A packed Harbison Chapel crowd welcomed Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, to Grove City College with a standing ovation prior to discussing their triumphs and trials as Turkish political prisoners on Wednesday evening.
Andrew, imprisoned in Turkey from 2016-2018, was accused of terrorism and espionage but was eventually released thanks to efforts by the U.S. government and Trump Administration. Norine was initially imprisoned with Andrew for 13 days.
The Brunsons sat in chairs on the altar of Harbison in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 people, answering questions moderated by the Dean of the Chapel, Dr. D. Dean Weaver '86. The questions came from student leaders of Kingdom Week, a missions-focused week-long event that brought the Brunsons to campus.
Andrew recalled a time years before when a friend shared a word from God for him. The friend said that Andrew would be known for his perseverance and Andrew said, “Oh no! I don’t want to be known for that.” But God would indeed place him in a valley of testing, where only perseverance would see him through. Brunson said he felt silence from God especially during his first year of prison, which included solitary confinement. But he made a conscious decision to turn his face toward God. “I don’t have to have answers to have a relationship with God,” he said. “God’s faithfulness was not on trial, mine was. God didn’t betray me; I want to make that clear.”
After her release, Norine could only visit him once a week and those times would be through reinforced glass, talking through a phone. Once every two months, she could see him face-to-face. “We would hug, and that’s when I would whisper in his ear the things I couldn’t tell him otherwise,” she said.
Norine fought hard for his release, contacting everyone she knew. Eventually, even President Donald J. Trump got involved. But discouragement threatened as nothing changed in Andrew’s plight at first. “I thought, now the highest power of man is involved, so now there’s no other earthly power to appeal to,” she said. According to Norine, that’s when prayers grew and spread throughout the country and then the world. “But it was all supernatural. It was unprecedented. No man could make that happen, only God.”
Andrew added, “And now millions are praying for Turkey, a country that they previously couldn’t even find on a map.”
Norine’s strength and her prayers are what Andrew said he relied on during his suffering. “I looked at her during our 13 days of imprisonment together and realized, wow, Norine is stronger than I am,” he said.
The two offered to pray for any person in the Chapel who felt called to missions; they did so following the Q&A session which was closed with a prayer from College President Paul J. McNulty '80.
In Chapel Thursday morning Andrew continued to share his story, reminding listeners that “Jesus wins in the end” despite deception, fear, entangling sins and offenses. “The truth is offensive, and many are offended by Jesus.” He emphasized the need for this generation of college students to be grounded in their faith, and stand firm because trials are sure to come. “When you’re flooded with fear, you have to have an anchor in place,” he said.
Andrew signed copies of his book, “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance” after each of his talks. He used that time to speak and pray with attendees and write them personal notes.
Watch the Brunsons during Wednesday's event in Harbison Chapel.