Persecution of the Saints

Saeed Abedini

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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Continued from Page One

When the US refused to hand over the exiled Mohammad Reza Shah, student supporters of the Islamic Revolution stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and held the staff hostage from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. Saddam Hussein took advantage of the chaos and started the 7-year Iran-Iraq War. In 1988, after ticking off the US by threatening the oil supply, Khomeini finally accepted a truce. Next followed two somewhat moderate presidents who attempted to rebuild Iran with a focus on capitalism. Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who served from 1989-1997, was a master politician who did what he could to repair relations with the West while condemning both the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent US invasion of Iraq. He also condemned the Iranian terrorist group the Mujahedeen and spoke for human rights, but refused to lift the fatwa (hit order) Khomeini had placed on Salman Rushdie. Next came Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005). He attempted to go further, advocating tolerance and reconciliation with the West and Asia. Unfortunately, his desires for reconciliation with conservatives in Iran were not strong enough to override their prejudices, and his reforms caused him to lose the support of the Supreme Leader.

It was during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami that Saeed Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity. As a convert, he was not allowed to worship with those who were born into Christian families. So he, with other converts, relied on a system of underground house churches that pock Iran. He met and married his American-Iranian wife, Naghmeh, in 2002, and the two became leaders in the house church movement, traveling to 30 cities and setting up 100 churches. Khatami and the Supreme Leader were distracted with economic reform, international reconciliation, and each other, and largely ignored the house churches and their leaders.

But neither Rafsanjani nor Khatami were completely successful in their desires for reform. The ultra-conservative Iranian Revolutionary Guards continued to grow in power. Improvements didn't reach the rural areas that needed them most. In 2005 Khatami reached his maximum two terms, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president or Iran.

Ahmadinejad reversed his predecessors' social course. He had always been politically conservative, and had even been removed as provincial governor by Khatami. His first term was characterized by criticism from the public for his economic reforms and human rights violations. His second was known for criticism from the Supreme Leader for corruption allegations.

When Ahmadinejad was elected president, Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini knew it was time to leave. They fled to America where they raised their two children. Saeed made several trips back to Iran to visit family and work on social projects, such as the orphanage in Rasht. In 2008, he became an ordained minister in the US; in 2009, he was detained in Iran and only released after he swore to stop his work with the house church network. A year later, Saeed became a US citizen.

Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad was building on his reputation for human rights violations. Torture and long stints in solitary were becoming normal at the Evin Prison, which had never been a pleasant place. It is home to many people (local and foreign) accused of espionage, as well as foreign journalists, lost hikers, and several Christian converts. Ahmadinejad claimed that the abuse, torture, and rapes of women prisoners characteristic of Evin are the work of "enemy agents." No one believed him, wondering instead who he was trying to placate.

Saeed Abedini was arrested during a trip to Iran in July of 2012. He was sent to Evin Prison that September, and in January 2013, sentenced to eight years in prison. That August, Ahmadinejad lost the presidential election to Hassan Rouhani.

Before the election, Rouhani had served in the Assembly of Experts — the elected government council made of Islamic clerics who appoint the Supreme Leader. He promised to focus on civil rights and the economy, and is considered politically moderate. Amid reforms giving women more authority in government and the release of eleven political prisoners come accusations that executions have increased since he took office. He rejected a personal meeting with Obama, but has met with Russian President Putin.

In September 2013, during a phone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, Obama requested information about Saeed and two other Americans believed to be held in Iran. In the same month, during a chance encounter in New York City, Naghmeh was able to deliver a personal letter to Rouhani requesting Saeed's release.

In March, Saeed was transferred to a hospital due to internal bleeding caused by beatings. Recently it's been reported that Saeed was beaten again and transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison.

This spring, Saeed was able to pass on a letter to family members who were allowed to visit him in the hospital. Following is a piece of that letter:
Some times [sic] we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him. We do not realize that unless we pass through the path of death with Christ, we are not able to experience resurrection with Christ.
We want to have a good and successful marriage, career, education and family life (which is also God's desire and plan for our life). But we forget that in order to experience the Resurrection and Glory of Christ we first have to experience death with Christ and to die to ourselves and selfish desires.

Jesus said to His Disciples: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)...

A Glorious life with Christ starts only after a painful death (to self) with Christ.
We will start with Christ.
Pastor Saeed Abedini
Prisoner in the Darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light

Next: Meriam Yehya Ibrahim of Sudan

Information taken mostly from Wikipedia and Iran Chamber Society; errors are my own and welcome to correction.

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Published 5-20-2014