Naghmeh Abedini, wife of pastor Saeed Abedini, has dealt with more worry than most since her husband was incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison almost seven months ago for “endangering national security.”
On March 22, Secretary of State John Kerry released a long-awaited proactive statement calling for the release of the 32-year-old Iranian-American pastor, who was incarcerated in Iran last September and later sentenced in late January to eight years in prison. Kerry also condemned Abedini’s reported physical and psychological abuses in prison.
Abedini, born and raised in Iran, was previously involved with radical Muslim groups but converted to Christianity in 2000 at the age of 20.
The pastor started over a hundred house churches in over 30 cities in Iran in the years after his conversion, according to his wife, Naghmeh. He and Naghmeh left Iran for the U.S. in 2005 after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the Iranian president and increased pressure against Christians.
He returned to Iran in 2009 to visit family and was arrested by the intelligence police and interrogated for several months. They released him on the condition that he no longer continue the house church movement. He complied.
“But because Saeed had told [the intelligence police] he had a heart for the people of Iran, they encouraged him to do humanitarian efforts. So after much prayer, Saeed and I decided to start an orphanage, which is what he has been working on since 2009,” Naghmeh said in an interview with the Clause. “So it surprised me [that] he was arrested while working on an orphanage the government had approved.”
Although Iran is an Islamic regime, its constitution recognizes Christianity as a minority religion and states that Christians “are free to perform their religious rights and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education.”
Kerry’s statements came after he received a letter on March 20 from various members of Congress that criticized the State Department for not providing a witness to a March 15 congressional hearing on Abedini’s case.
Previously, the State Department only “[called] on Iranian officials to respect Iran’s own laws and provide Mr. Abedini access to an attorney” in a Jan. 11 press briefing.
The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran, but the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents Abedini’s family, believes Iran will respond to “intense pressure” from the international community.
At Evin Prison, Abedini has reportedly undergone painful beatings, interrogation techniques and pressure to convert back to Islam.
In a letter received by the ACLJ on March 21 and written on newspaper scraps, Abedini said he was being kept in a “dark room void of any natural sunlight” and that he did not recognize himself after a beating.
“My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown,” Abedini wrote.
He also wrote how he was refused medical treatment because as a Christian, he was “unclean.”
Naghmeh said Christians who have a heart for people in religiously-hostile countries should be wise and take precaution.
“And also to be a good steward and to be a good Christian and to follow the laws of the land, because we don’t want to get involved with political or other issues,” Naghmeh said. “Our only aim is to share Christ.”
Naghmeh said prayer is the only way for her to make it through the days.
“And just trusting that he [God] is in control of government, no matter how big or radical they may seem,” Naghmeh said. “He’s in control of the American government, even though they don’t seem as responsive, and he’s in control of the Iranian government, no matter how radical they may seem.”
Lauren Phillips, International Outreach Administrator at the Abedini’s home church, Calvary Chapel Boise in Idaho, has attended the church for the last 25 years and is a personal friend of the Abedinis.
“I’m surprised but I’m also not surprised,” Phillips said about Abedini’s imprisonment. “Because we’ve gone through this before and we’ve seen how the government and court system work. They basically do whatever they want. They don’t really even abide by their own laws.”
Phillips said she hopes that Abedini will be able to be reunited with his family, especially for the sake of his two young children.
“He’s a very present father for his kids, and they’re really having a hard time,” Phillips said. “We see his little girl [often] and it’s heartbreaking. She just wants her dad back.”
Naghmeh hopes that Saeed’s situation will serve as a platform for Muslims to hear about Christ and for Christians to come together and “just be on fire.”
“I would say to students, to seek God, and his plans for your life… because he does have a plan,” Naghmeh said. “And I remember as a student I was really stressed out about how my whole life was going to unfold and [what] I was supposed to do and what I was supposed to be. And I feel like when the Lord takes over, there’s peace.”
Senior sociology major David Darbonne has a heart for unreached people groups and has gone on mission trips to closed countries multiple times. He said Abedini’s situation reminds American Christians that religious persecution still commonly happens.
“It would be awesome to see more missionaries who are as passionate as Pastor Abedini, who are willing to go to these these hard places and risk their lives, risk being jailed, just to make Jesus’ name known,” Darbonne said.
Naghmeh said she thought she would question God’s faithfulness and goodness through Saeed’s persecution, but that she has actually discovered it.
“Every time I see my kids hurting or I miss Saeed or I think about what our future might look like without him—it just helps me to be broken and go before God. And that’s my message,” Naghmeh said. “It’s okay if you’re broken, if there’s relationship issues, if there’s future issues, if there’s stress—just use that to, every time you feel confused or hurt, [go broken] before God, and he will be close and he will direct your path and he will use each person in a mighty way.”
To sign the ACLJ’s petition to release Pastor Abedini, visit www.savesaeed.org.