Date: January 22, 2016
After arriving in North Carolina, he wraps his arms around his parents and sister before heading off to The Cove for a time of recovery
By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
NORTH CAROLINA (ANS – Jan. 22, 2016) – The long wait is finally over for Saeed Abedini, the 35-year-old American pastor imprisoned in Iran, when the plane he was traveling in, touched down on US soil today (January 22, 2016) at a North Carolina airport, and he was able to wrap his arms around his parents and sister.
A huge smile spread across Abedini’s when he deplaned and was warmly greeted by his family, and also Franklin Graham, son of evangelist, Billy Graham, after spending more than three traumatic years in jail in Iran for his Christian faith.
dIran-born Abedini, who converted from Islam to Christianity, had traveled to Iran in 2012 on a mission to build an orphanage. But he was detained in July 2012 on charges of evangelizing and sentenced to eight years in prison.
The judge said Abedini’s activities were “threatening the national security of Iran.”
Abedini was freed from the Iranian prison along with three other Americans last week. The release was part of a prisoner exchange between the United States and Iran.
Besides Abedini, the Iranians also released Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine from Flint, Mich.; Nosratallah Khosravi-Roodsari, a businessman; and Matthew Trevitthick, a student.
“Pastor Saeed Abedini is safely back and will be a guest at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove [the 1,200-acre retreat center in the N.C. mountains] in Asheville, North Carolina, as he reacclimates and spends time with his family,” Graham shared on Facebook today.
In a statement, Franklin Graham, who is also CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), which operates the Asheville center, said that “we want to provide him a quiet place to rest and visit with family.”
Franklin, who played a leading role in the campaign by evangelical Christians to press for Abedini’s release, added: “None of us in America can begin to understand or appreciate what Saeed has endured after being imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith.”
CBN News reported that Saeed’s attorneys said the charge also stemmed from his prior involvement with Christian house churches in Iran.
Until his flight back to the United States, Saeed Abedini had been in Germany undergoing medical evaluation at a US military hospital.
“During his imprisonment… he was beaten, threatened, suffered internal injuries, denied medical treatment and was separated from his wife and two children,” added CBN News.
His wife, Naghmeh, 38, who fought tireless for him, has announced that she and their two children, Jacob and Rebekka, will joining him at the The Cove on Monday (January 25, 2016).
Naghmeh has been open about marital troubles that she and Saeed had experienced over the years. Because of those issues, along with his need to recover from years of mental and physical trauma in a harsh Iranian prison, she said they will need much time to heal.
“Please pray for us as we will be spending weeks or possibly months healing as a family and going through counseling. I am thankful for Franklin Graham for coming along side our family through these next steps of the difficult journey ahead,” she said.
“I am believing in a miracle for our marriage. We need your prayers more than ever. The enemy wants to bring division and destruction. Please pray that we can heal and move forward united as a family,” Naghmeh continued.
She also told Reuters, “I have hope that we can work through all the issues and we can restore our marriage. My Christian faith does give me a lot of hope in that.”
Naghmeh added that she will continue working to promote religious freedom and bring attention to Christian persecution.
One media report stated that Luke Caldwell, a family friend and son of the founder of Calvary Chapel Boise, where the Abedinis attend church, described their reunion as a “complex situation” that requires “a lot of prayer and support.”
“You wish it was as easy as, everyone's fine, but 3-1/2 years of separation and disconnection,” he said. “Ultimately, they need to reunite that love and that connection.”
Meanwhile, Saeed has been speaking out about what it's been like for him to finally be free.
Jay Sekulow, with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), spoke by phone with Abedini while he was receiving medical treatment at a US military hospital in Germany.
“I'm doing great,” Pastor Saeed told him. “Today was like my first day of my life. I felt like I was born again... Like I was born again, again.”
The ACLJ (http://aclj.org), has worked on Saeed's behalf to advocate for his freedom since he was thrown in prison by the Iranian regime, who many believe had doubled-crossed him by initially telling him that he could return to the land of his birth to help set up an orphanage. But then, after crossing the border from Turkey, they promptly arrested him, and he was later sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment on charges of evangelizing.
Photo captions: 1) Saeed Abedini is greeted in North Carolina by his mother as his father and sister look on. 2) Saeed hugs his parents and sister after his arrival. 3) Franklin Graham (left) with Saeed Abedini. 4) Naghmeh Abedini is pictured in the home of her parents in West Boise, Idaho, January 20, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Ben Klayman). 5) Naghmeh holds a necklace with his photograph in 2015. 6) Dan Wooding chatting with Billy Graham in Essen, Germany.
About the writer: Dan Wooding is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of some 45 books and has two TV programs and one radio show in Southern California, and has reported widely for ANS from various parts of the world. Back in 1968, he began his journalistic career in London, England, working for the Billy Graham-owned newspaper, The Christian, and later worked as part of Billy Graham’s media team in Moscow, Russia; Essen, Germany; and also in San Juan, Puerto Rico.