In a meeting in the Oval Office, North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson on Saturday thanked President Donald Trump for securing his release from a prison in Turkey.
“You really fought for us,” the Black Mountain preacher told Trump, a day after Turkey released Brunson after more than two years of confinement. “From the time you took office, I know you’ve been engaged.”
“I just want to congratulate you,” Trump told Brunson, according to video of the session published by C-Span and other national news outlets. “You have galvanized this country. There’s so much interest. It’s your faith, it’s your strength, what you have gone through. I know what you’ve gone through. “
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“Right now, the whole world is a fan of yours,” Trump told Brunson. “The whole world is your fan and your family’s fan. ... It’s a great honor to have you back home.”
Brunson also got down on a knee after asking the president if he could pray for him.
“I probably need it more than anybody in this room,” Trump joked, prompting laughter from those gathered in the Oval Office.
Brunson placed his left hand on Trump’s right shoulder and asked God to “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 to lead this country into righteousness.”
Trump also lent levity to the gathering when he later asked Brunson’s wife whom she voted for in the presidential election. She appeared to respond she voted for Trump. Andrew Brunson also responded, prompting laughter when he said, in all seriousness, that he voted for Trump by sending an absentee ballot from prison.
Trump also thanked Turkey’s president for Brunson’s release, saying political circumstances in that country made it difficult to pull off. Trump said he thought he had Brunson all but released two months ago.
“I think this will be a big step in our relationship” with Turkey, Trump said of Brunson’s release.
In a tweet earlier Saturday, Trump also wanted it known “I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!”
Later Saturday morning, Turkey’s president, Recep Erdoğan, tweeted he looks forward to continued cooperation between the countries against terrorist organizations.
After Brunson’s release Friday, evangelist Franklin Graham thanked God in a Facebook post that has drawn 186,000 likes, 57,000 shares and 14,000 comments.
“This is an answer to prayer,” Graham posted. “I know that his family and friends here in North Carolina are anxious to welcome him home. Our thanks to President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their hard work on this issue—it wouldn’t have happened without them.”
The 50-year-old Brunson is from Black Mountain and has lived and preached in Turkey for decades.
Turkey’s government held him for more than two years on what the American Center for Law and Justice called “false and ridiculous” terrorism charges, The Charlotte Observer reported in an article published Dec. 16, 2016.
Brunson started the Izmir Resurrection Church in western Turkey. He was arrested in October 2016, months after a failed coup attempt in the country.
The U.S. imposed sanctions on Turkey in August due to the dispute over Brunson.