Does approval from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability offer Christians useful information about an organization’s financial discipline?
The first and second Sundays in November are designated by various organizations worldwide as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. If one man has come to serve as the symbol of Christian persecution, it’s Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini.
Abedini, a Muslim convert to Christianity, endured more than a decade of harassment from Iranian officials for work with Iran’s house church movement. In 2005 he, his wife Naghmeh, and their two young children moved to the United States. Naghmeh’s family immigrated to the United States during the Iran-Iraq War, and she was already a citizen. They were staunch Muslims who found Christ in America (one hopeful reminder for those contemplating the latest migrant crisis). Saeed also was from a staunch Muslim family and was being recruited in Tehran by Hezbollah before he became a Christian.
From Idaho, the family of four continued to make trips back to Iran to visit family and to help set up a nonsectarian orphanage. Iranian officials agreed to cease interrogations and harassment if Abedini agreed to stop working with house churches. He did. But the agreement didn’t stop the Islamic regime from arresting him in 2012 on a visit to open the orphanage, which had been approved by the government. Authorities charged him with apostasy, a crime punishable by death. He has been in jail ever since, serving an alleged eight-year sentence that could be lengthened at any time.
What’s important to remember about anyone who becomes a symbol for something is that symbols still have lives. Those lives have to be lived one day at a time, just as they do for the rest of us. For Abedini, many of the days are hard beyond belief. As recently as Sept. 22, he underwent an intense round of interrogation that included being shocked repeatedly with a Taser gun. Guards have beaten him over and over, and in June a fellow inmate punched him in the face. Authorities continue to deny him medical treatment.
He hung the sign just over his bed. It was the last thing he saw before bed and the first thing when he awoke.
Separated from her husband now more than three years, Naghmeh, a tireless advocate for her husband, not surprisingly cherishes any objects she’s able to collect from Abedini’s life inside prison walls. In late 2013 officials moved him from Evin, the notorious political prison in Tehran, to Rajayee Shahr, a prison facility 12 miles west of the city and known for its brutality. His father was allowed to collect his belongings from Evin, and he sent them on to Naghmeh—a journal Abedini kept in prison, some clothes, a wooden cross he’d made in his cell, and a handmade sign reading in large, bright letters: “Privilege of Suffering for Christ.”
Look closely and you can tell it was made with different markers, maybe some tape, over a lot of time, and I imagine with anguish. Naghmeh told me he hung the sign just over his bed. It was the last thing he saw before bed and the first thing when he awoke. To me it’s a sign not only of Abedini’s enduring faith but of his weakness. He needed it.
“I received it on Christmas of 2013, and it was the most amazing Christmas present. I felt I had a part of what Saeed had in prison,” she said when I recently asked her for a copy of it. Back then she posted it on Facebook and told her followers it reminded her “how Saeed was offering Jesus the best gift he has. His life. Saeed is taking pleasure in knowing that he is suffering for Christ. My heart leaped inside of me and I rejoiced. I opened my hands and surrendered my family to Him once again.”
As Day of Prayer events unfold in churches this November, Christian believers and non-believers around the world are more aware than ever of the cost of following Jesus. Witness the story of men in orange jumpsuits (see “Fallen and forsaken,” in this issue). I asked Naghmeh for a photo of the sign because I might need to hang it above my bed, or at least my desk, as a reminder to pray for all the Saeed Abedinis and a reminder to count my own lesser struggles for what they are: a privilege.