MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, November 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: WORLD’s Daniel of the Year.
Every year, WORLD Magazine names a Daniel of the Year—someone who shows bravery in defense of God’s authority by helping those who face persecution or who face enormous difficulty.
You heard about Joni Eareckson Tada toward the beginning of the program. She was our Daniel of the Year last year for her decades of work on behalf of people living with disabilities.
REICHARD: This year’s recipient is an American man held for two years in Turkey on charges of espionage and terrorism. He faced a life sentence for doing the work of the church.
He gained release just last month. Senior Editor Mindy Belz wrote the cover story naming him WORLD’s Daniel of the Year. She joins us now to talk about it.
MINDY BELZ, SENIOR EDITOR: Hi, Mary.
REICHARD: Well, tell us who it is?
BELZ: Well, I actually think it’s someone who became something of a household name for many Americans. It’s Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who was jailed in Turkey two years ago.
REICHARD: And describe the man himself. What is he like?
BELZ: Well, Andrew Brunson is someone who many of us can relate to. He was an American-trained pastor who began serving in a Presbyterian church and planted churches in Turkey. He and his wife served there for 23 years before he was arrested and subsequently jailed in 2016
REICHARD: And describe the path that lead Brunson to be arrested and jailed in Turkey. What was he doing over there?
BELZ: Well, he actually thought that his visa was going to be renewed when he was called in and instead Brunson essentially became a pawn in a foreign policy game where he was held as an American in exchange for what Turkey hoped would be favors that would be granted by the United States. His work had been very straightforward. He’d had no encounters with authorities prior to this time, but then the case was built around some of the work that he had done among Syrian refugees and among Kurds in Turkey.
REICHARD: And what was his experience during imprisonment? What was that like for him?
BELZ: You know, it’s interesting, Mary, because I think that one of the things that was very compelling about working on this story was that Andrew Brunson was very honest about how essentially he almost lost his faith in prison. That it was a very dark time for him and that he had to make something of a determination that he would continue to praise God even when he didn’t feel that there was anything to praise him for.
REICHARD: And I think you have some audio of him describing that after the fact. Let’s listen:
BRUNSON: If I’d been let out after the first year, I’d have been lying on the floor, curled in a fetal position with PTSD. The second year, God started to rebuild me.
BELZ: And so from that time forward, Brunson made a determination that he would be what he called a living martyr. And then as he began to come out of the darkness, he wrote a four-stanza hymn that’s actually a very beautiful hymn that’s called “You Are Worthy,” and that was how he began. It was through praise and through just a conscious commitment to suffer for the Lord that he began to come out of this dark time and yet still was in prison.
REICHARD: We’ll hear a little bit of that hymn later on. But I want to ask you for other instances that you might be able to describe of Brunson standing up for the faith in awkward circumstances?
BELZ: I think what’s really important to point out now is that throughout this time, he had no real hope for what his future would be like, whether he would be held indefinitely—keep in mind, the charges that were brought against him involved, essentially, a life sentence in prison.
And so I think it’s noteworthy the first time he appeared at trial, he’s standing alone, he’s standing before this three-judge panel, and he goes through a point-by-point defense of the charges against him, and he spent six hours in fluent Turkish answering the charges that had been laid against him before this entire courtroom.
And at one point he said something that would become somewhat of the motto that he would use again and again as he was called to testify in the courtroom. He said, “I reject all the accusations in this indictment. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. My purpose here in Turkey is to tell people about Jesus and help disciple those who believe in him. I have not been involved in any illegal activity.” And I think that idea of sort of rejecting the charges that the government was trying to level against him and at the same time saying ‘but I know why I’m here, I’m here because it’s God’s purpose for me to suffer through this’ is something that is true and also inspiring to all the rest of us of how we can in a public setting adequately answer our accusers, should we face them.
REICHARD: That is such a powerful witness. Mindy, what was going on politically to gain his release?
BELZ: For a long time, not much. He was held without being allowed to see anyone, including his wife, for a number of months. He was not permitted to see embassy officials. And during that time I think the case and interest in the case in the United States began to build. And, I think, as that happened, the Trump administration began to take a deeper and deeper interest in it and it became a greater and greater priority at the State Department. I actually was there this past July at a time when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador Sam Brownback made this a very public push and announced the United States would be putting sanctions on Turkey unless they released Brunson. This was unprecedented and it had an effect. And so I think it’s a case where the United States did a very deliberate and kind of a slow drill down and, in essence, really put a lock on Turkey over this case, and forced them to bring the trial to a close and to bring about some mechanism in which they could release him.
REICHARD: Mindy Belz is senior editor for WORLD Magazine. Mindy, it’s always inspiring to hear the story behind our Daniel of the Year every year. This one, too. Thanks so much.
BELZ: Thank you, Mary.
REICHARD: And now listen as we play a portion of Brunson’s hymn that he wrote in prison.
MUSIC: Brunson’s hymn, You Are Worthy