For one of my communications courses at Cornell I focused on the issue of Christian persecution. I had the incredible blessing of interviewing Naghmeh Abedini. Mrs. Abedini is the wife of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor who was imprisoned for his work with Iran’s underground churches. When this piece was completed he was still incarcerated, now however, he is free and their story is still being written.
“If you say you are Christian you will die.”
The barrel of the gun dug into Naghmeh’s scalp.
“If you say you are Muslim we will let you free.”
“I am a Christian,” she responded.
By the grace of God, Naghmeh Abedini and husband Saeed Abedini survived that day.
Revolutionary Guards, one of Iran’s Islamic terrorist groups, had detained them for their Christian activity. It was one of many instances that the Abedinis were arrested because of their faith, and like all the other times, God delivered them from death.
Today, however, the circumstances are much different. Both Mr. and Mrs. Abedini wait for deliverance in deep patience. Saeed languishes in a dark prison in Iran, while Naghmeh and their two children anticipate his release from across the world in Idaho.
Although the injustice of Saeed’s incarceration frustrates Naghmeh—after all, Iranian law now allows for underground churches—the couple is comforted by the promises of eternal life in Jesus Christ. The salvation that comes through Him leaves them justified before God.
Their courage and dependency on God has been an amazing testimony to the Christian community. Although there has been coverage of Saeed’s captivity, many may not know about the story behind such a dynamic couple.
Their journey starts back in 2001.
Born in Iran but raised in the United States, Naghmeh returned to her home country at 28 for a one-year missionary stint. She felt called to share about Christ in a place where less than 1 percent of the population follows His Name.
The culture shock was dramatic.
“I felt I had traveled to another planet. I realized so much of what Americans have we take for granted. Just basic freedoms—what to wear, what to eat, what to think, it was all restricted… Mainly because of the region’s Islamic ideology. It was a different world in every sense.”
During the course of that year she quietly shared the Gospel with her family members as well as friends, and five cousins accepted Christ as their God and Savior. It was not until the very last month of her stay, when visiting a government-monitored church, that she met her future husband.
“The church had a balcony, and there was around 500 people in the building. It was packed, yet of all the people there, my eye caught this passionate guy worshipping and praising God,” Naghmeh fondly remembers.
Drawn to his expressive faith, she met Saeed after the service and asked if he would disciple her cousins. He agreed.
Naghmeh left Iran and resumed the American lifestyle, but Saeed and Iran’s need for Christ constantly gripped her mind.
“This guy grabbed my attention—I asked myself, was does this mean? My cousin, who was with Saeed, repeatedly emailed me, saying, ‘Did you know this guy is a pastor? Do you know he was almost a Saul?’”
Saul was an severe persecutor of early Christians in the Roman Empire, before encountering God and becoming the Apostle Paul. In the same way, Saeed was ready to be an enemy of the church. He was becoming a radicalized Muslim, and nearly killed a Christian pastor preaching, “Jesus is Lord” when the words dramatically transformed Saeed’s beliefs.
Saeed quickly made strides in his relationship with Christ and began heading underground churches.
Hearing all of this, Naghmeh only stayed in America three months before rushing back to Iran. After working in ministry together for five months, Saeed and Naghmeh were engaged. The newly-married Abedinis went on to build underground churches, remaining wary under the everyday threat of the Islamic government.
“We were living under constant fear. Home churches are like a Bible studies in America, but imagine that there is the risk that neighbors may report it,” explained Naghmeh.
“Imagine that in the US, the law has changed, and you can no longer meet at your house, your church. You need to switch locations, times, participants all the time. You’re trying to hide it, to stay on the move. Again, you’re living in constant fear, knowing that persecution is inevitable.”
In the early 2000s, the Abedinis were technically breaking Iranian law by leading home churches. Christianity was, and still is, not an option.
“In every Islamic government there is no tolerance for any other religion, of anything outside Islam. Christians are treated like criminals. No other religion is allowed to survive. All Islamic governments have this ideology in common,” argued Naghmeh.
Eventually the Abedinis moved to the United States, and Saeed became an American citizen. During this time, he kept contact with Iranian churches and assisted the building of an orphanage. When he first returned to Iran, he was only arrested and questioned. Then, during his second visit in 2012, he was forced into an Iranian prison indefinitely. There is no telling when he will be released.
Now, Naghmeh waits. Comforted that all is under God’s perfect will, she travels around the U.S. and world to tell Saeed’s story.
UPDATE: Pray for Saeed’s continued recovery after his release. The dark prison environment afflicted him and estranged him from Naghmeh. Pray for Naghmeh and her children, that the Lord will continue to be faithful to him during this trying time.