More than 500 prayer vigils were held around the world this week, including one in which pastor Greg Laurie's Harvest church participated in California, to mark the two-year anniversary of when pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested by Iranian officials for his Christian faith.
The vigils, held in 33 countries and territories, called on people to pray for Abedini's safe release and urge their governments to act on his behalf.
The Boise, Idaho-based minister is serving out a "virtual death sentence" of eight years in one of Iran's most notorious prisons, read a statement by the Riverside Residents Rally held at Riverside City Hall on Saturday.
Abedini has faced repeated beatings, malnourishment, lack of proper medical treatment, and death threats from other prisoners and Iranian Revolutionary Guards, according to a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice.
The imprisoned pastor was able to write a letter to his daughter, Rebekkah Grace, for her eighth birthday on Sept. 12.
"You are growing so fast and becoming more beautiful every day," he wrote in the letter, released by the ACLJ. "I praise God for His faithfulness to me every day as I watch from a distance through the prison walls and see pictures and hear stories of how you are growing both spiritually and physically."
He continued: "I know that you question why you have prayed so many times for my return and yet I am not home yet. Now there is a big why in your mind you are asking: why Jesus isn't answering your prayers and the prayers of all of the people around the world praying for my release and for me to be home with you and our family? The answer to the why is who. Who is control? Lord Jesus Christ is in control."
"God is in control of the whole world and everything that is happening in it is for His good purpose, for His glory, and will be worked out for our good," Saeed added. "People die and suffer for their Christian faith all over the world and some may wonder why? But you should know the answer of why is who. It is for Jesus …"
"But if not, we will still sing together … 'Hallelujah,' either separated by prison walls or together at home."
Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence despite international efforts and numerous petitions headed by the ACLJ seeking his release. Obama also raised the issue of the pastor's detention during his first phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last September.
He grew up in Iran before converting to Christianity at the age of 20. He later traveled with his family back and forth between Iran and the U.S. to meet other members of his family and for Christian work.
During one such trip in 2009, Abedini was detained by Iranian officials and interrogated for his conversion. While he was released with a warning against engaging in underground church activities, he was once again arrested in 2012 while working on a non-sectarian orphanage project.
Abedini was sentenced for allegedly endangering "national security," but the ACLJ believes the punishment has more to do with his Christian faith.