A smile burst forth from Saeed Abedini’s face as he skipped the last step exiting the plane into his family’s arms.
Abedini, 35, a pastor who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than three years, was freed Jan. 16, along with three other American citizens. He landed Jan. 21 in Asheville, N.C.
Gathering his parents and sister in a hug, Saeed Abedini closed his eyes and thanked God.
“Lord, we worship you,” Abedini prayed as he gathered in a hug with his family and Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. “We thank you, Lord, for this beautiful time. You are awesome. You are faithful. We worship you. Thank you, Jesus.”
Abedini thanked Graham for his help in his return to the United States.
“Pastor Saeed Abedini is safely back and will be a guest at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville … as he re-aclimates and spends time with his family,” said Graham on his Facebook page Jan. 21. “He is grateful for everyone’s prayers.”
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association photo
Saeed Abedini skips the last step as he departs a plane Jan. 21 into his mother's arms. Abedini was released from an Iranian prison Jan. 16, along with three other Iranian-American prisoners.
Abedini was detained in July 2012 during a trip to visit family and to finalize board members for an orphanage he was working on in Iran. Authorities raided his parents’ home. He suffered intense interrogations and was sentenced to eight years in prison for what the Iranian government called “crimes against the national security of Iran.”
Attorneys for Abedini said the charge was based on his prior involvement in planting Christian house churches. There were repeated reports that Abedini was beaten, threatened, suffered internal injuries and was denied medical treatment.
The release was part of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers brokered in July 2015. The U.S. released seven Iranian-Americans charged with violating sanctions in exchange for four Iranian-Americans, according to an Iranian news agency.
“It is confirmed: Saeed is released!” Naghmeh Abedini announced on her Facebook shortly after news reports of her husband’s release.
Early reports said Naghmeh would fly to Germany but U.S. Congressman Robert Pittenger, R.-N.C., met with Saeed Jan. 19 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where he was taken after a stop in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Pastor Abedini is a wonderful young man who has been through an extraordinarily difficult period in his life,” Pittenger said on his Facebook page. “Please keep Pastor Abedini and his family in your prayers as they begin the personal healing process.
Saeed Abedini was flown to N.C. where he will retreat with his family at The Cove.
“We are ready to welcome him home,” said Naghmeh Abedini in a Jan. 17 interview with FOX News. “[T]he kids are really excited because they are making welcome home signs. There’s a lot of readjustment and a lot of healing that needs to happen. It’s time for our family to heal and to move forward.”
Abedini was released with three other men, also dual citizens of Iran and America: Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist; Amir Hekmati, former Marine infantryman and Arabic and Persian linguist; and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari,
Rezaian, 39, a Tehran correspondent for The Washington Post, was detained in November 2014 on espionage and other charges. Hekmati, 32, was detained in 2011, weeks after arriving to visit his grandmother. He was accused of espionage and other charges in 2012. Little is known about Khosravi-Roodsari other than he decided to stay in Iran.
Another prisoner was released the same day but was not part of the exchange. Matthew Trevithick, 30, a student studying Farsi, was detained in December on unknown charges. He flew directly home to Massachusetts from Iran.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) lobbied extensively for Abedini’s release
“I cannot underscore enough how grateful he is for the tireless efforts of the millions of people who prayed and spoke out for his freedom over the last nearly three-and-a-half years,” said Jay Sekulow of Abedini. “In a phone call from a U.S. military hospital in Germany where he’s being treated, Pastor Saeed thanked our entire ACLJ team and the more than 1.1 million ACLJ members who worked to secure his freedom, saying, ‘May God bless you for everything you did.’”
Sekulow serves as ACLJ’s chief counsel.
“We had met with President Barack Obama last year, and he had promised that getting Saeed out of Iran was a high priority for him,” said Naghmeh in a Facebook post Jan. 17. “I could see his love and compassion as he spoke last year and again today. I am thankful for our President and all of the hard work by the White House and the State Department in making this happen.”
Obama praised Abedini for his sacrifice.
“His unyielding faith has inspired our people around the world in the global fight to uphold freedom of religion,” Obama said. “Now Pastor Abedini will return to his church and community in Idaho.”
Saeed will spend a few days with his parents. Naghmeh and the children will join him Jan. 25.
Naghmeh Abedini was in the midst of a 21-day fast modeled after the fast of the biblical prophet Daniel when her husband was released. She thanked supporters for their help.
“Thank you for having stood with our family during this difficult journey,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Jesus for being with us during the difficulties of life and bringing people who help us bear them. One battle has been won of [sic] Saeed’s freedom. There are many more difficult battles and a hard road ahead.”
She has advocated widely for her husband’s release, maintaining a Facebook page, meeting with President Obama, and speaking before Congress and in many venues before taking a break from public advocacy this past November. She was one of the main speakers at an October 2015 women’s retreat hosted by Embrace Women’s Ministries of the Baptist State Convention in North Carolina.
“Please pray for us as we will be spending weeks or possibly months healing as a family and going through counseling,” Naghmeh Abedini posted Jan. 20. “I am thankful for Franklin Graham for coming along side our family through this next steps of the difficult journey ahead.
“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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTES – This story was compiled by reports from Seth Brown, content editor for the Biblical Recorder, and Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)