ASHEVILLE, N.C. (Christian Examiner)—Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini landed on American soil and is recuperating and reconnecting with family at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Samaritan's Purse has released a video of Abedini's tearful reunion with his parents and sister upon his long-anticipated arrival last week.
Yes, Lord, we worship You. We thank you, Lord, for this beautiful time. You are awesome. You are faithful. Thank you, Lord. You are wonderful. We worship You. Thank you, Jesus.
The video shows Abedini, who had been imprisoned in Iran for three-and-a-half years before being released last Sunday, hugging and praying with family members and Franklin Graham.
'Yes, Lord, we worship You," 35-year-old Abedini prayed during the reunion. "We thank you, Lord, for this beautiful time. You are awesome. You are faithful. Thank you, Lord. You are wonderful. We worship You. Thank you, Jesus."
The prayer came three-and-half years after Iranian authorities detained Iranian-born Abedini in July 2012 while he visited family in the Iranian capital of Tehran. On Sept. 26 of 2012, the Revolutionary Guard took him from his parents' home. In January of 2013 the Iranian government sentenced him to eight years in prison on charges that he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier.
Since his 2012 imprisonment, Abedini's story has become one of the most well-circulated of Christian persecution in the Middle East in recent memory. Abedini was released last weekend along with four other American prisoners in a controversial deal that some suggest amounts to the United States paying for hostages.
Missing from Abedini's North Carolina arrival was his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, and their two children. In a Baptist Press interview with Naghmeh released Jan. 22, the pastor's wife said she was planning to meet her husband in Germany, where he received medical treatment after his release, but she changed plans after the couple "determined they needed more time to heal psychologically."
Strains in the relationship began to surface in November of 2015 when she says an email she wrote to close friends asking for prayer was leaked to the media. The email, which then became public, mentioned ongoing "physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed's addiction to pornography)" since the early days of their marriage.
Naghmeh has since said she regrets sending the email, even to close friends.
For three and a half years Naghmeh became the public face of Abedini's struggle for freedom. She traveled to churches throughout the United States—and even to the White House—to advocate for his release.
In a Jan. 21 Reuters article Naghmeh expressed hope that the couple can reconcile.
"I have hope that we can work through all the issues and we can restore our marriage," Naghmeh told Reuters. "My Christian faith does give me a lot of hope in that."
Atash Pejman*, an Iranian-born church planter serving now in a large U.S. city, expressed frustration at the public nature of Naghmeh's comments—particularly as it appeared that he may be nearing a release.
"The problem was there, but my big question is why she publically started talking about it before he was released," Pejman said. "Why now?"
Pejman, who was himself abused and imprisoned by the Iranian government before leaving the country of his birth, admits he has more questions about the situation than answers. He suggested that her comments may have been used by the government to humiliate Abedini. He wonders about accountability. He also wonders whether Naghmeh will continue to advocate for Christians unjustly detained by Iran once her husband is safe at home.
Naghmeh, after a month of rest and refocus following her revelations about her relationship with her husband, said she had experienced a renewed dependence upon Christ after the turmoil.
"A month ago, the Lord asked me to stop and sit," Naghmeh wrote in a Dec. 7 Facebook post. "It took another step of faith to stop everything and just sit at the feet of Jesus and to hear from Him. It was freeing to see that by Grace of God none of the fame and attention or praises of men had gotten to me and that I could drop everything the moment my Savior told me to drop it and to go back to being a single mom in Boise, Idaho. It was freeing to let go of the false sense of security that money was bringing into my life (through speaking engagements) and to know that the only thing that all I desperately needed was Jesus. That my true security rests in Jesus. That Jesus is my day to day provider. [sic]"
Naghmeh told Baptist Press that God has taught her to forgive her husband while still setting boundaries in the relationship. She also told Reuters that she will continue to promote religious freedom and bring attention to Christian persecution.
*Name has been changed.