A standing ovation erupted inside the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena during Sunday morning service as Matt and Grace Huang were called before the congregation.
The Asian American couple, who were detained in Qatar for almost two years before recently being cleared in the death of their 8-year-old daughter, hugged their two young sons, as some parishioners' eyes filled with tears. The couple's captivity drew international headlines.
They thanked the crowd of more than 2,000 for their prayers and support.
The Huang saga began with their arrest in January 2013, when officials in Doha, the capital of Qatar, accused them of starving their adopted daughter to death, with the intent to sell her organs on the black market. Authorities refused to accept their explanation that Gloria died from an eating disorder complicated by the childhood hunger she suffered in her native Ghana.
Two weeks ago, before an appeals hearing scheduled for the couple in Doha, church leaders asked parishioners to stay an extra 45 minutes after each service for a special prayer session for the couple. They aired a BBC interview of the troubles onscreen, then dividing into small groups to pray for justice in Qatar and for more diplomatic aid from the
Last week, an appeals judge overturned the couple's conviction, and when Mattesich's son, Henry, 6, heard the news of the couple's return, he told his dad: "God heard our prayers."
"Isn't it timely that they're home between Thanksgiving and Christmas, at a time we think about new beginnings and they're experiencing just that, a new beginning," says Shiela Wolford, of San Gabriel, a church member for 38 years. "They can't make up the time they lost. They can only make life better. We support them all the way."