Naghmeh, Rev. Graham Lead Global Vigil for Saeed
WASHINGTON -- Two years after U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini was taken from his family's home in Tehran and thrown into prison because of his faith, he has become the face of the persecuted Church.
The Islamic Republic charged the Christian convert with threatening the country's national security. At the time, he was visiting his native Iran working on a government-sanctioned orphanage.
On the eve of the anniversary of his imprisonment, Christians in hundreds of cities prayed for him and his family, including one prayer vigil in Washington, D.C., just steps away from the White House.
Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice which represents Saeed and his family, told the crowd Abedini languishes in jail over a universal right many take for granted.
"The only reason why he's in that jail is because of his Christian faith," Sekulow explained.
Saeed's wife and two kids flew in from their home in Boise, Idaho, to thank their supporters.
"You being here really means so much to our family that you're standing with us," Nagmeh, his wife of 10 years, said.
They also led the hundreds of people at the White House gathering in a silent, solemn march around the plaza in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The event inspired hundreds more like it around the world in more than 500 cities and over thirty countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe.
The Reverend Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and the chief executive for Samaritan's Purse, a Christian humanitarian ministry, prayed for Saeed's safe return.
He also directly challenged President Barack Obama, who a day earlier had described Islam as a religion of peace at the UN General Assembly.
"Mr. President, the followers of a peaceful religion do not cut off the heads of innocent people," Graham said. "Mr. President, the followers of a peaceful religion do not hold followers of another religion like Nagmeh's husband, American pastor Saeed Abedini, captive for two years in Iran for no other reason than his faith in Jesus Christ."
In the two years his family has been separated, Graham has become a spiritual advisor and a father figure to both Nagmeh and the kids, Rebekka, 8, and Jacob, 6. The two took the stage and dedicated a worship chorus to their father who's confined to a cell in a notorious prison known for housing Iran's most dangerous criminals.
He has now been imprisoned for more than 700 days -- tortured, his health declining, and his life threatened by ISIS fighters and al Qaeda terrorists housed in the very same prison, Rajai Shahr.
"He's an American. He's a Christian. He's a convert," Sekulow noted. "All three of those, right there, are reasons enough for those Islamic State fighters to want to kill him."
The people who came to show their support all shared the same goal.
"We support Christians that are suffering for their faith and we're here for them and praying for them even if they don't see us all the time," Heather Haws commented. "It's an opportunity to step out and let them know we are here."
Bishop Charles Farmer of the Refuge of Hope Disciple Center in Washington said they're thinking about Saeed's spiritual and physical well-being.
"We're praying that he'll stay strong in the Lord and in the power of his might," he said.
And for one fellow Iranian, also a Christian convert, the event was a time to reflect on and celebrate our freedoms.
"In America, we're free to practice praying in front of the White House -- going to church and there's no persecution," said Saghar Kasraie, who lives in Northern Virginia. "There are many many people in the Muslim world who wish they could be free."