Naghmeh Abedini never would have chosen for her husband to be arrested in Iran. She wouldn’t have chosen to live without seeing him for more than three years. She would have never chosen for her children to grow up without their father.
But during this time she has learned a valuable lesson about abiding in God.
“We always think about [abiding] as resting in God, but it’s really about obedience too,” Abedini said. “It’s so simple but so hard.”
BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Naghmeh Abedini speaks to a women’s retreat at Caraway Conference Center in October. See more photos at BRnow.org/Photo-Gallery.
Abedini was one of the main speakers for “Obedience by Faith,” a two-day women’s retreat hosted by Embrace, a ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) geared toward reaching and equipping women. The theme was based on Hebrews 11:8.
Around 250 women attended the weekend retreat Oct. 23-24 at Caraway Conference Center and Camp near Asheboro. They heard from Abedini and Teresa Brown, wife of the former pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. Brown’s husband, Joe, is currently pastoring Northside Baptist Church in Charlotte, an independent Baptist church. Kim Merida and Erica Keith from Imago Dei Church in Raleigh led the music.
Abedini has been a Christian for 30 years, since she was nine years old. Her parents were Muslim. It took 13 years but her parents also decided to follow Christ.
She was afraid of airplanes but through prayer she went to the Middle East a couple of months after 9/11. It was while she was in Iran that she met Saeed, who was born and raised in Iran. He came from a radical Muslim background and was recruited by Hezbollah. He had been a Christian for two years when Naghmeh met him in 2002.
He was working with around 150 college students and ministering in house churches.
They started doing ministry together and married in 2004. By 2005 when the climate for Christians got more hostile, the church had grown to almost 2,000 people stretched across 30 cities in about 100 house churches.
The couple fled to the United States and had two children. In 2009, they went back to Iran and started an orphanage with the encouragement of the Iranian government. Two or three times a year between 2009-2012 Saeed traveled to Iran to work with the orphanage.
In June 2012, Saeed was heading back to Iran for three weeks to finish the orphanage. In July she learned that he was not allowed to leave the country, and a frantic call on Sept. 26 in the middle of the night from Saeed’s mom revealed that five guards had come to take him away.
“I really feel like the abiding happened when Saeed was taken,” she said. “I remember that instant I felt such … a deep, dark place of despair. I didn’t know what I was going to tell my kids.”
Authorities had questioned him before and always let him go, but this time the family didn’t know if he was alive.
BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Phyllis Foy, left, a North American Mission Board missionary, leads a breakout session Oct. 23 during Obedience By Faith, a women’s retreat sponsored by Embrace. See more photos online at BRnow.org/Photo-Gallery.
Naghmeh remembers her mother coming and kneeling by her bed asking how she could help.
“There is a moment … it’s just you,” she said. “No one can help you. You can’t get comfort from another human being.”
Abedini said abiding has two meanings: remaining and obeying. She shared out of John 15 with the ladies.
“A lot of times suffering … makes us desperate for God,” she said. “The storms of life really put you in that panic mode. All we really have to do is abide in Him; He will produce the fruit.”
Since Saeed has been in prison, Naghmeh has been in front of the media with interviews on television and radio and stories in newspapers.
While Saeed has remained imprisoned he has been subjected to beatings and threats on his life. He’s been asked to deny Christ. Naghmeh can’t visit him because she will be arrested as well.
“I’ve been thrown into the political realm,” she said referring to her addresses to U.S. Congress as well as parliaments in several countries. Her most recent high-profile visit was with the United Nations, and on Sept. 26 she participated in a Boise, Idaho, rally to raise awareness of Saeed’s imprisonment. Rallies took place across the country.
She believes God has used Saeed’s situation to give her a platform to share the gospel.
She told the U.N. how they can solve the world’s problems: “God solved it on the cross. Who else preaches dying to self?”
Once believers abide in God, Abedini said the fruit comes. She urged the women to abide in God’s love by keeping His commandments.
“Don’t go with your feeling; don’t go with your heart,” she said. “Don’t go with anything with your flesh. You’re in a world war with your flesh every morning.”
“We are seeing radical hate transform the world. We need to rise up as Christians and say, I have radical love, and it only comes from Christ.”
She asked for continued prayers for her family and for other prisoners and those who are persecuted.
Referring to Hebrews 13:3, she said, “the persecuted body just needs to know they are remembered.”
Not usually one to share her personal stories, Brown spoke of her 12-year journey with cancer.
“Early on I was in a place I didn’t want to be,” she said. “I was in a place I wasn’t sure I would survive.”
After a routine hysterectomy in June 2003, doctors discovered Brown had cancer. Diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer, she found herself in an unfamiliar place.
“I was a pastor’s wife. I was used to praying for everybody else, and now when this stranger called cancer invaded my life, my name went to the top of everybody’s prayer list,” Brown said.
During one of the 33 days of her first round of radiation, Brown said it was in the stillness of a darkened room while she “was strapped to a table with this intimidating machine going around my body” that she “began to feel just a little bit sorry for Teresa.”
She asked God, “How can I possibly serve You better with cancer than I can being healthy and whole?”
It was in that stillness of the room lying “helpless and hopeless before Him” that she began to focus her attention on God. She was too weak to do much, so she had to get still.
“When we take our eyes off God, and we … focus them on anything else, we end up gaining what we can live without, and we end up losing what we need most to survive,” she stressed. “I believe the ‘heart cry’ of all of our lives … is to experience that God, to be in His presence … to feel Him like we felt Him when He was new to us” she said referring to people’s salvation experience.
Brown offered three ways women could be obedient to God: demonstrating gratitude, changing latitude and adjusting attitude.
“I believe there is a place inside the heart of each woman in this room to stop striving,” Brown said.
Since her diagnosis in 2003, Brown has never been free of cancer. She’s gone through six major surgeries, radiation twice and chemotherapy three times.
“Every day I get up I choose joy,” she said.
She encouraged the women to get on their knees and get in God’s Word.
“It’s not all about me,” she said. “It’s not about using God to satisfy all of my needs but in allowing God to use me to satisfy His … it’s not about living an easy life but living a Kingdom life, allowing God to use our ordinary, daily circumstances as holy encounters to glorify Him.”
She cited “Yes, Lord” as her best definition of obedience.
Brown encouraged the women to be vitally connected to Jesus.
“If we live a disconnected life from our heavenly Father, then we have no voice,” Brown said.
“We have no voice with God. We have no voice in our community. We have no voice in our neighborhood, and we have no voice in our homes.
People have to see you walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
“The way we abide is we stay put, and we fellowship with the One we fell in love with so long ago. We talk to Him and we listen to what He has to say through His Word and through other people.”
Ashley Allen, BSC’s Embrace consultant for the last six years, said this year’s theme came out of her personal quiet time two years ago. She was going through a Precept Bible study with Kay Arthur on Hebrews.
“I had to read Hebrews over and over and over again,” she said, “yet, it was chapter 11 that I kept getting stuck on” because of the roll call of faith.
“It dawned on me for the first time ever that faith is not simply a noun but it’s a verb.”
The person that stood out on that roll call was Abraham. God had promised him a son and that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky.
Abraham was advanced in age, and rather than wait on the Lord to fulfill His promise, Abraham decided to figure out how to make God’s promise happen for him.
“When he waited and trusted the Lord, the Lord did exactly what He had promised,” Allen said. “As we read His Word, He tells us exactly what it is He wants us to obey.”
For more about Embrace, visit embracenc.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – To get updates on Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini, visit facebook.com/NaghmehAbedini or follow her on Twitter: @NaghmehAbedini. The next Embrace event is scheduled in March 2016.)