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BP This Week: An American in Iran

John Stonestreet interviews Naghmeh Abedini, wife of jailed American pastor Saeed Abedini, and Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice.

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While we often think we're being persecuted for our faith in America, pastor Saeed Abedini knows the terribly real thing. He has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran, beaten and tortured. But according to his wife, God is upholding him in powerful ways. During this special edition of "BreakPoint This Week," you'll get the latest update from Mrs. Abedini and legal expert Tiffany Barrans, and you'll also find out what you can do to help end this horrific miscarriage of justice and violation of religious liberty.

Over the last several months you've likely heard of the situation of Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, Christian pastor, husband and father who, since September 2012, has been held in one of the most notorious prisons in Iran for his charitable work in that country and legal exercise of his religious liberty.

Saeed Abedini with his wife, Naghmeh and two children.
On July 28, 2012, Saeed, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, was visiting his family in Tehran and finalizing the board members for an orphanage he helped spearhead in Northwest Iran. During this trip, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard unexpectedly detained Saeed, alleging that he had committed crimes against the security of Iran. After a period of intense interrogations, Saeed was relegated to house arrest and instructed to await court summons. On September 26, rather than that summons, members of the Revolutionary Guard raided his family's Tehran home and took Saeed into custody. Four days later, his family was informed of his whereabouts: he was being kept in solitary confinement at Evin Prison, one of the most notoriously vicious facilities in Iran.

After four weeks in solitary confinement interrupted only by abusive interrogations, Saeed was informed by an Iranian prosecutor that he would face charges for trying to undermine the government through his conversion from Islam to Christianity, and his subsequent ministry, which included starting a network of house churches, working with a foreign Christian television network, and conducting Christian conferences and leadership trainings outside of Iran. All of this, notes American Center for Law and Justice attorney Tiffany Barrans, was done in accordance with the laws of Iran at the time, and should not merit charges.

According to Saeed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, who has been in limited contact with her husband since he was imprisoned, Saeed has endured beatings and threats of death for his Christian faith in the intervening months. "[I am] told I will hang for my faith in Jesus," writes Saeed in a letter to his Naghmeh. According to Barrans, who serves as International Legal Director at ACLJ, and has dealt with similar cases, Saeed's assigned judge, Pir-Abassi of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, is a notorious offender against human rights, and has presided over numerous unfair trials and even sentenced human rights activists to death. He is known in Iran as "the hanging judge."

Denied access to his attorney until less than a day before his trial, Saeed appeared before Judge Pir-Abassi on January 21, 2013 to offer his defense. Despite repeated overtures from Iranian officials that Saeed's family could secure his release on bail, the request continually met with denial. Most shockingly, a court administrator threatened a close friend of the Abedini family who was assisting in them in securing bail.

During the trial, Saeed and his attorney were prohibited from entering the court room while the prosecution questioned witnesses. Several days later, after Saeed had presented his defense, the court convicted him and sentenced him to eight years in prison. Saeed remains in Evin, where prison staff have denied him medical treatment because of his Christian faith, all in violation of Articles 13, 14, and 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which guarantee a right to freely practice religion, as well as Articles 9, 18, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran has signed.

Saeed is prohibited from making phone calls to his family, and has continued to endure abuse at the hands of his jailors. He is, however, able to communicate occasionally via letters. According to his wife, Naghmeh, Saeed's faith in Christ alone has sustained him. For Naghmeh and her children, too, the knowledge that Saeed's endurance in the face of persecution honors the Lord helps them cope:

"There's the theory of Christianity and Who Jesus is, and then there's the reality, when you really taste it and when you grasp it," says Mrs. Abedini. "[That] can take away all the anxiety, all the depression and worries, and give you a calm that no human being in this world can give you—that the world can't take from you, no matter the news (you know, the latest is his eight-year sentence). It's supernatural. The world doesn't understand it, and I don't understand it. It's a gift, and it comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ."

Naghmeh expresses a heartfelt desire that her husband's imprisonment would redound in greater glory for God, and especially that more ears would hear the Gospel through Saeed's situation. But of course, she and their children desperately want and need him back. And that's where you can help.

Tiffany Barrans urges our listeners to join the over 100 thousand who have already signed the American Center for Law and Justice's petition to the United Nations, European Union and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights designed to put pressure on Iran. She also directs us to the ACLJ's action list of steps our listeners, their families and their churches can take right now to help secure pastor Abedini's release.

Persecution is nothing new for Christians. Jesus promised we would endure hatred for confessing His name. But never before has the Church worldwide had the kinds of tools for influencing hotbeds of persecution and communicating the plight of our mistreated brothers and sisters as we enjoy today. Taking advantage of these can show oppressive governments the world over, not to mention policymakers here at home, that we mean business when it comes to our religious freedom. But more importantly, it can also save lives and reunite families. Let us pray earnestly that God will grant just such an outcome for pastor Saeed Abedini and his family. And then, let's do something to help them.

(Also, you may like to read or listen to today's BreakPoint Commentary by Eric Metaxas: An American in Iran - Support an Imprisoned pastor.)

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Thank you for your defense of my comment. Just in case there is any doubt in anyone's mind, I want to say that you are correct about my use of satire. Perhaps Becky read my comment without reading Todd's, and so took it out of context. Also, she didn't seem to notice that I also recommended prayer.

BTW I got the idea of using the example of Paul's use of his Roman citizenship to justify Christians asserting their rights today from Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, which is mentioned in the article on this page, on his radio program, Jay Sekulow Live. He uses it every time someone calls in to that program to complain about that practice, as Todd did in his comment.
Becky, two things: (1) Richard was not saying that Paul was literally a "cry baby"; he was using satire to make the point that Paul was, in fact, NOT a cry baby. (2) Please speak more respectfully to your fellow commenters. Thank you.
The Other Side????
FIRST: Richard is right on one thing. We should do all we can legally to see that Pastor Saeed is released. But the most powerful thing we can possibly do is pray, because God listens. In the end, God's Will will be done and it will bring Him the glory.

SECOND: Richard just literally made me sick. Has he forgotten or is he just ignoring the fact that Jesus Christ Himself chose Paul (out of all the people on earth)to bring His message to the Gentiles and Paul followed Him. Is he saying Jesus made a mistake and chose a cry baby? Perhaps Richard should have been there to straighten Jesus out. Paul was persecuted and persecuted and persecuted some more--he was imprisoned and stoned and left for dead. If Jesus had not used Paul and others like him,we would not be here calling ourselves followers of Christ. As Americans,we have not suffered that kind of persecution so far, although we may see it if we don't very quickly begin to speak the truth in this nation.
And yet, to Richard, Paul was a cry baby. I am truly sorry for you, my friend.
The other side of the coin
The examples that Todd quotes of the experience of the apostles is by and large accurate as far as they go, but I find them to be very selective. There is no mention, for example, of the time Peter was in prison, the local church prayed for him, and he was released with the help of an angel. Were those praying for Peter making a mistake? Did God make a mistake in granting their request? Of course not. God is sovereign. He will use imprisonment and martyrdom when He decides it is best in the long run, as in the case of James, but He is just as free to decide in the case of Peter to do the opposite.

And let's not forget about that cry baby Paul who, more than once, stood on his puny, fleshly legal rights as a Roman citizen. Too bad Todd wasn't around back then to straighten Paul out.

Again, God is sovereign to use persecution when He deems it best to do so, and to use legal arguments when He deems that the best course. Let God make the decision, and let us pray for God to do what is best, according to His sovereign will and wisdom.
Pastor Saeed
I can't imagine what pastor Saeed or his family is going through at this point and my prayer is that God will meet his and his families needs through this crisis. Here is a radical thought/opinion that I don't hear the Christian community saying or supporting. Again, I would not wish any of this on anyone but the Bible clearly states that if we are persecuted that we are blessed and Christ says we will be persecuted if we follow him. Imagine if the apostle Paul was living today and was put in prison just like he was back in the day or any of the apostles for that matter. Would we all be crying and stomping our feet crying foul and doing all we could to get them out of prison? Probably so. How about when Christ was taken, beaten and ultimately killed. Would we also be crying foul and doing all we could to correct an unjust punishment? Probably so. I hate to say this but God moves in mighty ways and it is all designed to bring glory to Him and not necessarily make our lives easy or free from persecution. The apostle Paul did mighty things while in prison because of his love for the prison guards, which ultimately resulted in their salvation. Of course, our entire life as a Christian was dependent on the persecution of Christ and his ultimate sacrifice. Why are we trying to circumvent God's work? Pastor Saeed and his family felt God was calling them to Iran and this is part of that calling. Listening to this interview it is obvious that pastor Saeed and his wife understand who they are in Christ and to love on those that persecute them. They understand but no one else seems to. In fact, John and Tiffany almost dismiss what Naghmeh was saying in her prayer request and putting the importance of getting justice over what God is doing in this situation. This petition is fine but we are so caught up in our fleshly efforts to right this wrong and are completely disconnected to what God is doing in this situation. All we care about is getting pastor Saeed out of prison. That would be great, but how about taking it to a higher thought and pray for empowerment of pastor Saeed to bring the love of God to bear on peoples lives in Iran and especially the leaders? We need to put our trust in God and not in our legal and really smart fleshly efforts to bring justice to Pastor Saeed. God can and will do much more then anything we muster and I guaranty you that God is going to do mighty things through Pastor Saeed through his Spirit in His love. My prayer is Ephesians 3:16-21 for pastor Saeed and his family. God Bless!

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