Yellow Ribbon Project

Pastor Held by Iran on 'Shattering' Christmas Season: 'Guards Can't Stand the Paper Cross I Made'


Imprisoned Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini sent a Christmas missive from his jail cell in Iran, saying his guards have threatened him when he posted a paper cross on the wall.

After Saeed’s 2012 arrest by Iranian authorities, he was convicted in January 2013 for crimes against the national security of Iran, a charge tied to his involvement many years earlier with establishing Christian house churches. Sentenced to eight years behind bars, the 34-year-old has endured torture and is in ill health.

The letter, sent to a family member, was released by the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing the Abedini family.

The ACLJ’s Jordan Sekulow said Abdeini “remains in need of medical care, suffering from increased pain from internal injuries sustained as a result of multiple prison beatings throughout the course of more than two years in a harsh Iranian prison.” A relative was able to visit him last week for the first time in over a month.

Writes Abedini:

Rajai Shahr Prison 2014

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell? Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically, but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society of that time.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintery manger of those who are spiritually dead. It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy.

Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God’s love shone in the dark cold wintry frozen hearts and burst forth in this deadly wicked world.

The same way that the heat from the earth’s core melts the hard stones in itself and produces lava, the fiery love of God, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary’s womb came to earth on Christmas to melt the hard heart of sin and wickedness of the world and removes them from our life. In the same process, the work of the Holy Spirit is a fiery rain of God’s Holiness and Mercy that flows into our body, soul and spirit and brings the light of Christ into us and through us making this dark, cold, wintry world into radiant burning brightness. He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah!

So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Soaking in the lava love of Christ

The ACLJ has collected more than 185,000 petition signatures calling for Abedini’s release.

Abdeini’s wife, Naghmeh, spoke to PJM over the summer when her husband was nearly at the two-year mark of his imprisonment.

“All of a sudden, I became a single mom,” Naghmeh said, adding that the “last 2 years have felt like 10 years” to their children. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster.”

Saeed’s first brush with Iranian authorities was in 2009, when the family paid a visit to Iran and the pastor was arrested at the airport. He agreed to stop house church activities, and the Iranian government agreed to let him come and go as he pleased from the country.

Thus began another sort of agreement with the government. Saeed told officials that he wanted to help the Iranian people, and the government gave him approval and encouragement to start an orphanage in Rasht, a northern city near the Caspian coast where they already had a bit of land and could get a building at minimal cost.

“The intelligence police told him, why not do humanitarian efforts?” Naghmeh said. Saeed and the authorities discussed the value of taking in kids no one wanted.

The Abedinis visited Rasht and met local residents who were happy that someone would come take the time to build out the facilities needed to house the orphans. Saeed traveled to and from Iran eight times from 2009 to 2012 as the orphanage came together.

“They were very thankful and open to it, especially the kids — mostly all girls — they were happy that someone would out of their own funds want to help them find a home and be a part of a family,” Naghmeh said.

Toward the end of 2011, Naghmeh and the children went to stay in Rasht to be there for the opening of the orphanage. There were just a few finishing touches to be put on the building and additional board members to approve, and famous musicians were volunteering their time for a concert in Tehran to help the orphanage.

Then, on his ninth trip, Saeed was pulled off a bus at the border with Turkey on July 28, 2012, by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was interrogated and placed under house arrest with his parents in Tehran. On Sept. 26, 2012, the family’s home was raided by the IRGC and he was dragged off to Evin prison, notorious for its political prisoners wing.

“Like anyone that goes through a sudden accident or a loss” is how Naghmeh described the feeling when her husband disappeared into Iranian custody. “Things were going great; we even felt safe enough to take our kids. It was a devastating blow to our family.”

She suspects that the sudden change of heart from an Iranian government that once welcomed the orphanage effort was the result of an oversight handoff from the intelligence police to the IRGC, coupled with a shift in how the government dealt with religious minorities, including the closure of churches under government control. “We believe they used Saeed as an example to cause fear, to not want people to convert to Christianity,” she added, in a sort of “soft war” on the faithful.

“It’s been complicated,” she carefully said of the dance with the State Department and White House. “At times I’ve felt Saeed has been abandoned.”