BOISE, Idaho (BP) — “Be patient and endure.” From an Iranian jail cell, Saeed Abedini penned those words in a letter to his daughter Rebekka for her seventh birthday this year.
But as the American pastor marked a year in Iran’s brutal Evin Prison with no hint of a coming release, “enduring” is taking a toll on wife and two children in Boise, Idaho.
[[email protected]@425=Liberty University Convocation, Sept. 18]Rebekka and her brother Jacob, 5, know they’re growing up without their father present to mark milestones or sing to them at bedtime. Abedini’s wife Naghmeh — who hates flying — keeps an intense travel schedule speaking and lobbying for her husband’s release, according to WORLD Magazine.
To a degree, she’s seeing some payoff. On the heels of President Obama expressing concern for Abedini during in a Sept. 27 phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the European Parliament called on Iran’s government Oct. 10 to release the pastor and seven other prisoners. Human rights lawyer Attieh Fard also addressed the issue of Iran’s mistreatment of Christians at a Sept. 24 meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, urging Rouhani to release 42 Iranian Christians in prison and 45 awaiting trial, according to World Watch Monitor, a religious liberty advocacy organization.
“It is obvious that the Islamic government of Iran has taken actions to prevent access of both Christians and the public to Christian societies, to churches, to Christian literature and religion, despite the Christians’ constitutional, national and international rights,” Fard said. “Now that Iran has said it is committed to its international obligations, it should in fact start to take measures to protect these constitutional rights.”
Iran’s constitution permits religious minorities to assemble, but at least 300 Christians have been arrested in recent years in Iran, according to World Watch Monitor. One of those was Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faced a death sentence for his faith. His lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, also got handed a nine-year sentence he’s currently serving alongside pastor Benham Irani, who has struggled with major health issues in prison.
After a worldwide campaign for Nadarkhani’s release, he was acquitted Sept. 8, 2012. He walked out of prison 18 days before Abedini was arrested in Iran while working on plans to start an orphanage with permission from the government.
Now Abedini’s wife is praying for a miracle similar to Nadarkhani’s.
“We just celebrated — or actually not celebrated, but did a prayer vigil for him on the one-year anniversary,” she said during an Oct. 6 interview with National Public Radio. Though she quickly corrected her word choice, in some ways it was a somber celebration for the Abedinis — their husband and father is still alive.
Evin Prison “is like a death sentence,” she said in an interview with The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “It is surprising that he has survived this year.”
Abedini has been beaten and bled internally without medical care, and he was told by an interrogator that he would hang for his faith. To reinforce the message, police killed two other prisoners in front of him, according to WORLD Magazine. Naghmeh Abedini said her husband also has been forbidden to talk to her and their children for the duration of his eight-year sentence.
As she works to get the kids to school and to bed through the days, weeks and months, she does so with only the occasional letter from her husband. But her faith stays strong.
In September, she saw a direct answer to prayer when she encountered Rouhani in her hotel lobby in New York and was able to hand deliver a letter from her husband to one of the Iranian president’s delegates.
“I know that God is working and Saeed’s imprisonment is not in vain,” she told The Pathway. God has brought her opportunities to share the Gospel in unusual ways through her ordeal, she said.
“In June, I spoke to the United Nations in Geneva,” she told The Pathway. “I was able to share the Gospel to representatives of more than 100 countries. Each heard what I said in their language through their earpiece. I shared that Jesus is the only answer to real peace.”
In May, she shared the Gospel in Farsi live on the air in Iran during an interview.
“I was able to speak about Jesus to 50 million Muslims,” she said. “Our prayer is that God will use this ordeal to bring the Gospel to Muslims around the world through the working of the Holy Spirit.
“Saeed also reported that more than 30 people have come to Christ in prison,” she said, “so God is using this for the Kingdom and it is not in vain.”
It’s not what the family would have expected, but all the opportunities are fleshing out the call Abedini heard when he surrendered to Jesus Christ at the age of 20 while living in Iran, his wife said.
Saeed Abedini decided to turn from Islam after seeing a vision of Jesus, who “told Saeed that He’s coming back soon and to go preach the Gospel,” his wife told NPR. It doesn’t come without a price — for her husband and for other Christians around the world, she said.
“More than 100,000 Christians are persecuted each year,” she said. “Remember to pray for those imprisoned or tortured, but also remember to pray for their families. Be there for each other and be involved in what is going on in the world.”
Her hope is that growing international pressure will lead to the release of her husband. More than 626,000 people have signed a petition and nearly 170,000 have written a letter to Iran’s president on Abedini’s behalf.
As she continues to travel speaking on her husband’s behalf, she will make a stop at the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting Oct. 29. Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway, will interview her during the morning session. In mid-September, she addressed Liberty University’s fall convocation.
For more information about the campaign to secure Abedini’s release, visit www.savesaeed.org.
Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).