A California church that raised nearly $200,000 to purchase a home for the family of Pastor Saeed Abedini while he was imprisoned for his faith in Iran in 2013 filed a lawsuit in order to settle a dispute over the money.
Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel, located in Yucca Valley, California, had raised the funds for Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, and their two children who were living in Boise, Idaho. But matters became complicated following Abedini's release from prison in January 2016 and the couple's divorce proceedings.
According to the lawsuit, the church claims that Abedini implicitly demanded that the funds be given to him. But given that he and his wife are now separated and that the church had collected donations to buy a house for Naghmeh and their children, the church says that "a substantial controversy exists concerning entitlement to the charitable donations."
"Plaintiff (Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel) cannot distribute the benefits because it cannot determine which of the competing claimants, if any, is entitled to the said funds," the lawsuit states.
Abedini, who established house churches in Iran, was imprisoned for his faith for more than three years and was released in January 2016 after suffering torture and other forms of persecution. His wife as well as prominent Christian leaders campaigned heavily for his release.
But in recent weeks, Abedini has posted critical messages against those Christian leaders, his wife and Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel.
"Idaho media recently asked about the $200,000 which was raised for me when I was in prison and wanted to know what happened to that money and I didn't have any answer," he wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday.
"I told them I knew a Calvary Chapel Pastor fundraised but since I got released he never called me to let me know so I don't know what they did with that money. After 1 year because of the news push to get to know, I called Pastor Hagerman and his attorney told me they sued me and took me to court," he explained.
A copy of the lawsuit provided by the church's lawyer, David Earl Jacobs, explains that Merrily Hagerman, wife of Joshua Springs Pastor Jerel Hagerman, met Abedini's estranged wife Naghmeh through mutual friends in Idaho. After hearing about the plight of her husband in Iran, Merrily launched a fundraising campaign to buy a house for Naghmeh and her children, according to the lawsuit, and raised a total of $198,350.
"I called her up and said, 'Naghmeh, the Lord put it in my heart to buy you a home,'" Merrily Hagerman told MagicValley.com about how she connected with Naghmeh Abedini in 2014. "I really know it was the voice of the Lord. Why would I want to raise this? When you feel that prompt, it's from God."
In that same report, Naghmeh said when she told her then imprisoned husband that they would be getting a house, he wept knowing that he would have a home when he left prison.
"For him (Saeed), as the head of the family, it's a dream he's had," Naghmeh told the publication at the time. "It's what he wanted to provide for the family, that's why it's so emotional. The burden that has been on him for so long has been taken by other people."
Naghmeh told the publication that she would wait until late March in 2014 to even think about looking for a home with the money raised. Her dream at the time was to go house-hunting with her husband.
The dream, however, was shattered almost as soon as her husband was finally freed from prison in January 2016. She revealed that they were having significant marriage trouble and then announced last October that they were getting a divorce.
The church explained in its lawsuit that on Dec. 2, 2016, Saeed Abedini contacted Merrily Hagerman and asked about the money that was collected "under my name ... to buy us a home."