A Painful Reality: The Long Battle to Free Saeed
BOISE, Idaho -- For the last two years, American Pastor Saeed Abedini has been in an Iranian prison because of his Christian faith. Christians around the globe have been praying, and many will join rallies across the country on Sept. 26 to push for his release.
Saeed's wife, Naghmeh, has led the fight. She told CBN News it has been long and painful. Naghmeh said when she and Saeed married she never dreamed they would ever be apart.
"I never dated before Saeed," she said, adding, "He was my everything and I processed everything with him, my best friend."
Saeed, an Iranian-born Christian and U.S. citizen, is serving eight years in the brutal Rajai Shahr prison, one of Iran's worst penal facilities, for doing nothing more than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Iranian government also calls him a national security threat for openly practicing his faith outside of their country.
While in prison Saaed has endured torture and threats from guards and fellow inmates. He has also suffered from internal bleeding and other health issues, but prison officials have denied him proper medical attention.
Today, he faces yet another threat inside the prison walls from members of the Islamic State, or ISIS.
"They've been beheading Christians all over Iraq and Syria," Naghmeh said. "Here's someone who converted from Islam and he's an American citizen and so they want his life in that prison so it's been really intense for him in that prison."
Saeed's parents have been allowed to visit him once a week in prison, but he has not been able to call his wife back home in the U.S. It is a painful reality for Naghmeh and the couple's two young children, ages 8 and 6.
Earlier this year, Naghmeh produced video messages of her children asking for President Barack Obama's help to bring their father home.
"My son was 4 and my daughter was 5, so this is her 3rd birthday without him," she explained. "I never imagined. It was too painful to realize that my kids will grow up without their dad and it's been painful."
"I had a lot of emotional days," she commented.
'Abandoned' by the US
Naghmeh has turned her pain into a crusade for her husband's release, taking her case to both the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
She said at times she feels abandoned by the U.S. government.
"There's been no efforts to get him out outside of a few statements here and there," she added. "I really do believe that Iran, if there's incentive they will release him if someone's stern with them," she said.
The U.N. recently issued a report on Saeed's case in which it strongly condemned Iran and called for his release.
When he was first imprisoned, Saeed and his wife felt bitterness against Iran. But now Naghmeh prays for her husband's captors and that God would use Saeed's story for his glory, even if that means she never sees him again.
"It's been this really intense moment where my eyes have to be on Jesus every day," she told CBN News,
"If I turn it to the Iranian government, what they're saying, or our government - I will fall," she added. "I can't look at who's saying what and who's doing what for Saeed. I just have to look at Jesus."
It is a prayer she also prays for Saeed.
"I've been praying that God would just give him grace for that day," she said.
Opportunity to Witness
One positive result that has come from Naghmeh's journey to free her husband has been the unique platform to share the Gospel.
She said she has been able to share in front of the U.S. Congress a few times, different parliaments in Europe as well as all over the world, telling them that Jesus is the answer.
She said it is a message that Saeed also shares while in chains.
In letters from prison, she said he shares how he hugs those who persecute him in the prison and how he has led many Muslims to Christ.
"He's in the darkest place and he's sharing Christ where they never would have a chance to hear about Christ if he wasn't there," she told CBN News.
"I've heard that some of the prisoners have said, 'I don't feel in prison anymore,'" Naghmeh shared. "'I feel free because I found Christ.'"
Strengthening the Persecuted Church
While she said her heart aches for her husband's safe return, she said his story is strengthening the body of Christ around the world.
Prayer vigils in 493 cities in more than 30 countries will mark Saeed's 2nd anniversary in prison with a specific focus on the persecuted Church.
"This is the 2nd year he's in prison because of his Christian faith and (we're) not only remembering Saeed but we're remembering other persecuted Christians," Naghmeh said. "We're coming together and praying."
"My eyes are on the Lord," she continued. "That's where Saeed's deliverance will come from and that's why this day of prayer is so important to me."
That is what keeps her going.
"…like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in saying God will deliver me, but if he doesn't I give my future, my life to you," she said. "Whatever happens I'm going to be okay."
And she is confident that Saeed would agree.
"I know he would say it's worth it, if I die in this cell it's worth it. That's what keeps us going is knowing that it's for Jesus," she said.
***According to the ACLJ, nearly 300,000 people worldwide have signed the BeHeard Project petition in an effort to get him released.
Let your voice be heard, sign the petition.