Here in the United States, we overuse the word "courage." In a nation where even the most strident words cause us to risk little more than social disapproval or where the worst consequence of righteous living is often little more than criticism, we often applaud even the most modest stands and statements as courageous. In some quarters, we've even redefined to sin as "courage" when we applaud people for rejecting age-old moral norms for the sake of self-fulfillment.
When I served in Iraq, I saw true courage. True courage is laying down your life to protect a wounded brother from incoming machine-gun fire. True courage is breaking through a terrorist's front door, not knowing what lies behind. True courage is fighting on even while you've been shot, refusing to abandon your brothers in their hour of greatest need.
But courage is of course not confined to the military. For the last eight months at the ACLJ we've been fighting to free Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. Citizen, from Iran's most brutal prison. A native-born Iranian and a convert to Christianity from Islam, Pastor Saeed was a leader in Tehran's house church movement in the early 2000s (an action that itself takes indescribable courage). Even after the Revolutionary Guard forced him to stop his church work – and after he moved to Idaho with his wife and children – he returned to Iran to build an orphanage, risking his life and freedom to help the most vulnerable and helpless members of Iranian society.
Months ago, the Revolutionary Guard arrested Saeed, and Iran has since sentenced him to eight years in prison for his years-ago church work. Now, he sits in Iran's most brutal prison, subject to unspeakable abuse – simply because of his faith.
Today, we released a letter from Saeed, composed from prison. In it, he describes his captors' physical and psychological brutality. As is often the case, Iran's totalitarian regime is attempting to force him to renounce his faith:
And after all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me.
These words should humble us and drive us to our knees – to pray for Pastor Saeed and to repent of our own weakness and faithlessness. Or consider this act of Christian love:
Yesterday when I was singing worship songs, the head of my cell room attacked me in order to stop me from praising but in response I hugged him and showed him love. He was shocked.
Yet in the midst of these trials – trials we can scarcely comprehend – Saeed is full of love for the Lord:
I Love Him! He is Gracious, Merciful, and Righteous to me. I now know that I have not been forgotten and that we are together in this path. God gives me Grace.
I read the letter out loud to my family, and as I read I felt deeply convicted at my lack of gratitude and lack of faith. Could I withstand what Pastor Saeed is enduring? The uncertainty of the answer troubled my spirit.
I am not in chains for the Gospel, and I pray that I never have to face such a test, but I can resolve to do all I can to help save Saeed and tell him that he has not been abandoned; he has not been left behind. As I write this post, our petition has gained almost 300,000 signatures, and the ACLJ is taking his case straight to the U.N. Dozens of members of Congress have spoken out for Pastor Saeed, and both the White House and State Department have called for his release.
In an action that touched Saeed's heart when he learned of it in prison, many of his favorite Christian and country musicians have made videos calling for his release and asked their fans to speak out on his behalf.
Even from the darkness of Iran's most brutal prison, Saeed is living a life of hope and faith. He has not forgotten his Savior.
May we not forget Saeed.