ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP) — Naghmeh Abedini is making plans to join her husband Saeed Abedini at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville, N.C., where he has been resting with his parents and sister since arriving there Thursday (Jan. 21) from Berlin, Germany.
She changed earlier plans to fly with the children to meet her husband in Germany, where he was receiving medical treatment after his release from unjust imprisonment in Iran, after the couple determined he needed more time to heal psychologically, she told Baptist Press today (Jan. 22).
“When I spoke to him he didn’t seem to be in a good state of mind, and so we just had to give it time before our family reunited, especially with the kids,” she told BP. “I had a quick conversation with the German doctor and he said overall he was healthy, he was pretty healthy [physically].”
The 35-year-old pastor suffered beatings and harsh punishment during three-and-a-half years in prison in Iran, where he had been held due to his Christian faith. His release with three other Americans was announced Jan. 16 in a prisoner swap the Obama Administration negotiated during nuclear disarmament talks.
Naghmeh Abedini and their children Rebekka and Jacob will arrive in Asheville early the afternoon of Jan. 25 to spend at least a week with Saeed before returning as a family to their home in Boise, Idaho, she told BP. At the Cove, they will rest and receive counseling, she said.
The Abedini marriage is strained by the imprisonment and emails that surfaced, intended only for close friends, in which she accused her husband of spousal abuse and an addiction to pornography.
Naghmeh Abedini hasn’t been able to determine who in November 2015 leaked to the media emails she had sent only to close friends. In those emails, she revealed her marriage was strained by abuse, but later expressed regrets for sending the emails even to close friends.
“It’s unfortunate that your family is going through so much pain and people try to profit off of it and put it out there,” she said. “Because Saeed was made aware of it, it will make it that much harder for us to pursue healing and reconciliation. So I was very heartbroken.”
But the revelation of the marital strife has proved to be a blessing that has taught her to rely more heavily on the Lord through prayer and fasting, she told BP today.
“That’s how God works,” she said. “The worst things in our life turn out to be the best blessing.” She trusts God to make beauty out of ashes, she said, evoking Isaiah 61:3, and to use the situation as a ministry to others.
“For most of my marriage, I’d idolized Saeed, and through my fast I was made aware of that and the importance of putting God first, which seems to be Christianity 101 in action,” she said. “This last fast really had me focused on the Lord. It took his imprisonment for me to break that idol and focus on the Lord fully and to see issues that are so hidden.”
The Lord has taught her to forgive and love her husband, she said, while still establishing boundaries in the relationship.
“It was difficult because Saeed was the first person I ever dated, the love of my life, and he still is,” she told BP. “But [I’ve learned] that can’t override my relationship with God and my obedience to God. Obedience to my husband is very important, but when it’s biblical and when it’s healthy…. I’m sure many, many Christians know that, but for me, it was a new lesson to learn.”
Her husband was converted to Christianity at age 20, she said, and grew up in an Iranian cultural environment that subjugates women. She described herself as a private person who has suffered much pain and anger because the emails were made public, and she chose not to tell BP the details of the alleged abuse.
Any further discussion of the abuse would need to come from her husband, she said.
“I think when it’s time,” she told BP, “I think it’s a story that needs to be told by Saeed, not me. I think it had better not be anything that I focus on anymore.”
She has advocated widely for her husband’s release, maintaining a Facebook page, meeting with President Obama, and speaking before Congress and in many venues before taking a break from public advocacy last November.
“I’m proud of Saeed for having stood for his faith, but we’re real people with real issues, and a lot of it is … from the Middle East and the way women are treated there,” she said. “But I’m hearing from a lot of women in this country and I’m just hoping God can use it to show He’s bigger than anything and to help other people be set free.
“The biggest lesson I learned as a wife is I needed to find my strength in God. I was looking to my husband for everything, for self-worth,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but he had become my god. That’s not a small thing; that’s a big deal…. If God is not number one it’s bad, and God is jealous. He will have no idols before Him.”
God has revealed the struggles of His followers for ages, she said, referencing the biblical King David who was described as having a heart for God but was also an adulterer and murderer.
“There’s a reason God allowed people to see the most intimate part of my family,” she said. “I don’t want us to be idolized. Maybe part of the blessing of this coming out is that we can’t be idolized.”