Hopefully, for most of you reading this site, Christmas is a warm and joyous time with family as we celebrate our Savior’s birth and exchange gifts. However, it’s important to remember that the many Christians around the world suffering from persecution won’t have such an opportunity. America’s Saeed Abedini is one of the latter. He is an Iranian American Christian Pastor and former Muslim who has been imprisoned in Iran since the summer of 2012. He was arrested while visiting his family in the country. Officially, the reason for his arrest was that he was compromising national security. However, as Fox News explained back in January of 2013, there are probably much more nefarious intentions at work here:
As her husband’s trial and possible death sentence looms, the wife of an American Christian pastor imprisoned in Iran for evangelizing clings to hope and prays for a miracle.
Naghmeh Abedini has been told by attorneys for her husband, Saeed, to expect the worst at Monday’s trial, where the 32-year-old husband and father faces the capital charge of compromising national security. Supporters believe the charges are directly related to Abedini’s work nearly a decade ago starting a house church movement in Iran, and the judge he’ll face, Abbas Pir-Abassi, is infamous for sending defendants to the gallows.
This Christmas season, he has written a letter from his prison describing his situation and what it’s like to celebrate Christmas while dealing with such horrible persecution. Here’s the full text of it, courtesy of the American Center for Law and Justice:
Rajai Shahr Prison 2014
These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.
These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell? Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically, but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society of that time.
Dear sisters and brothers, 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. 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. 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. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintery manger of those who are spiritually dead. It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.
Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy.
Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.
Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God’s love shone in the dark cold wintry frozen hearts and burst forth in this deadly wicked world.
The same way that the heat from the earth’s core melts the hard stones in itself and produces lava, the fiery love of God, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary’s womb came to earth on Christmas to melt the hard heart of sin and wickedness of the world and removes them from our life. In the same process, the work of the Holy Spirit is a fiery rain of God’s Holiness and Mercy that flows into our body, soul and spirit and brings the light of Christ into us and through us making this dark, cold, wintry world into radiant burning brightness. He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah!
So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.
Pastor Saeed Abedini
Soaking in the lava love of Christ
Even in the depths of an Iranian prison cell, Abedini refuses to waver in his faith. He is a model of conviction and strength in the face of adversity for us all, and while we pray for his safe release and return home, let us give thanks for the family and friends we have. Let us give thanks as well for the religious freedom we have in this country, and let us resolve to be eternally vigilant against attacks on it. Still, the tough times we face are easy compared to what Pastor Saeed and so many other Middle Eastern Christians are dealing with. As he says, let us soak in the lava love of Christ and allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn within us and do its good work.
And while we’re at it, let’s do what we can to secure Pastor Saeed’s release. You can sign the ALCJ’s petition here, and when you’re done with that, let’s make sure our leaders in Washington stand up for the life and rights of this American citizen imprisoned in Iran.
The featured image for this post comes from the “Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini” Facebook page.