When I think of people who have inspired me, I remember my journalism professor, who was wise, and instilled a love in me for newspapering not just as a job, but a mission – a quest.
I’m also moved by missionaries, who surrender comforts of home, and safety of solid income to serve people in impoverished countries. There are family members, friends, and other journalists who also inspire me to be better in every way as a human being, a mother, and professional. But no other person has inspired me like Naghmeh Abedini.
A Cause Worth Fighting For
Naghmeh Abedini is the wife of Saeed Abedini, who has been a prisoner in Iran for the past year because of his Christian faith.
Both are naturalized American citizens, born in Iran. They met in Iran, in an underground Christian church. A former Muslim, now Saeed Abedini is a Christian pastor – a convert – which makes him detestable in his homeland.
Pastor Saeed was in Iran visiting family, and was establishing a government-sanctioned orphanage when he was arrested. The Revolutionary Guard seized him off a bus, shackled him in chains, and whisked Pastor Saeed off to a notorious prison. Since then, Naghmeh has been fighting for her husband like I’ve never seen anyone fight before.
She has arranged for nation-wide prayer vigils, petitioned the White House, has written commentary, testified in front of Congress, and is working closely with the American Center for Law and Justice to help free her husband. And she has prayed without ceasing.
Pastor Saeed has spent the last year in Evin Prison in Tehran. There, he has been tortured and beaten because he will not recant his Christian faith, and has suffered internal bleeding. At times he has been denied medical care, and a nurse refused to touch him because he was “unclean.” Just last week, Pastor Saeed was moved to an even worse prison – Rajai Shahr in Karaj.
When Naghmeh heard where her husband was being transferred, she said, “I fell to my knees crying uncontrollably. Feeling so weak and worn. I felt that this was the blow that... I couldn't recover from. I didn't have the strength to stand up or speak a word. The kids immediately came to my mind. Their innocent faces as they waited for Saeed's return. Saeed's face raced before my eyes. The pains and tortures he must be enduring. Defenseless in the hands of the radicals. I knew I had to get back up again and fight for his life. Relying on my faith in Jesus Christ and the prayers and support of all of you surrounding me, I am up by His Grace.”
Putting Things Into Perspective
Naghmeh understands what Iranian prisons are like, and some of her family members have been killed there. You have to understand that Iranian prisons are not like American prisons where you are given proper nutrition, clean clothes, television, and even access to a legal library. In an Iranian prison, there are no comforts or basic human rights. To put things in perspective, here is an account from another Saeed who has been imprisoned in Rajai Sharhr – Saeed Masouri, a political prisoner:
“I want to paint a picture of Rajai Shahr prison though large in the eyes of the citizens of Karaj, in reality a very small prison because of over-crowding. This is a different world, much like hell depicted in fictional movies, full of fire and smoke. A world filled with burnt, black, disheveled faces, naked bodies covered with sweat and red marks from the sting of lice. A world filled with torn trousers scraps of which are used as belts; bare and filthy feet, clothes worn inside out and covered with lice; torn, mismatched slippers. A world in which you are exposed to polluted air, the extreme smell of putrid waste, overflowing sewage from toilets, the toxicity of dry vomit, infectious phlegm and the body odor from bodies in close proximity, rarely given the opportunity to bathe; all coming to a climax with the smell of urine by those who are unable to control themselves . . . Faces gaunt with malnutrition, yet hidden behind dense beards and disheveled hair; heart breaking coughs as a result of lung problems caused by contaminated indoor air; unrecognizable bodies that are associated with starving children in Africa; masses of prisoners across the corridors, looking as though they are dead, heat stricken, with soulless eyes staring at the walls and the ceiling; naked bodies searching for lice in the seams of the clothing, bodies that touch other bodies as they pass them by, all too accustomed to the images around them.”
Rajai Shahr is where Pastor Saeed will spend the remaining 7 years of his 8-year sentence, if he makes it that long. This prison is known as a place where people “disappear.”
Just this past week, Pastor Saeed’s family tried to take personal belongings and medication to him -- medication he needs resulting from beatings at the hands of his captors. But the request to give Pastor Saeed even his medication, was denied.
How Would You Feel?
My first thought is, why do we not send Special Forces in to save Pastor Saeed, and any American citizen being wrongly held by a foreign government? If diplomatic overtures don’t work, take our citizens back by force. There might be a reason, but as an average citizen, that is just my inclination.
Months ago, Secretary John Kerry did pen a letter to the now-former president of Iran, which was lackluster and long overdue. Recently, 23 United States Senators sent a bi-partisan letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to do all he can to bring Pastor Saeed home. They also commended the president for raising the issue during a diplomatic talk with Iran’s new president. Hasan Rouhani.
So while people petition the Throne of God, write letters, and champion for Pastor Saeed’s release, Naghmeh, who resides in Idaho, still has to make life as normal as possible for her little girl and boy. She recently wrote:
“His year-long absence really hit home earlier this month as I prepared my children for another school year. I found myself facing a piercing pain in my heart that is becoming too familiar. I wiped away the tears quickly. I had to be strong for my kids. As fathers and mothers crowded the classrooms on the first day of school, my children’s eyes rested on the fathers hugging their boys and girls, wishing them a good first day of school.
Their own father’s absence was painfully obvious. Saeed was not there to see his kids off to their first days of kindergarten and first grade, all because 13 years earlier, he decided to become a Christian. One of the most difficult moments of the past year came just a few days ago, when Rebekka, our seven-year-old, celebrated her birthday on September 12th – the second birthday without her dad. When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, her answer was simple: daddy.”
When my husband comes home tonight, my two little daughters will rush up and squeeze him tight, like they haven’t seen him in years, even though they got to hug him this morning too. It’s then, I will picture the innocent faces of Naghmeh’s and Pastor Saeed’s small children, and feel a pain in my heart for another mom who has to bite her lip so she won’t cry in front of the kids, when they ask “when daddy is coming home?” I’ll feel pain for this mom, who will watch her children unwrap their Christmas presents, knowing all they really want is their father back.
Like Naghmeh, I bite my own lip even as I write this story, because even though I can’t even begin to imagine her pain, somehow I feel part of her agony. Yes out of all the worthy people I have known, or known about, Naghmeh Abedini inspires me the most.