By Jonathan Lange, columnist
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Generations of Christians have heard these words on the day of their confirmation. It is an experience shared by many—although that cultural heritage seems to be fading. But fewer still are aware of the context of these words.
This verse is from the biblical book of the Revelation. They are spoken “to the angel of the Church at Smyrna,” an ancient city in Asia Minor. Its modern name is “Izmir, Turkey.” And, for 23 years it was the home of missionary, Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine.
On an October day in 2016, they arrived home to find a note summoning them to the local police station. This note was the beginning of a two-year ordeal that neither of them anticipated, nor were they prepared for it.
It is as if the ancient words spoken to the angel of the Church at Smyrna were spoken directly to Andrew. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation” (Rev. 2:10).
Upon arrival at the police station, they were informed that they were being arrested for deportation. However, rather than boarding a plane for the U.S., they were herded into a detention center. Norine was released after 13 days, but Andrew’s ordeal was only beginning.
At first, Andrew was worried that he would be unjustly deported from his decades-long work as a missionary. Soon that fear was replaced by its opposite—a fear that he would never be deported, but would instead spend the rest of his life in a Turkish prison. The Erdogan government had just survived a military coup attempt, and falsely accused Brunson of crimes against the state.
Brunson had always conducted his Izmir mission openly and legally. He had always steered clear of involvement in the power struggles of Turkish political factions. Nevertheless, he was accused of being a terrorist, a military spy, and an organizer of the recent coup. They were all lies, but they were useful lies. They supplied the Erdogan government with propaganda to paint Christians as traitors and “haters of Turks.”
After Norine’s release, Andrew was moved to solitary confinement in another detention center, then to a high security prison. There, isolated by culture, nationality, and life experience he felt the utterly alone in his Christian faith. “It broke me,” he humbly admits. It brought unexpected feelings. He lost the sense of God’s presence and grace, and wondered if God had abandoned him.
It was in the middle of these dark days that he discovered a truth that he is now sharing with anyone who will listen: Don’t follow your feelings about God. Just follow God. His words are true whether you feel their truth or not.
From this new perspective, Andrew came to see that prison was not abandonment by God, but an assignment from God. “I was doing nothing,” he recalled, “Just sitting in prison and trying to hold on. But people were praying all over the world.”
Sometimes your greatest value to the community is simply to be the object of prayers. On occasion, God calls people to great and mighty deeds, but more often mere endurance and keeping the faith under pressure is God’s only assignment.
Brunson’s assignment of endurance ended as quickly and as unexpectedly as it began. On October 12, 2018, just over two years after his arrest, he was falsely and irrationally convicted of terrorism and sentenced to prison. Then, in a face-saving move, the Erdogan government told him he could leave the country while he appealed the sentence. Within 24 hours he and Norine were sitting in the Oval Office with President Trump and Mike Pompeo, secretary of state.
The arrest that was meant to intimidate other missionaries and the tiny community of Turkish Christians had, instead, brought international attention to their plight. For Andrew and his faithful wife, it has both taught him much and given them a platform to reach millions.
On March 24, the Wyoming Pastors Network (WPN) is giving the people of Cheyenne the opportunity to hear them personally. While Andrew is in town for a conference, the WPN has partnered with Christian supporters to offer a free presentation open to the public.
That Wednesday at 9:00 AM., Andrew and his wife, Norine, will tell their story at the auditorium of Calvary Chapel, 9209 Ridge Rd. This is not a church service, but a talk—with plenty of opportunity for questions and answers. One need not be Christian to attend. All are invited to this informative and encouraging presentation.