Three and a half years ago, young pastor Saeed Abedini was unjustly arrested while visiting his native Iran.
Saeed was born in Iran, but converted from Islam to Christianity and moved to the United States. He married a girl named Nagmeh, whose family was also from Iran. Nagmeh was a Christian, too. Eventually Saeed became a U. S. citizen and a pastor. He and Nagmeh settled in Boise, Idaho, and a daughter, Rebekka, and a son, Jacob, were born to them.
But Saeed was burdened for his own Iranian people, and would periodically return to Iran to help establish house churches and tell Iranians about Jesus Christ. The government of Iran took a dim view of this and warned him to stop.
When he went back again, he was there to start an orphanage for Iranian children, not to start house churches. As he was preparing to leave to come home to the United States, he was unexpectedly arrested. He was taken to court and accused of engaging in activities that would undermine the Iranian government. His lawyer was not allowed to speak. Saeed denied the charges, and even told the judge he would pray for him. Then the judge left the room and the guards beat him mercilessly, leaving him with internal bleeding in his stomach. He was then sentenced to eight years in prison for his supposed crimes against the state. But he was really there only because of his Christian faith.
Saeed was eventually taken to Evin Prison, one of the worst and most notorious prisons in all of Iran. Human rights observers said being taken to Evin Prison was tantamount to a death sentence.
Christians all over the world began to pray for Saeed. His wife, Nagmeh, worked ceaselessly to keep her husband’s plight before the public eye, and to petition Congress and the President to work for Saeed’s release. Franklin Graham led the effort to galvanize Christians to pray for Saeed and to call attention to his circumstances.
But the weeks turned into months, and the months into years. Saeed remained in that horrible prison while his daughter and son grew up without him. He endured repeated beatings, and was made to watch the executions of other prisoners. He said he was given nothing to do, nothing to read, and that the passing of time was one of the hardest aspects of his imprisonment. All he could do was pray, and he said sometimes he would pray twenty hours a day.
When I first heard about Saeed Abedini, it hit me like a blow to the gut. The thought of this young pastor being taken from his wife and children and deprived of his home and his freedom moved me to tears. Like millions of others, I prayed for Saeed’s release.
But as time wore on my hope turned into fear. I feared that Saeed would become a modern martyr for the Lord Jesus Christ, even as I continued to pray for God to deliver him and restore him to his family.
I first heard the news of Pastor Saeed’s release in a message someone left on our phone machine. I immediately turned on the television and saw the news scrolling along the bottom of the screen: Pastor Saeed and three others had been released and were coming home to America! I was stunned. But again and again I gave thanks to God for this incredible answer to prayer.
Saeed and the others were first taken to a German hospital where they were given a thorough evaluation by doctors. When Saeed got back to the United States he rested for a few days at the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina. There he was reunited with his wife, Nagmeh. Just this morning, as I write this, the news came that he is finally at home again with his family in Boise, Idaho. Prayers are still needed for this family for God to heal the scars of these past few years.
Pastor Saeed is only the most public face of one of the most neglected and under-reported stories of our time: the persecution, torture, imprisonment and martyrdom of many, many Christians around the world, whose only crime is their Christian faith. Saeed is home, and we should give genuine thanks to God. But as the writer of Hebrews admonished us: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3)
Soli Deo Gloria!