The Abedini family never imagined that Pastor Saeed would spend his last three birthdays in captivity.
But that’s exactly what’s happened. Instead of celebrating his birthday with his wife Naghmeh, and their two young children – Jacob and Rebekkah – at their home in Idaho, Pastor Saeed is once again marking another birthday – separated from his family – in a prison cell in Iran.
This Thursday, May 7, Pastor Saeed turns 35 years old. As a family member visited him last week, he was able to deliver an open letter that he would like to see read by Christians all across America as we approach his birthday on Thursday – the very day that also marks the National Day of Prayer.
In his letter, which is posted here, Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen – expresses his encouragement for the Christian church in America: “Remember my chains in your freedom and chain together in unity for our beloved America. Know that I am chained with you in prayer on that day in seeking God for America.”
As millions across America prepare to pray and ask the Lord to “hear our cry” – Pastor Saeed will be doing the very same thing – thousands of miles away – in a dark and dangerous prison cell.
“As an American and as a prisoner for Christ I have spent many hours praying and crying out to God for revival for this great nation,” wrote Pastor Saeed. “We all hope for the success of our nation and for America to be blessed, but without revival there can be no true success or blessing. As Ezra cried out to God in repentance and the Israelites joined him in weeping bitterly and turning from their sin, I would like to ask you to join me in repenting and praying for revival. Me from inside of these prison walls and you on the outside.”
Pastor Saeed’s faith is the cornerstone of his life. He has often said he could not survive the increasingly dangerous prison conditions without prayer – without his faith.
It’s the very faith that prison guards denigrate and continue to attempt to force him to reject. The same faith that resulted in an eight-year prison sentence.
It’s the very faith that he will celebrate on his 35th birthday. The same faith millions across America will celebrate on the National Day of Prayer.
For this year, the theme of the National Day of Prayer is “Lord, Hear Our Cry” and is accompanied by a Bible verse from the Book of Kings, which reads “Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.”
One organizer for this year’s event said the theme emphasizes “the need for individuals, corporately and individually, to place their faith in the unfailing character of their Creator, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men.”
That is exactly what Pastor Saeed has done – placed his faith in God. And, as millions across America prepare to pray and ask the Lord to “hear our cry” – Pastor Saeed will be doing the very same thing – thousands of miles away – in a dark and dangerous prison cell.
The Abedini family will gather on Thursday, too. They will pray. And they will remember Pastor Saeed – focusing on birthdays past – happier times – when they were together as a family.
“The emotions I am experiencing overwhelm me,” said Naghmeh. “All I can think of is the last time we gathered as a family to celebrate Saeed’s birthday when he turned 32 – that was three years ago. We have such wonderful memories. The kids were so small. The fact is so much has happened since that birthday celebration three years ago. Now the kids have had to grow up with so much pain – without their father.”
Even with the joyful memories, though, Naghmeh and her family are facing a terrible reality: their husband and father continue to be wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. And while there have been growing calls to release him – and the other Americans held captive – before any deal with the Iranians is finalized, U.S. officials continue to face questions about why these Americans are still being held hostage. Why hasn’t the Obama administration already demanded and secured their release? What are they waiting for?
Naghmeh has questions of her own as well: “I wonder how Saeed looks now – after more than two-and-a-half years in prison? More questions flood my mind: How is he doing now – physically, mentally, and emotionally?”
But, as Pastor Saeed marks another birthday in prison, there’s one question at the top of the list – one question the Abedini family really wants an answer to: When will he finally come home?
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.