Liberty celebrates Brunson release from Turkey

Andrew Brunson

From Liberty University: On Friday, Liberty University students celebrated the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained in Turkey since 2016 on charges of aiding terrorist groups after a failed coup in the country. Liberty, as a student body, has been actively praying for Brunson and his family and even wrote letters to U.S. government officials thanking them for fighting for Brunson’s release and to Brunson thanking him for standing strong in his faith.

Brunson, an American citizen, has called Turkey his home for the last 25 years. His case made national headlines as President Donald J. Trump issued sanctions against Turkey in response to Brunson’s arrest. According to news reports, Brunson was released by a Turkish court early Friday. Following his court hearing, Brunson boarded a U.S. military plane for Germany and is expected to arrive in the U.S. this weekend. The action could signal progress in diplomatic relations between Turkey and the United States.

Just as the news was breaking on Friday, Liberty’s Student Government Association President Jacob Page and Vice President Derek Rockey were en route to Washington, D.C., to deliver the 3,000 letters, including one from Liberty President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, thanking the Trump Administration for their continual support of Brunson.

The case also has a special connection to Liberty. Brunson’s daughter, Jacqueline Furnari, is currently completing her M.S. in Accounting through Liberty’s online degree program. During a Campus Community service last month, Furnari received a phone call at her home in Texas from Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser and the more than 5,000 Liberty students who had gathered in the Vines Center for the weekly event.

Nasser, along with Interim Provost Scott Hicks and his family, joined the student body in offering prayers and support for Furnari’s father. Then Nasser surprised Furnari with the news that President Falwell was providing a scholarship to cover her tuition

“I was floored and amazed,” Furnari said in an interview after the service. “It’s a huge help and a blessing. I can’t express how grateful I am for that. It was amazing to see the love and support.”

Falwell became aware of Furnari’s situation through Liberty alumnus David Fonseca, deputy director of government affairs for the American Center for Law and Justice(ACLJ), which represented Brunson’s case.

Another show of support came when LU Send, the university office that facilitates student and faculty group travel, put on-hold all short-term trips and study abroad experiences to Turkey and paused any bookings with Turkish Airlines until Brunson’s release.

“We love the people of Turkey,” Nasser said during the Campus Community service. “But we were compelled to send a loud and clear message. The persecution and wrongful imprisonment of Pastor Andrew is a very personal matter to us.”

Furnari said she had only seen her father once after his arrest, during a brief visit to Turkey last year. They had been corresponding through letters every three to four weeks.

“He’s a strong Christian, but it really tested his faith,” Furnari said last month. “At the beginning, he couldn’t sing a praise song. He couldn’t do anything or bring himself to do it. But now he’s said, ‘You know what? I’m going to bring praise to the Lord, even if I don’t feel like it.’ (Now) he will dance every day. My dad is a very serious person, but he would get up and dance in his cell to worship the Lord. I’ve really seen him submit to the Lord, even in difficult circumstances and say, ‘Thy will be done.’ It’s been a beautiful testimony.”

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