Pastor Andrew Brunson was celebrated at some big events in Washington this week after being freed from two years of captivity in Turkey.
Pastor Brunson made headlines in October 2016, when he was unjustly accused of terrorist-related charges by the Turkish government. Turkey claimed he was a spy, but US officials criticized the government for creating false charges to use him as a bargain for negotiations, and for persecuting him for his Christian faith.
The first event for Brunson this week was the State of the Union on Tuesday night on Capitol Hill. Brunson and his wife, Norine, were guests of US Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). Tillis, a representative of Brunson's home state, helped to fight for his freedom.
The following day, Pastor Brunson attended a celebratory event for his release at Capitol Hill. In his speech reported in Politico and the Christian Post, he thanked evangelical leaders, organizations, and US officials who fought for his freedom.
"There's still a number of American citizens who are held in Turkey, and I hope that there will be continued interest in getting them released," said Brunson. "I was the only one who was not a dual citizen. …I don't think any of them are guilty either, but they're being held as leverage. So may they not be forgotten."
"I don't know how many countries have this kind of emphasis on religious freedom, not just in their own country but trying to advocate for it around the world. I think this is something very unusual, very admirable," about the United States, Brunson added.
Norine Brunson gave honor to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom for their efforts. The bipartisan commission was instrumental in Brunson's release from Turkish imprisonment.
"We're aware that not all stories end the way ours did, so just keep up your work," she said. "And we have to give glory to God."
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), husband of one of the commissioners, was moved by Brunson's speech. He went on to state how he believed his colleagues should become more aware of the commission's efforts.
Though it was a time of celebration, Pastor Brunson encouraged the officials that Christian persecution in Turkey is growing.
"There are more restrictions coming right now. There have been a number of missionaries who have been deported from the country. There has been a real dampening effect on the Church; in some ways because a lot of what the media put out about me, which was government supported or initiated, which was painting a very negative picture of Christians, through me, saying, for example, that I'm a terrorist or that Christians support terrorist groups and we want to divide the country," Brunson said.
Brunson believes the persecution is not solely on belief, but fear of the Fethullah Gülen movement, an Islamic movement created from teachings of a Turkish imam living in the US.
"There's a lot of bad stuff happening in Turkey right now, most of it not toward Christians but toward people who are accused of supporting Fethullah Gülen," Brunson said. "I have many friends in prison in Turkey now who should not be in prison. Many families have been destroyed."
In the midst of intense persecution, the Brunsons shared they would go back if they were able to.
"If we could we would go back, but USCIRF probably doesn't want us to go back," said Brunson. "We would love to go back, we love the people, because we believe God loves the people there. And we want to show God's love to them. ...Some day we hope the conditions will be right for us to go back."
Brunson and his wife also attended the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
President Trump, who had been sworn into office three months into Brunson's detainment, acknowledged Brunson this week.
"He was in there for a long time before I got there, and I said, 'You got to let him out. You better let him out.' And they let you out," said Trump. "It was a miracle."
President Trump went on to highlight a very happy moment taking place for the Brunson family this weekend that wouldn't have been possible if Pastor Brunson was still in prison.
"This Saturday, Pastor Brunson will walk his daughter down the aisle," Trump said during his National Prayer Breakfast address. "Well, that's great...Was I invited?"
Pastor Brunson said "yes" before President Trump continued his speech.
Brunson is slated to release a book this fall.