As negotiators from Iran and the United States work to hammer out a deal to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, one family hopes their name comes up at the negotiating table. Pastor Saeed Abedini, originally from Iran but now an American citizen, has been imprisoned for two and a half years after going to Iran to build an orphanage. He was charged with undermining national security. His wife, Nagmeh Abedini, recently met with President Barack Obama and spoke with me about that meeting. Her attorney, Tiffany Barrons, also joined the conversation.
Nagmeh, did you think the meeting was effective? I do. I know there was hesitancy to meet with me, possibly because of the nuclear talks and not wanting to cause sensitivity with the Iranian government while they were talking over the other issues. I think his meeting with me, first, was a miracle and it was an answer to prayer. That’s why it was so special to me. But also, it got into the Iranian media. It got to the Iranian government’s attention. It got their attention that this is an important issue for President Obama to meet with me, and this issue is a high priority for him. And, finally, we also noticed that there’s a lot of more movement now with State Department and the White House. I will actually be making a trip to Washington, D.C., in a few weeks and meeting with the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.
In the news media reports that I saw, you said that you saw something in President Obama’s eyes; there was some evidence that there was a soul-movement in him. Can you describe what that moment was? I’ve met with a lot of people and politicians, and a goal of my meeting was to really see the heart behind it, … to get to see President Obama face-to-face and see the emotion. And, for me, I was really encouraged because I did see a connection. I did see emotion, especially as I told him that as a Christian, I was praying for him and that we loved him, the kids and I loved him and we prayed for him often. And, also, when Jacob asked if he could bring his daddy home for his birthday, I couldn’t see the president anymore. I could see a father. I could see a husband. And that was really encouraging for me to see.
Anybody who’s been a mother or father who has little kids knows that that’s hard just by itself. But you’ve been holding up the family and being the voice of persecuted Christians around the world? How are you sustaining yourself? It’s been truly difficult as a single mom, but also seeing the suffering of my kids and also knowing that my husband’s suffering in prison because of his Christian faith. Honestly, every morning, if I don’t go before the Lord and if I don’t pray and if I don’t just seek his face, I can’t even stand up. I can’t even walk. Every morning I wake up and my husband’s missing, or I’m traveling and I wake up to the realization of where my life is, and immediately I start praying, I start reading Scripture and start worshiping. That’s the only way I have been able to have strength to get up every morning and to be a voice for my husband and the persecuted church and to be a mother and a single mom.
Do you have a particular verse you hang onto? There are a lot of verses that have really come to life for me, but one of my life verses in the last couple years has been II Corinthians 12:8-10, where I’ve cried out to the Lord to remove this thorn, something that’s been bothering me, and I feel like the Lord’s saying to me that His grace is sufficient for me. And that’s what I’ve experienced every morning: His grace, and to know that it is sufficient. He is there. He doesn’t say we don’t experience pain or suffering, but He does promise that He is there every step of the way. And I’ve been able to experience Jesus in such a deep, intimate way that it’s made the suffering worth it. Paul says in the same chapter, II Corinthians 12:10, “Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities and persecution and distress and need … because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.” He’s discovered the strength of Christ in his weakness. For me, that’s what’s happened in the last couple of years. I’ve wanted a thorn removed. I’ve wanted our family to go back to normal, but I’ve really experienced the grace of Jesus every morning, God’s grace every morning. I can embrace my suffering and I can discover the strength of Christ, even when I feel so weak that I feel like I don’t even have the strength to walk.
How do you feel whenever you watch news reports and you see prisoner exchanges happen like recently happened with an exchange of prisoners in Cuba? Actually, President Obama mentioned the prisoner that was released from Cuba, in a way, to tell me to hold onto hope and that they were going to continue going at it until Saeed was also released. So he did mention that prisoner release. For me, every time I see an American prisoner released, I get hopeful, I cry, and I think about how Saeed would be released, what the reunion would look like. Those are all the things that go through my mind. How would Saeed be released? When will I get the news, and how will I react? Will there be helicopters going after him? I just think about the reunion. I do hope. Whenever I hear a release of a prisoner, an American prisoner, there is a part of me that hopes that Saeed is next.
Nagmeh, what are your immediate plans, to continue on with what you’ve been doing the past two and a half years? I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last two and a half years is to spend more time with the Lord. And my strategy might not make sense to a lot of people, but [it’s] to spend more time with the Lord in prayer and fasting and seeking His face and drawing into a deeper intimacy with Christ.
— by Mary Reichard