JERUSALEM, Israel – The country of Turkey has now kept an American pastor behind bars for more than 500 days. Now a government indictment could keep Andrew Brunson in jail for the rest of his life.
The 62-page indictment charges Andrew Brunson with military espionage, claiming he is a member of an armed terrorist group. Prosecutors want a 35-year prison sentence for the 50-year-old pastor.
"You can sum it up in that Turkey has literally taken the position that Christianization is terrorism," Cece Heil with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) told CBN News. "So they have no specific evidence that Pastor Brunson committed any crime. The fact specifically that he's a Christian and a Christian Pastor is what they are equating as terrorism and the crimes that he has committed."
The American Center for Law and Justice represents Brunson, who has pastored and served in Turkey without incident for 23 years.
"They used terms like he acted as an agent of unconventional warfare while under the mask of being an evangelical church pastor," she said.
"After a failed coup in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purged thousands of political opponents.
"Pastor Brunson was one of the Christians that was snatched up in this purge. Most of the Christian pastors had been deported and Pastor Brunson was not," Heil said.
Last year, Erdogan offered to trade Brunson for exiled Turkish leader Fetullah Gulen, who's accused of being the mastermind behind the coup.
Many see Brunson as a pawn in a high political faceoff between the US and Turkey. Last year, the White House announced that President Trump and Vice President Pence brought up Pastor Brunson's plight three times in their meetings with the Turkish president.
"It's really kind of unprecedented in these types of cases that we have the president of the United States bringing this situation every time he speaks to the president of Turkey," Heil added.
In the meantime, Brunson suffers in a Turkish cell, missing major events like graduations and his daughter's wedding last year. In a recent letter to his wife, Norine, he poured out his heart.
"I am very discouraged. Please have prayer for me. I love you – can't handle the thought of growing old in this place, without you," he wrote.
A Christian worker, whose identity we've hidden for his own protection, told CBN News he's heard Pastor Brunson is sharing his faith in prison.
"I think more than anything they need to be praying that even in the ebb and flow, the roller coaster of this experience that he will remain strong, that he will just remain committed in his faith and more than anything, that he would have the Lord's peace day in and day out," he said.
"I got a chance to talk to someone, one of a member of our church that knew a friend that was in the same jail with him and was talking about this American guy who was in there constantly talking about his faith and wouldn't shut up," he said.
On the political front, close to a half million people have signed a petition to release Pastor Brunson.
"That's very helpful for us and our advocacy to show the Turkish administration that really the world's eyes are upon this case and demanding the release of Pastor Brunson," Heil said.
While it's a geopolitical standoff, this worker feels Brunson's case transcends politics, just like when the Apostle Paul was in prison.
"Of course, this is not just about him. It's really about the Lord's work in Turkey, what's been happening in the Middle East. It's not him who's on the stand, it's really Christianity. In a similar way Paul was put on the stand for Christianity. He was symbolic of the movement of Jesus at that time and he stood tall and I don't expect Andrew to do anything less," he said.