ASHEVILLE, N.C. — An American pastor who was imprisoned in Iran for over three years and was among four U.S. citizens released on Saturday in a prisoner swap has now landed on American soil.
Saeed Abedini flew into North Carolina on Thursday afternoon, where he met his parents at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville. His mother immediately burst into tears upon seeing her son walk off the plane.
Franklin Graham also was present for the reunion, and was embraced by Abedini, who was all smiles.
“We’re so glad you’re back,” Graham told Abedini.
“Thank you. Thank you,” the pastor replied, moments before offering up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness.
Graham, whose ministry uploaded video footage of the emotional moment (see below), told Fox News that he wanted to provide a place for Abedini to rest before returning to his home state of Idaho. Abedini’s wife and children will be reunited with him on Monday.
“None of us in America can begin to understand or appreciate what Saeed has endured after being imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith,” Graham stated. “We want to provide him a quiet place to rest and visit with family.”
As previously reported, Abedini, a former Iranian Muslim turned Christian, left Iran in 2005 and moved to the United States with his wife and two children to find religious freedom after facing conflict with authorities for planting house churches in the county. In 2012, he traveled back to Iran to build an orphanage and visit his parents—and was about to return to the states—when he was taken into custody.
Abedini was later charged with threatening the national security of Iran, and for attempting to turn youth in the nation away from Islam and toward Christianity. He was then sentenced to eight years in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, but was transferred to to Rajai Shahr Prison in 2013, which was believed to pose an even greater threat to Abedini’s health and safety.
He has experienced numerous beatings behind bars ever since, and has struggled with severe physical pain and threats that he would not be released until he returns to Islam.
Nonetheless, Abedini has encouraged Christians from behind bars to stand strong for their faith.
“[B]rothers and sisters, the fact of the gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus,” he wrote in a letter in 2014.
“Today, we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the word of life and salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection,” he said. “We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world.”
Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, has worked tirelessly for her husband’s release, speaking several times before Congressional committees, and even meeting personally with Barack Obama last January along with the couple’s two young children.