Andrew Brunson and his wife prayed for President Trump at the White House Saturday after the pastor was freed from Turkey where he was held captive for over two years.
Brunson told Trump that he and his family "pray for him often" and said he'd like to pray for him in the Oval Office and asked if that would be OK. The president replied, "Well, I need it probably more than anyone else in this room, so that would be very nice, thank you."
In his prayer, Brunson said:
"Lord God, I ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit on President Trump. That you give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him. I ask that you give him wisdom on how to lead this country into righteousness. I ask that you give him perseverance and endurance and courage to stand for truth. I ask that you protect him from slander from enemies, from those who would undermine. I ask that you make him a great leader for this country. Fill him with your wisdom and strength and perseverance, and we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country. In Jesus' name, we bless you. Amen."
Brunson's wife, Norine, followed in prayer, adding: "I pray that the spirit of the Lord rest on the president. The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit counsel and might, spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. Amen."
After thanking the Brunsons for their prayers, Trump asked if he could ask Norine one question: "Who did you vote for?" Norine confirmed that she voted for Trump instead of Hillary in 2016, and Brunson quipped, "I would like to say I sent in an absentee ballot from prison." Brunson's joke received resounding laughs from the reporters, State Department officials and congressional leaders in the room.
Including Brunson, the Trump administration has so far secured the release of 19 Americans held captive worldwide.
"From a Turkish prison to the White House in 24 hours — that's not bad," Trump said of Brunson's release, adding that he won't ask if the couple plan to return to Turkey where they pastored a Protestant church in Izmir for 25 years.
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Brunson was arrested in October 2016 and charged with providing assistance to groups the Turkish government accused of being involved in a failed coup.
On Friday, The Christian Post reported that Brunson had been granted his freedom after a court convicted him of aiding terrorism but sentenced him to time already served.
Brunson faced 35 years in prison for the controversial charges of espionage and terrorism. After being imprisoned for nearly two years, in July he was remanded to house arrest and banned from leaving the country.
In an interview with CP on Friday, Pastor Bill Devlin who leads a church in New York City and was at Brunson's trial in Aliaga, Turkey, said after the lengthy hearing ended abruptly he and other American supporters didn't understand what happened until they got to the courthouse parking lot and were able to talk with interpreters.
"We were shell shocked. Through our translators, we learned the judge said, 'Pastor Brunson is guilty. We sentenced him to three years and one month in prison. But he has been in prison for two years and a week. Time served. The travel ban is lifted. We are releasing you. You are free to go. Court dismissed,'" Devlin said.
Other Americans who attended the hearing included North Carolina Pastor Richard White of Christ Community Church in Montreat, North Carolina, and FRC President Tony Perkins, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Perkins shared photos on Twitter of him with the Brunsons as they arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
A memorable moment from the trial, Devlin said, came during a 15-minute recess when Norine and her husband were able to embrace in an emotional hug that lasted for about five minutes.
"It was the picture of the trial. They just embraced one another. It was just an emotional time. Everybody was standing and was just thick with emotion looking at those two just hugging each other," Devlin said.
After leaving Turkey with Perkins en route to the U.S., Brunson and his wife were taken to Ramstein Air Base in Germany where they were greeted by U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell who gave the pastor a folded American flag. In a photo share by Grenell on Twitter, Brunson is seen holding the flag tightly to his face and kissing it.
Trump strongly criticized his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey's handling of the case, and accused the Turkish courts of imprisoning an innocent man.
Brunson, alongside persecution watchdog groups around the world, insisted that he was innocent, and argued that he was being punished for his Christian faith.
Erdogan insisted that Brunson had to be tried for his alleged involvement in terror schemes. The dispute between the two countries lead to economic penalties for Turkey.
Erdogan had also demanded that the U.S. extradite Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for the coup, in exchange for Brunson, but the U.S. administration refused the deal.
After condemning Erdogan's government for imprisoning Brunson on false charges, Trump thanked the Turkish president for releasing the pastor, which he said wasn't easy.