In the middle of the night 13 years ago, Saeed Abedini lay sleeping at home in Iran after hours of wrestling with the Bible and Islamic doctrine. Islam, Iran's national religion, teaches anyone who converts to Christianity from Islam, or encourages others to do so, is an enemy of the state and subject to imprisonment and even death.
Abedini's struggle that night focused on Jesus' word, "Surely I am coming soon." Two thousand years later Christ had not come, and Abedini, who had trained to become a suicide bomber, doubted whether he would.
But as he slept, he heard a voice say, "Saeed, I am coming back soon. Go and preach my gospel." Abedini woke, perplexed, but went back to sleep. A few hours later, the voice woke Abedini a second time with the same words; again Abedini fell back asleep.
Then the room he and his brother shared began to shake as though hit by an earthquake. A bright light filled the small space and a loud voice once again said, "Saeed, I am coming back soon, go and preach my gospel." No longer doubting, Abedini accepted the call to evangelism and watched a figure he believed to be Jesus leave through the window toward the nearby Evin Prison.
And that's where Abedini is now. After his conversion, Abedini became an evangelist in Iran; establishing home churches and orphanages to spread the gospel. After much persecution, he moved to the U.S., eventually becoming a citizen. But he returned to Iran regularly.
Iranian officials arrested him in September. Last month, the Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced him to eight years in the infamously harsh detention center. Evin Prison is the only place in the area in which he had not preached after his conversion.
Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, told the story of his vision in an interview with Asia Harvest on Jan. 28, just hours after hearing of her husband's sentence. Abedini and his wife have two children and live in Boise, Idaho.
"Like Paul in the New Testament, Saeed has always had a burden to testify and share the gospel to rulers and the Revolutionary Guard," his wife said. "He did not know he would be doing it while imprisoned himself."
Neghmeh Abedini and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) are working with the White House and the U.S. State Department to secure Abedini's release from prison, said Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, last week.
ACLJ represents Abedini's family in the United States.
Recently appointed Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the Iranian government and called for it to release him from prison in a response to Sen. Marco Rubio, according to the ACLJ. Rubio and other lawmakers appealed to Kerry to get involved.
Spokesmen from both the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council have issued statements demanding Abedini's release.
Meanwhile, grassroots support for Abedini is growing. Petitions posted on ACLJ's website and Facebook page asking the Obama administration, Congress, and the United Nations to intervene have more than 373,000 signatures.
In her interview with Asia Harvest, Naghmeh Abedini said, "our greatest source of strength and need is prayer. In all other ways, God will provide."
"Saeed wants nothing more than God's kingdom to come to the Middle East," she said. "If the Church draws close to God in prayer during suffering, then there will be amazing blessing in revival. Prayer encourages the one in prison to endure suffering and to be a joy and a light to those around him."