BOISE, Idaho (BP) — On a hot summer day in 2012, Naghmeh Abedini drove her husband Saeed to an Idaho airport. They shared a casual goodbye, assuming they would see one another in two or three weeks. Instead he was imprisoned in Iran, and they haven’t seen or spoken to one another since.
Saeed Abedini, 33, was sentenced to eight years in prison after returning to Iran for a work trip. This began an almost two-year nightmare for his wife, who is now fighting for his release while raising their two children alone.
“It has been the hardest time of my life,” Abedini said of her husband’s imprisonment. “I feel like my life was taken from me. I experienced extreme anxiety and depression at first. I cried out to the Lord and felt like the woman bleeding for 12 years” (Mark 5:25-34).
Abedini’s imprisonment has caught the attention of major news sources as well as President Obama. At the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama mentioned Abedini in calling for international religious freedom: “We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs. And as we continue to work for his freedom, today, again, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.”
Naghmeh Abedini believes Obama’s inclusion of her husband is a result of the people of the United States taking interest in her story and standing up for religious liberty.
“When the president speaks, he speaks about things that matter to the American people. Millions of people have been behind me — signing petitions, writing letters. When [the president] shared [my husband’s story] I knew that the American people had been speaking out,” she said.
On Feb. 25 Naghmeh Abedini will speak on religious persecution at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy.
“The American people care about the religious liberty. We hit a nerve with the American people and the world about Saeed’s imprisonment. Religious liberty is such an important part of our core values,” she said. “Saeed wanted to serve the people of Iran and the intelligence police said that he could continue to visit Iran as long as he did not [engage] the house church movement again.”
After much prayer, Saeed Abedini returned to Iran — with the assistance and blessing of the Iranian government — to build an orphanage the couple started in 2009. But everything changed when he was arrested and sentenced for supposedly undermining Iran’s national security.
“The basis of the law was the gathering of Christians,” Naghmeh Abedini said. “They called it a soft war and are treating him as a political prisoner, not a religious prisoner.”
Placed under house arrest in July, 2012, he was awaiting a call from officials about a potential hearing when, on Sept. 26, 2012, he was met instead by a violent house raid.
“It was just a shock to his siblings and parents,” she said. “We didn’t even know if he was alive for the first week.”
Since then, Saeed Abedini’s parents have been allowed to visit him every week, but his condition is failing and prison doctors say he needs surgery.
“He is suffering from internal bleeding from earlier beatings as they were trying to get him to deny his faith,” his wife said. “He has been fainting and sick.”
Saeed Abedini was once a radical Muslim, but after his conversion channeled his passion toward evangelism. He went into the streets sharing the Gospel and launching house churches. And despite serving time in prison, he has not stopped sharing his faith.
Naghmeh Abedini’s story is a little different. A war between Iran and Iraq forced her family to flee Iran for California. At age nine, she and her twin brother heard the Gospel and became Christians against their parents’ wishes. Their parents, attempting to squelch their new faith, took away their Bibles and moved to Boise, Idaho, hoping to be isolated from Christians. But 11 years later her parents converted, too.
Naghmeh Abedini’s desire to share the Gospel led her back to her birth country in September, 2001. She began a Bible study with cousins and a few close friends. Within a year five people made professions of faith in Christ.
Before returning to the U.S., she visited a “building church” (churches that are allowed and monitored by the government) where she met her future husband Abedini, who was a pastor of an underground house church (a church not monitored by the government).
“Underground house churches were growing rapidly and within a few years it had grown to a few thousand converts,” she said. “The government and president changed and he promised to crack down on Christianity. Saeed had been arrested several times but would always be released.”
The couple married in Iran in 2004, but political unrest began to make it difficult for them to share their faith. The two were arrested five times together. In 2005 they fled Iran, but never lost their passion to see Iranians come to know Jesus.
Since Abedini’s arrest and imprisonment, his wife has shared his story with thousands in more than 196 countries. In the process, she has found a peace that transcends all understanding.
“I felt the Lord say, ‘Get up, I’m going to use this for my Gospel,'” she said. “I couldn’t see how the Lord would use this for good. I just wanted to pray it away.”
God has proven Himself faithful, as Naghmeh Abedini has seen more than 30 people come to Christ.
“I have peace and joy now that no one can take from me,” she said. “I discovered the reality of Jesus.”
She continues to seek prayer and political intervention.
“As Christians we know that nothing is more powerful than the power of prayer. But as Christians we are also called to speak out and take action on injustices happening around us,” she said. “Our family asks you to stand with us and contact your local government officials to voice your concern about pastor Saeed and Christian persecution around the world. In Hebrews 13:3 we are told to remember those in prison as if imprisoned with them.”
Trillia Newbell is consultant for women’s initiatives for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).