For the third Christmas in a row, Christian American-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for his faith since 2012, is missing his family. And despite being cold and threatened by inmates in prison, Abedini encouraged Christians in a moving and at times heartbreaking letter to his family from his prison cell to keep hoping in God.
The letter, which Abedini wrote from the Rajai Shahr Prison, was posted on the ACLJ website after he sent it to a family member.
The organization noted that Abedini was allowed see a relative for the first time in more than a month last week. He's also still waiting to receive medical attention for pain and internal injuries he suffered as a result of multiple beatings in prison over the last two years.
"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 sometimes 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," writes Abedini in the opening of his letter.
"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," he continued.
"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," he noted.
After pondering further in the letter about the conditions and season in which Jesus was born, however, Abedini's narrative shifted into an encouraging message about the meaning of Christmas and why Christians should endure and have hope.
"Today, we like Him should come out of our safe zone in order to proclaim the Word of life and salvation through 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," he wrote.
"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," said Abedini. "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."
"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," he added.
Reacting to her husband's letter, Abedini's wife, Nagmeh, said: "Reading this Christmas letter is quite difficult knowing the harsh condition that Saeed is in and the adversity that he faces daily. Saeed ... I wish you could see the lives that are touched and transformed because of you standing strong in your faith in Jesus Christ. The kids and I miss you and cannot imagine another Christmas without you, but we are proud of you and your endurance. Don't give up hope. Many are praying and taking action to bring you home."READ PASTOR ABEDINI'S COMPLETE LETTER BELOW: