Turkish authorities freed pastor Andrew Brunson Friday after he’s been held there for two years on house arrest, sparking a diplomatic fight between the U.S. and Turkey. The Black Mountain man was charged with aiding terrorism, which Brunson vigorously denied. A Turkish court in the western city of Izmir convicted him of those charges Friday, but let him leave the country even though he was sentenced to three years and one month in prison. Brunson was initially detained two years ago after a crackdown which followed an attempted coup against Turkey's government.
Andrew Brunson left Western North Carolina for Turkey more than 20 years ago. Prior to that, he was a member of the Christ Community Church, which sits amongst the trees and sloping hills of the campus of Montreat College in Montreat. “Joy. Absolute joy," was how Reverend David Taylor said the church was reacting to Brunson's release. Taylor is the pastor for discipleship and mission at the church. Christ Community's senior pastor, Reverend Richard White, is in Turkey and met with Brunson earlier this week prior to his release Friday.
Brunson’s parents still worship at Christ Community, and Taylor says they have weathered their son’s ordeal as best they could. “Andrew’s parents are people of great faith," Taylor says. "People of great prayer. Their prayer has been more for…that Jesus would be made much of there. Even through their son’s trials. They have been firm and resolute. They've been sad certainly. Burdened definitely. But also hopeful ultimately."
Brunson is on his way back to the U.S., but Taylor says they don’t know when to expect him back in North Carolina. "This Sunday (at the weekly service) there will be joy, there will be tears, there will be a loud celebration. We've been praying for this and seeing this resolution come...it's a time to party. It's a time to jump and dance and give thanks to God."