Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN/BERLIN (BosNewsLife)– Iranian-born American Pastor Saeed Abedini was expected to receive medical attention in Germany on Sunday, January 17, after he was released by Iran following more than three years of imprisonment in what his wife said were harsh circumstances.
Naghmeh Abedini told reporters that after she learned Saeed Abedini was released early Saturday, January 16, she woke their two children saying: “Daddy is coming home.”
In separate remarks she said: “He is in Germany and after some medical attention I am waiting to hear from him.” U.S. officials said earlier that the pastor and the three other Americans were to be flown from Iran to Switzerland on a Swiss plane and then brought to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for medical treatment.
Naghmeh Abedini explained that she would speak with him while he was in Germany, before being flown to the United States. The pastor, from Boise in the U.S. state of Idaho, is among four detained Americans who were released as part of a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap.
Pastor Abedini, 35, was detained in September 2012 during a trip to Iran for allegedly compromising national security, charges that friends linked to his involvement in Christian house churches and expressing his faith publicly.
He was sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison. During that time he was pressured to deny his faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam in exchange for his release, something Abedini has refused, several sources told BosNewsLife.
SURPRISED ABOUT RELEASE
“I actually got the news [about his release] from friends inside of Iran that had heard that the Iranian government had just announced that the four Americans were released and it was all over Iranian media,” his wife explained to Idaho’s KTVB television.
Not even a half hour later, the U.S. State Department called to confirm the news that her husband had finally been released, she said.
The U.S. State Department told her that her husband was at the Swiss embassy in Tehran waiting for their plane to depart to a U.S. hospital in Germany. “I woke up my kids around 7:30 and told them that daddy’s coming home, and he’s out of the prison and they were just so shocked but they were jumping up and down and excited.”
Naghmeh Abedini also said it had been “a really hard battle” over the past few years but that she thanked the many people who had been praying for him and his family. “I actually prepared myself for another five years [without him]….This came totally unexpected.”
MEETING PRESIDENT OBAMA
She called his release “an answer to prayer.” Abedini said she met U.S. President Barack Obama in January of last year when he visited Boise. Obama told her that “Saeed’s return was a high priority” for him, she said. “[President Obama] looked at me and said ‘we’re going to get him out,'” Naghmeh recalled. Less than a year later, she received word that he was being released.
However while preparing for uniting with her husband, she also cautioned that this “is a critical time” for her and the family and was urging prayers for healing. “We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”
That was a reference to not only his years of imprisonment but also marriage problems she revealed to the public last year, prompting her to interrupt her advocacy tours around the world.
“The continued imprisonment of Saeed has taken a very emotional and tragic toll on our family,” she said at the time. “My kids have had to grow up without a father. Saeed has missed so many birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions.”
TROUBLED MARRIAGE REPORTED
In emails to supporters, Abedini revealed details of her troubled marriage to the pastor, BosNewsLife learned.
Those troubles include “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography),” she wrote. The alleged “abuse” started early in their marriage and apparently worsened during the pastor’s imprisonment when they were sometimes able to speak by phone or the Skype service.
BosNewsLife usually respects privacy, even of public persons, unless it impacts a public debate or society. Since the comments were shared publicly and impacted the advocacy to a certain extend, BosNewsLife decided to reveal some details only now.
However Abedini is among many church leaders struggling with alleged pornography addiction. At least four out of ten pastors have visited porn sites, according to a survey of the respected Christianity Today magazine.
During her time away from the public eye, Abedini said she had been praying for her husband, whom she called a treasure. She said “Saeed continues to share his faith in Jesus, even while in prison.”
BATTLING “OWN DEMONS”
However “that does not mean he has not been battling with his own demons which I am believing that he can be freed of,” she wrote.
In recent months, Abedini also asked the pastor’s supporters to pray for his release and his healing and not to judge him despite his alleged flaws. “I wanted to be real and ask you to pray for real things (I have opened myself up to you), but without judgment and without losing your love for your brother Saeed who is fighting for his life in the dark prison,” she wrote at the time.
“This is what the Lord has been showing me, to love unconditionally the way He loves us. To see the sin, but love the sinner and to intercede for freedom from the sin. And not to give up. Not to ever give up on your loved one. To persevere and to endure.”
While in prison, the pastor said he had been learning to trust Christ. “My eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become very weak and shaky,” he wrote in a messages smuggled out of Evin Prison in Tehran and obtained by BosNewsLife.
“They are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ,” he added, referring to alleged death threats and mistreatment. “But they will never get this [abandoning of Christ] from me.”
And his wife made clear that they are still united in their faith in Christ.
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