeal mobilized Christians around the world.
"It's been an extremely difficult time for our family and we want to express our appreciation to the millions of people around the world who have faithfully prayed for this day," Brunson said. "I am thankful for the representation of the American Center for Law & Justice – especially ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow and ACLJ Senior Counsel CeCe Heil – as well as the many others who worked so hard to obtain my freedom. I look forward to returning home and being reunited with my family."
Pray for Pastor Andrew Brunson as he is in court for yet another hearing here in Turkey. I delivered a note of encouragement from Pres. Trump and VP Pence yesterday in advance of today’s hearing. pic.twitter.com/1uuA0ew6Bi
— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) October 12, 2018
"Hundreds of thousands of people have been praying for Pastor Brunson, not just in the United States but around the world," said evangelical Pastor William Devlin from New York City.
Pastor William Devlin, Photo, AP
Before the court hearing, US Vice President Mike Pence said the release of Pastor Brunson has been a priority for the Trump administration.
"Our administration has made very clear that we will continue to stand strong until Pastor Andrew Brunson is free and back home in the United States with his family and with his church," Pence said.
Vice President Mike Pence, Photo, AP
Middle East analyst Mike Kerem said "This is historic in that how many times they have brought this up in high-level communications with the Turkish administration."
Turkey accused Brunson of participating in a 2016 coup to overthrow the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pastor Brunson was facing up to 35 years in prison if convicted if convicted of espionage, but those charges were dropped Friday.
Middle East Analyst Mike Kerem, Photo, CBN News, Jonathan Goff
Kerem said Pastor Brunson stood for more than his own freedom.
"I believe this is really a call to prayer, not only for Andrew, but for the Turkish and Kurdish and Arab and Syrian and Iraqi and Iranian people all living very close because it's clear that Andrew Brunson is in prison or under arrest for one reason and that's his hope and faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not only of the West, but of the entire world," he said right before Brunson's release.