Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
What do you do when you are afraid? That is the question that Andrew Brunson asks. Brunson is a soft-spoken man with a kind-looking face. He is also a man that knows something about fear. Brunson is an American pastor who was unjustly imprisoned by the Turkish government for two years, held as a political pawn on outlandish, false charges. Under three life sentences, he sometimes suffered in solitary confinement and at other times he was jammed in cells that were crowded to double capacity. Brunson was the only non-Muslim. Conditions alternated between brain-boiling hot in the summer and mind-numbing freezing cold in winter.
Here is a man who can tell you about persecution for his faith. Here is a man who has lived it. When he talks of fear, you want to hear what he has to say, what helped him through this terrifying ordeal.
Brunson grew up in Mexico in a missionary family. His mother, he said, came from a long line of people who had suffered for Jesus. When he was first imprisoned, she visited him and told him, “It’s your turn to stand in that line.” “I knew that others were coming after me,” Brunson recounts, “I knew I had to stand well.”
Andrew Brunson will tell you that it is normal to be afraid. The question, he says, is “Will you stand in spite of your fears?” What was it, that enabled Brunson to persevere? Was it his PhD in New Testament? All of the Scripture he had memorized? The biographies about heroes of the faith that he had read? No, he says. The key is to be found in intimacy with God, which came down to a simple devotion that he clung to. But that intimacy came through what he calls, the Valley of Testing.
“I expected to be filled with joy but I experienced the silence of God,” Brunson admitted. “Even after I prayed, ‘Not my will, but your will be done--even when it could mean prison for the rest of my life,’” he said, “I’d get knocked down even worse. I would have to try to crawl my way back to where I could say that prayer again. This was beyond my strength. I was thoroughly broken.”
In his second year of imprisonment, after being returned to prison after a third court appearance, Brunson was shocked, when he found himself simply saying, “I love you Jesus. Whatever you do or don’t do, I will follow you! If you never get me out of here, I will follow you.” He realized that his heart had changed: “I began to fight for intimacy with God.”
There is a depth of friendship with God that only comes through testing, says Brunson. “God does test his sons and daughters. God gives difficult assignments to his children. These can be very painful, and they can stretch us beyond what we ever expected.”
Andrew Brunson came to know what it is to love God and to leave his questions with God. “There is a depth of friendship with God,” he says, “that only comes through testing.” Submitting did not change the facts of my imprisonment, but it did change my heart.” “A lover will endure much more than a servant,” says Brunson. “God has many servants but few lovers.”
God allows the foundation of the things that we trust in to be shaken, Pastor Brunson tells us. Fear did not disappear in a Turkish prison, but it was there, he said, that Brunson experienced Jesus as worthy of his all. Would you or I stand, in spite of our fear? Have we come through our Valleys of Testing as friends of God, in intimate love relationship with Him? Andrew Brunson’s message for us is that this is possible.
Resource Reading: 1 John 4:16-19