Iran has maintained the imprisonment of American pastor, Saeed Abedini, for nearly two years, galvanizing Christians around the world to organize prayer vigils commemorating the second anniversary of his arrest, following the precedent set on the first anniversary. Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh, entreats believers to join her in a prayer event outside the White House to raise awareness of her husband’s plight on the eve of the anniversary of his arrest while visiting family in Tehran and building an orphanage. Christians in many countries are adding their voices to the global entreaty for Pastor Saeed’s release with their own prayer vigils the following day.
Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham, son of well-known evangelist Billy Graham, is helping to organize the White House prayer vigil. The junior Graham will speak at the public event scheduled for 6:00 p.m. in Lafayette Square on Sept. 25, 2014 and urges local citizens to come out to pray. In addition to the American event, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reports that 460 prayer vigils are scheduled to occur in 30 countries worldwide on Sept. 26 to intercede for Pastor Saeed in Iran and persecuted Christians everywhere.
Mrs. Abedini is very straightforward about the fact that she and others are praying for a miracle, and hoping that the prayer vigil event will remind American governmental leaders of the necessity to stand up for religious freedom and inspire them to put pressure on Iran to release the pastor from imprisonment. Letters from Pastor Saeed smuggled out of Evin Prison describe severe beatings, torture and abuse, malnutrition and medical care being withheld because he is a Christian and considered “unclean” by Muslim standards. His wife has also received reports of death threats and attempted murder by other prisoners who are members of al Qaeda and ISIS militant groups. ACLJ’s executive director, Jordan Sekulow confirms that in Rajai Shahr Prison, where Pastor Saeed is currently held, the risk of death is a constant companion.
Abedini is an Iranian-born American citizen who, with his wife and children, was active in the Calvary Chapel in Boise, Ida until his arrest in 2012 on charges of “threatening national security” while working to establish an orphanage in the Middle Eastern nation. After a sham trial, an Iranian judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. Pastor Saeed continues to receive demands that he renounce his faith in Jesus Christ, something he steadfastly refuses to do. He shares in a letter to his wife that some guards taunt him with threats that he will be kept in prison even after his sentence is up, if he does not recant his Christian testimony. However, against all odds, Pastor Saeed holds out love, forgiveness and hope to his persecutors even as he is suffering under terrible conditions and abysmal treatment. The Mission News Network reports that he calls himself, “A prisoner in the darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light.” He takes comfort in the fact that his suffering is drawing the body of Christ closer together as they pray and work for his release.
Abedini’s wife likewise expresses great strength of faith that helps her in the day to day struggle of having her husband imprisoned unjustly and cruelly tortured and beaten. She shares that God is her support and strength as well as her husband’s. Although acknowledging the extreme difficulty of the situation, she also counts it an honor that God would trust Saeed to take the good news of the gospel into a dark place and illumine the lives of people in despair.
Pastor Saeed’s story gives a human face to the global problem of persecution of Christians and churches, according to Sekulow. It draws attention to reports of imprisonments and violence directed at Christians in many countries around the world, particularly in Iran, Iraq and the Middle East. While rejoicing that the message of the gospel is being preached through this circumstance, Samaritan’s Purse and Nagmeh Abedini point out that two years of missed birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasion in the life of his family is more than enough. Sekulow urges all Christians to make their voices heard in the efforts to free Pastor Saeed and let it be known that it is time for him to come home to his wife and children. Franklin Graham pleads with all believers to get involved through letters to the President and their congressmen as well as through prayer. The prayer vigils scheduled for the 25th and 26th of September are one way Christians can take action to end the American pastor’s imprisonment in Iran, strike a blow against Christian persecution and reunite a husband and wife and a father with his children.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser