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Listening In: Andrew and Norine Brunson

WORLD Radio - Listening In: Andrew and Norine Brunson

WARREN SMITH, HOST: Andrew Brunson and your wife, Mrs. Brunson, welcome to the program.

It’s great to be with both of you guys today. And I want to start off not with what happened in Turkey, but how y’all met and what made you decide that you wanted to go to Turkey in the first place? My understanding is that you met at Wheaton, is that correct?

ANDREW BRUNSON, GUEST: Yes. We were both students at Wheaton and Norine was in the library studying and I went to the library. I really went to the library looking for girls who were studying. I went to the library, at one table there was a bookbag and different books and I thought, Oh, those look like they belong to a girl. I’ll sit down and who comes back. And Norine came back and that was the beginning of a wonderful romance.

SMITH: So is that how you remember it, Norine, as well? 

NORINE BRUNSON, GUEST: Yes. I came back from dinner and he was there with his friend and very outgoing and friendly and started to talk and he was an MK. So immediately, although we had grown up in different countries at different experiences, there was that common background. 

SMITH: Well you say MK—missionary kid. Yeah, that’s evangelicalese for missionary kid, yeah. And so where were you guys? What country did you grew up in? And what country Andrew did you grow up in? 

NORINE: Yeah, so I grew up in Southern France. In Monaco, actually, to be honest. Yeah. 

SMITH: That’s not exactly suffering for Jesus down in Monaco is it? 

ANDREW: Well, you know, I’ve said somebody has to reach the gamblers and the Ferrari drivers. But, no, actually, her father is Hungarian—had escaped from Hungary in 1956 when the Soviets came in and put down an uprising. And then he became a believer, actually, at a Billy Graham crusade. And then he decided he wanted to reach his own people. So he worked with Trans World Radio sending programs back into Hungary through radio, throughout the iron curtain years. So it was based in Southern France. But his ministry was to Hungary. And I grew up in Mexico. My parents were missionaries there.

SMITH: So both of you kind of have a missions in your blood, so to speak, and you go to Wheaton and you meet, and you know pretty early in your relationship that y’all are gonna go back to the mission field? 

NORINE: Andrew knew that he was going back to the mission field. He had a calling that went way back to his childhood and that became very evident quickly. So I realized—and we were off and on—but I realized that if I marry this man, I am going to the mission field, too. And so that was something for me to evaluate. Am I willing for that or not? At that time he was talking about Mexico. The Lord changed our direction to the Muslim world, but clearly he had a missionary calling that was very strong.

SMITH: So I want you to talk a little—so you know France, Hungary, Mexico, and then you end up in Turkey of all places. Turkey, as I think some of our listeners may know because I mean our—most of the audience is mostly a Christian audience, an informed Christian audience. They would know that Turkey has a rich Christian tradition. Many of the historical sites that we read about in the Bible are actually in modern day Turkey. And yet today not so much. Did all of that or any of that play a role in you deciding that you wanted to go to Turkey?

ANDREW: So where the church was so strong in the first century especially, Turkey is now a Muslim country. And, in fact, it is the largest unevangelized country in the world according to Operation World. So most cities in Turkey do not have a church. Most do not have a missionary or even public believers. And most Turks have never met a Christian. So that’s not the reason we decided to go there. But it’s a very good reason for us to be there.

SMITH: Well, I want to pause there if I could, Andrew, just for a moment, because that’s really a remarkable, tragic fact. I mean, this is—Turkey in many ways, is, you know, you could argue that that Israel and Jerusalem was the birthplace of the Christian church, but Turkey is kind of right next door and this rich Christian tradition and virtually unevangelized today. I mean, that’s a hard fact that I think as Christians we have to face, that if—who was it that said that you know, every generation has only one generation away from apostasy or paganism or being a post-Christian nation.

ANDREW: Yeah. You know, people often say the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. And that is true, but it’s not in the Bible. It’s not a Bible verse. It is true that often the persecution that comes against the church purifies the church. And you often see the church grow stronger through it, but it isn’t always the case. And sometimes we could say persecution strengthens a church, except when it doesn’t. And sometimes it’s so overwhelming that it suffocates the church. And this is what we see in Turkey and much of the Middle East. There used to be very large Christian communities stretching into central Asia all the way to China. And so it’s just a reality that sometimes there’s such an overwhelming force that the church can suffocate. And if they don’t maintain their witness and endure, then yes, you can end up in situations like we have in Turkey now.

SMITH: So I’m going to do a little simple math here. You’ve been back in the United States for a year-ish. More? 

ANDREW: Almost a year. 

SMITH: Yeah. And then you were imprisoned for two years—more or less. And the two of you ministered in Turkey for nearly what? About 25 years, is that correct?

ANDREW: So we were there 23 years by choice and then two years. 

SMITH: Yeah, two years. 

ANDREW: Two years by force. 

SMITH: So take me back to the very beginning. So you graduated from Wheaton. At some point you get married and tell me about those early days. Did you go there to plant churches? Did you go there to proclaim the gospel, like Billy Graham in stadium events? I’m joking because I know that that doesn’t happen there. So what was the vision? What was the plan? What was the goal? 

ANDREW: So we didn’t really have much of a vision for Turkey. We were asked by our denomination at that time to go there because they had a team going. We wanted to go to the Arab world. And switching to Turkey was not something that we wanted. So, I remember when we got on the plane to go to Turkey, Norine was crying and it’s like, Oh my life is over. But after we got there, over the next few years, God really knit our hearts to the place. And we say that he gave us some of the love that he has for Turkey. He placed that love in our hearts to some degree. And so when we went there, I had thought that I wanted to be a seminary professor and there isn’t much need for that in Turkey because the church is so small. And so really it’s about evangelism. And over the first few years there, we went to Turkish university. We studied the language. And just got to see what God was doing in the country. Then we went into a church plant. We didn’t want to be in a church plant. We were just kind of there supporting some other people. And after the first year we had to take over the leadership of a Turkish church. And then we discovered that this is really what God has for us. And even though we’re both introverts, which isn’t the most natural thing for a church planter, especially in the Middle Eastern culture, which is highly social, I just saw this is what God has for me. And we were involved in several church plants over the years in Turkey.

SMITH: So what does a church plant look like in Turkey? I mean, is it an underground church? Is it above ground? I mean, can you worship publicly or at least 25 years ago whenever you started? Or did it change over the years?

NORINE: You can. And we had started out in Turkey not knowing exactly how open we could be and that felt a little bit uncomfortable for us. And when we—the first move we made to another city, we said we’re going to be much more open about who we are. And by the time we started a church plant, how does it look like? Well everybody has to be one to Christ. It’s not like you’re gathering people from other churches or something like that. You’re really starting with people coming to Christ. 

SMITH: So there aren’t Christians from other countries that live there, just kind of waiting for you guys to show up and plant a church or—?

NORINE: Turkey is 99% Muslim. 99-point-something percent Muslim. 

SMITH: So how many Christians are in Turkey? I mean, just to get a sense of scale. 

NORINE: From a Muslim background, the numbers we’ve heard about 6,000 in a country of now 82 million or so. So it’s a tiny, tiny church. But we found that we were most comfortable being very open and we had that freedom in Turkey. And so we rented a place, put a sign up, put a cross up, and people came.

ANDREW: So really our strategy was to be visible because most Turks have never met a Christian. If they want to meet a Christian, they wouldn’t know who to go to because everyone around them is Muslim. And so our approach was to say, here we are. We’re the Christians. And try to have some visibility so that those who are seeking can find us. Only about one out of 16,000 Turks has come to Jesus. And so we thought if we just do friendship evangelism, you know, it would take a long time to find that one out of 16,000. But if we just stand clearly as Christians, we would try to rent a place, put a church on the front, you know, the church name, put a cross up and then those who are interested would find us and come in and we would share the gospel with them. The interesting thing is that many of them have been prepared ahead of time by dreams. And so God is already reaching out to the Turks, preparing some of them, many of them—every Turkish believer from a Muslim background that I know had a dream at some point of Jesus or an angel who came in and started them in the process or once they were already seeking confirmed that they were on the right road.

SMITH: Well, I interviewed a couple of years ago for this podcast, David Garrison who wrote a book called A Wind In the House of Islam. And that’s one of the things that he mentioned in his book was that a great deal of evangelism in the Muslim world is taking place in part because people are having these dreams and then they seek out what those dreams mean and they will encounter Christians maybe like you guys and they could explain to them. It kind of reminds me in some ways of Paul in Acts chapter 17, you know, where,, you know, this God that you don’t know who he is, let me tell you who he is. Is is that in any way analogous to the situation that you guys found yourself in?

ANDREW: Well, most Muslims, well, they’ve never met a Christian and they come from centuries of Islam. All of their grandparents, great grandparents going back for hundreds and hundreds of years have all been Muslim. And so for them to even begin to think about Christianity, they’ve always been told, well, Christianity—Islam tears the guts out of Christianity because it says that Jesus is not the son of God, that he didn’t die on the cross, that he’s not the savior and that the Bible has been changed. So, once you take those things away, what’s left of Christianity? And so they’ve been raised up in this kind of environment with centuries of this legacy. So for them to begin to think differently and to even begin to seek after Jesus requires sometimes that kind of dramatic intervention from God.

NORINE: Basically it’s just this incredible grace of God that’s being poured out where he is there. He’s never left. You know, and it talks about in Revelation, the book of Revelation, how Jesus is walking among the lampstands. He is there and he is absolutely working. Not only would we rent a place, but in our daily life as I was meeting with neighbors, dealing with the kids school, teachers, whatever, I would say, this is who we are. We’re Christians. My husband works in a church. Immediately, they know who we are. It immediately opens up conversations. Another thing that we often did is offered to pray for people. Muslims are very open to this. We pray in the name of Jesus and God is very gracious to respond and heal and touch and do so much.

SMITH: I want to pivot in our conversation just a little bit. You’re there. You’re starting to plant churches. I’m assuming that you’re seeing some fruit of those ministries or you would have done something else or come home at some point along the way. At what point, though, did you begin to realize that you might be in trouble or that the country was changing or that you needed to be concerned about imprisonment or other kinds of persecution?

ANDREW: So we knew the country was changing for some time because we spent 25 years there and we could see it becoming more Islamist over the last years. So, it was a different environment that was becoming more tense, but we didn’t know that we were in trouble until the day that we went to the police station, because they’d called us in. And we thought we were going to go pick up our long-term visas and instead they say, we’re deporting you. So that was a real shock to us. We had no indication that we were going to be arrested.

NORINE: You mentioned us being there for some time and that we must have seen some fruit. We did see some, but to be honest, it’s up and down in Turkey. But we had such a strong sense of calling that we felt that, okay, there’s a setback, but we’re supposed to be here. This happened, but we’re supposed to be here. So when things were changing in Turkey, we were supposed to be there.

SMITH: So you get this knock at the door, you’re asked to report to the authorities, you’re expecting to get your visas renewed or a long-term visa and you end up being told that you’re going to be deported instead. Walk me through the process of how you go from there, from that moment to the point where you’re imprisoned and you’re out of the country.

ANDREW: So, normally if someone is going to be deported, an American for example, they would tell you you have 15 days to leave the country and you self-deport or else they might arrest you if they want to. And then within one or two days they would send you out of the country. So, that’s what they intended to do with us. But then somebody almost at the very beginning decided to keep us and they marked down as a reason for keeping us that we were part of a terror group. And so at that point—Norine especially—started to think, wow, there’s something really wrong and serious going on here. They did not deport us after one or two days, which would have been normal. Instead, it dragged on and we started to think something is different about this situation than anything that’s happened before to other missionaries.

SMITH: Well, I want to pause there because you said something is different, something is wrong. And a whole lot of rumors started growing up around you. I mean, you were the the CIA priest or something. There were rumors and that you had received special forces training, that on and on and on. Do you have any idea how those rumors started and why they were perpetuated? Was it a part of the, sort of the propaganda to keep you in prison?

ANDREW: So at the beginning, the government gave a number of reasons to the U.S. government for keeping us, but it wasn’t public and they changed. They made up all kinds of reasons and they would every two or three weeks they’d give a different reason. They were trying to find something that would stick. Once President Trump asked for me to be returned to the States when he had a summit with the Turkish president in May of 2017, then the Turkish response to that from the government they had a day when they weren’t sure what to do. And then the next day is like the mouth of hell opened. And all of these things started to come out in the newspapers and on the television, a lot of stories. And they came from the government. At least 90% of the Turkish media is related to the Turkish government at this point.

And so it was orchestrated and driven by the Turkish government. They said I was part of the PKK, which is a Kurdish terror movement. As you mentioned that I was a special forces officer, that I had many special forces officers under me. Our goal there was to dismember Turkey. They said I was ahead of the CIA in Turkey, then in the whole Middle East. And they said that if I had I was offered the directorship of the CIA if only I had been successful in the coup that took place in 2016. And then there were a lot of other inflammatory things about espionage and about my threatening to cut the heads of Turks off, and things that were very inflammatory. And the reason for doing this was to paint me in a bad light and to basically present Christians as being traitors, people who hate Turkey, and who are trying to hurt the country. And by doing it to me, they were also preparing the way to paint the whole church in this way.

SMITH: So at what point were you actually thrown in prison and you sent home?

ANDREW: So Norine was released after 13 days. We had been kept together. Then I was transferred.

SMITH: Let me pause you there. Forgive me, Andrew, for interrupting. But, so, you were kept together in a jail cell? In a house arrest? What was that like?

ANDREW: It was a deportation center. There are two deportation centers. We didn’t know that at the time, but there are two. And the one they took us to is where they tend to keep the more difficult prisoners, I think. And especially ISIS people. There were ISIS people in the cells next to us. So they kept us there. When she was released after 13 days, then I was transferred that same night in the middle of the night to another deportation center. And there I was put into isolation and they kept me isolated for about 50 days. And then after that, they arrested me officially on terror charges and put me into a high security prison.

SMITH: So after 13 days, Norine, you were released. What did you do? Where did you go? 

NORINE: I went home to my home in Izmir and started to get in touch with people and find out what’s going on. What does the U.S. know? What does the consulate know? Tried to start, get the prayer going, and just see what I could do. 

SMITH: And where were your kids at this point? 

NORINE: They were in the States. All three of them were in the States and I was glad that they were safe there. 

SMITH: Yeah, I bet. And so you start this process. Did you stay there? At some point—? 

NORINE: I did. I did. And I was kind of just staying there quietly. I was pursuing every diplomatic lead that I had, but I wasn’t doing anything publicly. I wasn’t doing interviews or things like that. 

SMITH: Were you able to communicate? Was the communication such that you could actually get word out that this was happening and—?

NORINE: Yes. And they were aware that this was happening. So there was already a large amount of interest, congressional interest, and the embassy was getting quite a bit of inquiries. Nobody knew what was going on though. There was a complete blackout of information from the Turkish side. 

SMITH: So you go to prison, you’re in the detention center for 50 days and then you were sent to a prison. Tell me about the conditions in that prison.

ANDREW: So in the detention center, I was in isolation, which was very difficult because isolation and sleep deprivation is usually what they do to break people and they isolated me and I deprived myself of sleep because I was so stressed and so much fear that the adrenaline in my body, I just wasn’t sleeping much. So that was a very difficult time in isolation. Then I moved from that to a high security prison where I was put into a cell with other Turks. And this was a cell built for eight people. It over time, it grew to be over 20. So it was very crowded conditions and very intense, especially because they were all very strong Muslims. All of the people I was in in prison with were accused of being part of the Fethullah Gulen movement, which the Turkish government blamed for being behind a coup attempt. But the thing that stands out about the Gulen movement is there an Islamist movement. And I would say an Islamist missionary movement trying to spread Islam around the world.

SMITH: So that had to, I mean, they were engaging in prayers every day and it was pretty—I’m assuming. Is that correct? And you were not participating.

ANDREW: So they were all very strong Muslims and because of their circumstances, they all want to get out of prison actually, obviously. And so they’re really pressing into their beliefs. And, you know, Muslims pray five times a day. So they were definitely doing that when the jail cell got overcrowded and we were kept 24/7 in the cell. So it’s not like there were public areas you could go out to. We were all in the same cell all the time. So when it got very crowded, then they would do the prayers in turns. So that extended the prayer time and then the rest of the time there would always be somebody chanting the Quran or repeating verses or prayers. Those who were fasting during the daytime would stay up during the night and do the Quran readings.

So it was really 24/7. It was like living in a mosque except that it had more activity than a mosque. So, for me, since I was the only Christian, the spiritual environment was very difficult for me and especially the isolation. How can I be isolated in a cell with over 20 people? Well, I was isolated by my culture and by my life experience. Turkish isn’t my heart language. They’re all Turkish speakers—all that can speak the language. But the real isolation was spiritual. Not having a brother with me that I could pray with, who could encourage me, or who could when I’m having wrong thoughts correct me, stop me. I felt so intensely lonely in that prison.

SMITH: And what was the situation like for you? Did you know that this was going on with him?

NORINE: When he was put into the high security prison, I tried to get to him immediately. It was a weekend. I couldn’t. Then I found out he is a foreigner accused of being of terrorism and therefore he has no visit rights. I found out that I need to apply to the capital city of Turkey to get special permission. So I did that. But the first time I didn’t see him for about three and a half weeks and that was a very difficult period for him. So I didn’t know what the conditions were very well.

SMITH: So Andrew, you’re there. I mean, we’re going to have to skip over—let’s just stipulate for the record, if you want to hear the whole story, read your book, which is really a remarkable book. Congratulations on the book, by the way. But I’m wanting to focus in on a couple of elements. You eventually were able to receive some visitors and guests. One of them was your mother. And I heard you speak offline and I want you to tell this story again, if you would. Your mother had a beautiful but tough word for you might be a way to say it. Would you tell that story?

ANDREW: Sure. And that happened at the detention center. Once I was put into the high security prison, I did not receive any visitors other than Norine once a week, eventually, for about 35 minutes through glass and on telephones. But my mother is unusual in her kingdom-mindedness. She’s very much focused on eternity and the kingdom of God. And when she visited me at the detention center, I was a really broken. I’d been in isolation. I was, you know, grieving, crying, afraid. And she said to me, Andrew, there are many people who have suffered for Jesus Christ and it’s a very long line that stretches all the way back 2,000 years. It’s now your turn to stand in that line. So, she was giving me the broader perspective of the continuity of suffering, you could say. Over the centuries, so many people have suffered for Jesus in difficult circumstances and had to face persecution saying, Andrew, it’s your turn. You need to stand. And so this was helpful to me. It was kind of a hard word, but it was a very true word. And was telling me basically get a hold of yourself and press on in this assignment that you have. It’s an assignment from God to stand for him now.

SMITH: Well, it was a hard word and it was a true word and you say it helped, which is good to know. But it didn’t completely help, right? I mean, there were times later where I think you say in your book that you didn’t seriously think about killing yourself, but you prayed that God would take you.

ANDREW: No, actually I was suicidal at times. And at one point I decided that I would really fight against suicide, but I wanted him to kill me. So, my perspective was I would much rather go to heaven than remain in a Turkish prison all my life in the isolation that I was in. It was so difficult for me. I was so broken. And I had questions and doubts. I didn’t have anyone to correct me and I didn’t know if I’d make it. And so I wanted to just go to be with the Lord and in a sense, be safe from falling.

SMITH: What got you through that? 

ANDREW: Norine’s ministry to me was very important because she kept challenging me in the short times that we had through that glass, trying to give me the right perspective and that would take me from one week to the next. I also,  throughout my imprisonment, I would be torn down. I’d break, and then I would eventually start crawling my way back to God. So, I was always moving toward him after I broke. And I’d start moving my way back and get to a point where I’m looking at him and trying to submit to him. And then something would come along and knock me down again and I’d go even further down, more broken. And then eventually, exhausted spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically start crawling my way back to him. So there was a cycle. And after about nine or 10 months of this, I really hit bottom in a very hard way. And then there was a shift where I thought about how many people go into a valley of testing and don’t make it out. And the valley of testing is full of skeletons and dry bones of believers who may be going to heaven but have lived a life with no fruit.

And this somehow started me thinking, pressing into saying, God, I don’t want to be one of those. Help me endure. Help me to make it through. And a turning point was when I was transferred to a maximum security prison. And early on there I started to, with this in mind, with this background, to say, God, I can’t fight very much for my freedom. We’ve been trying so hard. President Trump has asked for my release. Nothing has happened. I have to fight. I can’t fight for my freedom, but I can’t fight for my relationship with you because I was slipping and I just determined with my will. It was a decision I am going to run after you. Whatever you do or don’t do, whether you speak to me or not, whether you save me or not, whether you give me your presence or not, I am going to hold onto you. Whatever you do or don’t do, I am going to follow you. And it was almost a defiant thing that I’m hanging on. I’m hanging on. Now, I don’t have the strength to hang on. Even my attempts to hang on are very feeble, but I believe God honored that. He wanted me to take those steps. And that’s where I would say began a process of cooperating with grace—an unfelt grace but where God wanted me to take steps to pursue him and then he met me in that. And after that it was a series of steps like that of different things that I did—disciplines, not with my emotions, but with my will that cooperating with God ended up rebuilding me. 

SMITH: When you saw him in those worst moments, what’s going through your mind? What’s going through your heart?

NORINE: It was a real challenge. On one hand, we had words from God, things that God had said he wanted to do and those would have to be so it led me to believe he had a future after prison that God still had plans. But there were times when it got bad enough and I thought, Lord, I’m not sure he’s going to really make this through. And there were times when I had to say, promise me that I’m going to see you next week. Promise me that you won’t do anything this week.

SMITH: And those promises made a difference. 

ANDREW: Yeah. There were a few very low moments. Where were those made a difference, yes, to my going on. And, you know, Norine—there is nothing that makes me more angry than seeing someone hurt my wife and I expect the same as true for her. I mean, she saw how broken I was and that was very hard for her. She had to come into that prison. I’m very proud of her. She said she would come in and take the mindset of I’m a daughter of the King and going with her head held up high and see she’s coming in as a daughter of the King to meet with the son of the King. Otherwise, it’s very demeaning what she had to go through when coming to see me as an accused terrorist in prison. But to then leave me, to walk away from that prison, knowing how broken I was, that was really hard for her.

SMITH: One last kind of of questions if I could. You guys are both missionaries or missionary kids. You may have heard of a missionary from early in the 20th century, mid 20th century. Lesslie Newbigin. He went off to India from Britain, from Great Britain, was there for 25 or 30 years kind of the way you guys were in Turkey. And then he came back home to England and he realized that his home country, his sending country now needed evangelizing. That so much had happened while he was gone. I’m wondering if y’all would be willing to share your perspective on the United States during the quarter century that you’ve been gone. Does it seem different to you than when you left? 

ANDREW: I think it is different. I think of when I finished college, the level of hostility toward public expressions of Christianity and for standing for a Christian malaise. There always has been some hostility, but I think it’s significantly higher for this generation now than it was for mine. And for the first time in my life, I have a sense of urgency for my own country, especially for the next generation, to prepare to stand for Jesus in difficult circumstances. And I think it’s very quickly accelerating this hostility and I think it’s going to become much harder and I think the next generation isn’t prepared. So, it’s very much on my heart to speak to leaders and to the younger generation, the leaders who are going to prepare them to stand, say you need to be ready. You need to get ready because if you’re not, if you don’t expect persecution, then when it comes, it can knock you out. 

SMITH: You know, we started this conversation by talking about the rich Christian heritage of Turkey and where it’s happened. I mean it seems crazy to say this out loud, but if we don’t follow the advice that you just gave us, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that what happened to Turkey could happen to the United States in future generations. Would you agree or disagree with that? 

ANDREW: I agree. And I think that this next generation has tremendous challenges. I also believe that in the midst of difficulty, God will move a great power. And this is a time for people to prepare, to stand for, to be light in the darkness. So if we don’t, we’re in big trouble. If we do prepare and focus our hearts in on running after God’s presence, loving him, what I say is the best way to prepare for difficulty, for standing in difficulty first is to be aware that it can come so we have the right mentality. But then to cultivate a fear of God and to especially cultivate intimacy with him. Because a lover is willing to go through hardship for the one he loves. And it is this love for God, the love for Jesus, that will help us to endure and to press through difficulties. So, our focus is on the first, you know, the main commandment, Jesus said was the most important thing to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And this is what we’re pressing into and what this next generation needs to press into to stand.

SMITH: Andrew, I’d like to pivot in our conversation and kind of, you know, bring you home and what you’ve done since then. But so, Norine, you were going to the prison and you were showing, you were kind of giving him some information about what was going on. Andrew, you were, so you knew that there were efforts being made on your behalf by people like President Trump, Vice President Pence, U.S. Senator James Lankford. There were—Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council who is now on the International Religious Liberty Commission. So, were you aware of all of these activities? Were they encouraging to you if you did know them?

ANDREW: Yes. I was aware. I would become aware sometimes not right away, but Norine would bring me that information and it was very encouraging. At the same time, it was a very frightening to see, for example, President Trump brought me up three times, asked for my return three times from President Erdogan at the summit they had in May 2017 and after that it just got worse. And I thought, okay, it’s already gone as high as it can. It can’t go any higher than this.

SMITH: Yeah. If the president can do it, what’s next, right?

ANDREW: Yeah. So, if they’re doubling down and now they’re increasing the charges against me so that it’s three life sentences in solitary confinement with no parole, well, you know, it’s already gone to the top. Where else can we go?

SMITH: Well, I guess there is a higher authority, right, than even the president. I mean, were you thinking that. It’s easy for me to say that. It’s a little glib today, but did that occur to you? Were you taking any hope or comfort in that?

ANDREW: I didn’t have much hope. It’s in looking back after everything is done that I see much more what God was doing. And he was—I see it as a Pharaoh situation where Pharaoh hardened his own heart and sometimes God hardened his heart. And I think with Erdogan, he clearly hardened his heart a number of times. But there were other times when I think—there were times when we were very close to release and then things fell apart and the Turks would pull out of the agreements. And we came to see after I got out and we go back and look at these things with hindsight and also with more information, I think the Lord kept me in during some of those times when I could have been released and what he was saying is, I am able to release you now, but if you’re willing to remain, then I will accomplish something much greater. So, if I had come out in May of 2017 it would’ve been great. But staying another 17 months after that, God raised up a prayer movement, an unprecedented prayer moment, that went around the world. And I came to see that this was an assignment that God gave me to be in prison so that all that prayer would pour into Turkey because it’s gonna bring a great change to that country and to the region. But I couldn’t see it that clearly at the time. At the time I thought, I may never get out, or if I get out, it could be years down the road. I don’t know that I can hold on for that long.

NORINE: And to be honest, even if we could see as the prayer movement was growing and I could see this is supernatural and God is really doing something and this is for Turkey, at the same time there’s a tension. Because at that point you just want to get out of it. You say, I don’t really care. I don’t really care what else is being accomplished. I just want out. 

SMITH: I want to sort of bring us up to the present. So you’ve been out a year, you’ve been living in Kansas City. You’ve written a book which is now out, which, again, congratulations on the book. It’s really excellent. I can’t resist asking, though, and forgive me if this is maybe in politic, but have there been lingering effects? I mean, you know, you hear about people that have been in prison for long periods of time, PTSD, effects on your children, Effects on your marriage or that you may not be willing to talk about. I understand that, but I am curious as to, you know, God can heal, but the scars sometimes still remain, right?

ANDREW: Yeah. So a State Department psychiatrist who specialized in working with people who have asked for trauma in the State Department evaluated me for PTSD. So, that’s post traumatic stress disorder. He said, you do have PTS but you don’t have the D. And so that was very good. Yes, I did have post traumatic stress, but it wasn’t a disorder. And I was very glad for that. And I think part of the reason for that is that through that rebuilding process in the second year, I definitely was broken a number of times and the second year was also very, very difficult. But there was a rebuilding process that God took me through that second year or so that I came out much stronger than I went into prison. And I think that part of that process of rebuilding me and pulling me in closer in some areas to him kept me from having much worse after effects in it than I could have had.

There have been some things. I had a lot of problems sleeping. I was told that this was normal for post-trauma. And especially as I wrote the book and went through these things again and again, especially the first prison I was in, I’d go through that section and go through it again. Every time I went through it, I’d become more agitated, again go into the cycle of not sleeping and just crying at various times. But as I went through it, it was kind of cathartic and I think it helped me to work through some of these things.

NORINE: I think it’s also been helpful to see, we’ve had the blessing of already seeing so much of the fruit that’s coming out of this. So some people go through, suffer for the Lord and they don’t see the fruit. They don’t see what’s been accomplished in this life even. And the Lord gave us an unusual blessing of being able to see already so much of what he’s doing. 

SMITH: Can you give me an example? 

NORINE: The children who have been praying, the children who have been affected by this, who will grow up now with an awareness of the Muslim world, for example, to pray for it. They’ve seen their prayer answered in Turkey. They’re already seeing in our church they’re already seeing many people professing faith. They’re linking that directly to the prayer. So that’s a huge privilege to see that. I think that also has helped that as we do this book and have to go back through some things and the Lord has been giving increasing understanding of how he was working and what he was doing. And that’s helpful for healing.

SMITH: I guess I’m wondering, I mean, I appreciate what you just said and accept it at face value. I also know that a few moments ago, because I’m certainly sitting here with you face-to-face something that maybe people weren’t able to see that when you were talking about one thing to make you really angry is to hurt your wife. You got choked up for a moment. I mean, it was still very emotional for you. And I’m guessing that I’m not the first person to interview you, that you’ve probably had a few interviews at this point. There’s still an emotional wellspring there.

ANDREW: When I speak now I can talk about an incident or something I learned in a very detached way and other times I can talk about the same thing and I suddenly break down when I’m speaking. So, yeah, it’s still difficult. It’s still an emotional thing. 

SMITH: How have you forgiven your captors? Have you forgiven—I mean, you know the Bible tells us to, and I know that intellectually you can say I forgive you. I mean, the words are pretty easy to pronounce, right? But I’m just wondering for both of you, has that been a hard thing to do? 

ANDREW: Forgiving all the false witnesses was not that hard for me because I knew that there were tools. They were being used and in normal circumstances, no one would have listened to them. What was much more difficult was forgiving the leaders of the Turkish government because they knew that I was innocent and they in a very cruel way, kept me in prison, separated from my family and kids and they wanted to do it for the rest of my life. So, I struggled with that, but I also knew it was never a question of do I forgive or not? It was just a matter of working through it because I know that I have to. I’m required to. And so I did forgive them and then I’d have to forgive them again and then I’d have to forgive them again and go back again and again and just stand in that decision to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. It’s an act of the will. And I had to repeat it again and again. Have I forgiven them? Yes. Is it still painful? Yes. But I would also say as we look back, I am glad that I wasn’t released earlier because I now see what God was working to accomplish and even though it was painful and I still carry some of that, I say, wow, what a privilege I had that God in some way chose me or gave me this assignment or trusted me to go through this. And he was really using me as a magnet to draw on that prayer for Turkey. And it’s going to change that country. And I think quite a privilege it gave me, God. It was really, really hard. I almost didn’t make it.

(Photo/World Watch Monitor)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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