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HOPE IN THE MIDST OF

SUFFERING THE MYSTERY OF PERSECUTION

“The Lord has counted our family worthy enough to send Saeed to a dark place that he would be able to share with people who are in complete despair” - N AG H M E H A B E D I N I

“This has been very hard, but spiritually it is the best time in my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” This testimony came to ICC, not from a pastor, but from a wife whose husband has been enduring intense torture and abuse in an Iranian prison, a mom who has had to comfort her kids as they ask repeatedly,“when is Daddy coming home?” “God is holding me up,” Naghmeh Abedini told ICC’s president, Jeff King. “I can see from Saeed’s letters that God is holding him up too.” Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini have become a powerful testimony to the hope that God gives in the midst of suffering. God had prepared them and is using them to speak out about injustice and the persecution of Christians around the world and to call the church to stand together with their suffering brothers and sisters.

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MIDDLE EAST

A N U N L I K E LY V O I C E F O R T H E P E R S E C U T E D Standing before a gathering of dignitaries and world leaders in Geneva, Switzerland, Naghmeh said, “Iran’s brutality and violation of my husband’s basic human rights opened my eyes to realities of injustice and suffering too many people endure. I could no longer keep silent. I was personally affected.” In the long and agonizing months since September 26, 2012, when Saeed was taken by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to Evin Prison, Naghmeh has developed a unique platform to speak about Christian persecution. By nature, Naghmeh is not an outspoken person. She did not like to travel, but since Saeed’s imprisonment she has traveled across the globe, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United States Congress, and international human rights gatherings. She has been interviewed by nearly every major national and international media outlet, as well as spoken to churches and at Christian gatherings across the country. “As a small town girl and everyday mom who was born in Iran and raised in a small city in America, I realized I had a voice that I had not used before, until I was personally affected by the injustice that many others have faced and continue to face,” she told the audience at the Geneva Summit.

Photo courtesy of the ACLJ

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This personal experience has given Naghmeh incredible opportunities to come alongside hurting families and to encourage them and to speak out on their behalf. She shared testimonies of listening and talking with the wives of other prisoners, and being able to share with them the hope that she is clinging to, her faith in God. The calling to stand with those who are suffering is found throughout the pages of the scriptures. There is a duty to support those who are facing times of trial.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” – I CORINTHIANS 12:26 ESV “My new reality forced me out of my self-consumed life,” said Naghmeh. “I realized I had a right to speak out for those who are being silenced, to speak for the Christians, for the Jews, for the Baha’i, and other fellow human beings who are being imprisoned simply because of their beliefs.” As an Iranian – or a Persian – Naghmeh has not only a biblical calling to promote justice, but also another legacy of defending human rights that she can point to. Woven into a carpet hanging in the United Nations building in New York City is a poem written by Sa’adi, a 13th century Iranian poet: The sons of Adam are limbs of each other, having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time affects one limb, the other limbs cannot remain at rest. If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others, you are unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.

“It is ironic,” Naghmeh said after sharing this poem, “that Iran, which was once at the forefront of defending human rights and religious freedoms is now considered by many to be one of the world’s worst violators of human rights.” You can help today! 800-ICC-5441

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MIDDLE EAST

Iran is actually home to what many consider the first “charter of human rights.” On a cylinder from the 6th century B.C., King Cyrus laid out an early charter that protected basic human rights, including the right for everyone to choose their own religion. This declaration is from the same Cyrus who, the Bible records, allowed Jews to return to their homeland following their captivity (Ezra 1:1-4).

‘G O D WA S P R E PA R I N G H I M F O R P R I S O N ’ Now in that same land, more than 2,500 years later, as a result of Saeed’s faith, he has endured brutal torture and is serving out an eight year prison sentence. Saeed was born in Iran and grew up not just as a nominal Muslim, but was fervent in his faith in Islam and hostile towards what he knew of Christianity. “He had a radical conversion,” Naghmeh told ICC. “He was a follower of Islam. He was persecuting Christians and was active in the mosque.” Following his conversion in 2000, Saeed channeled his passion into his new found relationship with the living God. He became an active evangelist and soon saw house churches multiplying throughout Iran.

Photo courtesy of the ACLJ

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Naghmeh and Saeed would meet in Iran in the early 2000s, and marry in 2004. “A lot of the things I’ve noticed over the ten years that we’ve been married – his stubbornness, his not backing down from what he believes is right, and spending hours in prayer and worship – God was preparing him for prison,” Naghmeh told ICC.

Photo courtesy of the ACLJ

“HIS STUBBORNNESS, H I S N OT B AC K I N G D O W N F R O M W H AT H E B E L I E V E S I S R I G H T, AND SPENDING HOURS I N P R AY E R A N D W O R S H I P ; G O D WA S P R E PA R I N G H I M F O R P R I S O N .” - N AG H M E H A B E D I N I

In 2009, the Iranian government had detained Saeed and pressured him to stop his work with the churches. He told them that his love for the Iranian people compelled him to do something. So they directed him to start a humanitarian work and he began to establish an orphanage. When he was arrested in 2012, while doing the work the government had given him permission to do, Saeed was insistent that he had done nothing wrong. “Saeed told them that as a Christian he believed in following the law,” Naghmeh told ICC. “He was going to stay in Iran until they told him why they wouldn’t let him leave.” The charges brought against him that led to his eight year sentence were that in his work with churches in 2000-2008, “Saeed was committing soft war,” Naghmeh said. As he serves out his prison sentence, God continues to use Saeed in incredible ways inside the prison. “Saeed has seen so many give their hearts to Christ,” Naghmeh told ICC.

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M EI D AD S TL EA ES A I AS T

“Some have shared with their families: ‘the ten year prison sentence or the death penalty, it means nothing anymore!’ ‘We don’t feel like we are in prison anymore. The walls don’t feel like walls because we found freedom in Christ!’” “It has been amazing knowing that the Lord has counted our family worthy enough to send Saeed to a dark place that he would be able to share with people who are in complete despair,” Naghmeh reflected.

A C A L L TO T H E C H U R C H The testimony of Naghmeh and Saeed – a story that is not finished – has a powerful message to the American church. Through their experience of intense suffering, it is a call to stand with those who are in pain. It is also a call to speak, to use your voice – big or small – to speak against injustice. Their testimony also speaks to the incredible transformation that takes place when a person comes to faith in Jesus. It compels the church to love and take the message of Christ to those who have not heard – in spite of the challenges – whether across the street or across the oceans.

“ N O W I R E A L I Z E I H AV E TO H AV E G O D I N M Y L I F E TO S U R V I V E . I H AV E TO C L I N G TO H I M . I N E E D H I M E V E N TO B R E AT H . I ’ M H A P PY B E C AU S E O F T H AT. I F E E L L I K E I ’ M TA S T I N G PA R T O F H E AV E N .” - N AG H M E H A B E D I N I

Their story also is a testimony to the incredible comfort that God gives in the midst of pain, when we can cling only to him. “Those times when things were going well,” Naghmeh said, “they were scary because I was not desperate for God. Now I realize I have to have God in my life to survive. I have to cling to him. I need him even to breathe. I’m happy because of that. I feel like I am tasting part of heaven. I’ve prayed ‘if this is what it takes for me to be desperate for you, to need you, then keep me broken.’ I’ve found new strength because I have a relationship with the living God.”

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You can help today! www.persecution.org


2 persecution april 2014