American Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been detained in Turkey since October 2016, shared his fear that he will be forgotten as he marks his 50th birthday in prison.
Brunson, pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, was arrested on Oct. 7, 2016 over his alleged links to armed terrorist organizations.
In a recent letter to his wife, Brunson stated that he is grateful to all the people who had been praying for him.
"This trial – time in prison – has stretched me far more than I ever would have imagined. I have been very weak, had many doubts, felt very alone," Brunson wrote in the letter shared by Middle East Concern on Tuesday.
The pastor said he believes that God is sustaining him throughout his travail, adding that the prayers of other believers are giving him strength.
"One of my big fears has been that I will be forgotten in prison. Thank you for not forgetting! It is a great encouragement to know there are people praying for me – it reminds me that I am not alone, and that I need to stand firm, with my face pointed in God's direction always. Thank you for standing with me in this most difficult time," he added.
Miles Windsor from Middle East Concern noted that Brunson's incarceration had put a "huge amount of strain" on him as he had missed several family functions, such as a graduation ceremony and his daughter's wedding.
In November, Brunson's daughter, Jacqueline Furnari, testified at the U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing that her father has been wrongfully imprisoned and needs to be reunited with his family.
Furnari noted that she and her husband opted for a civil ceremony and have decided to postpone their wedding until her father comes home.
"I'm still waiting for my wedding. I'm still waiting to wear that wedding dress that I got almost a year and a half ago, I'm still waiting for my dad to walk me down the aisle, and I'm still waiting for that father-daughter dance," she said.
Apart from the allegations of his links with an armed terror group, Brunson was also accused of espionage, acquiring secret political and military information, attempting to destroy constitutional order and overthrowing the Turkish parliament.
Both U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have personally requested the Turkish government to release the pastor, but their pleas have been ignored.
In September, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had suggested that the pastor could be freed in exchange for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is currently living in Pennsylvania. Gulen had been accused of staging the attempted coup against the Turkish government in July 2016.
In October, two delegates from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) visited the pastor in Kiriklar Prison in Izmir, Turkey.
According to a news release from USCIRF, Brunson was initially confined to a cell meant only for eight men, but was crowded with 21 inmates. The pastor was then moved to Kiriklar Prison where he is confined to a cell 24-hours a day with two other men. At the time of the visit, Brunson had lost over 50 pounds due to the sustained stress that he has endured in prison.