Southern California pastor Greg Laurie, who led prayer rallies for the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison where he was held captive for more than three years, said Abedini's freedom, announced on Saturday, occurred in God's perfect timing.
"Christians around the world have been praying faithfully for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini," Laurie told this reporter late Saturday. "It did not happen as quickly as we had hoped, but it happened in God's perfect timing. Now we want to remember to continue to pray for Saeed, his wife, Naghmeh, and their children as they are finally reunited, as well as the rest of his family."
Christians worldwide who prayed for the release of pastor Saeed Abedini were still waiting late Saturday night for word that Abedini and the other three Americans released overnight on Friday were on safe ground.
The four Americans released in Iran under the negotiated prisoner exchange included Washington Post reporter Jason Razaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, and were still in that country Sunday as arrangements progressed to get them out, said a senior Obama administration official as reported by Fox News early Sunday morning. But CNN reported at 9:11 am ET that a plane carrying at least three of the four Americans had taken off. On Sunday, the White House said that another American, student Matthew Trevithick, who was also released but not as part of the prisoner swap, had also departed from Iran.
The four Americans were exchanged for seven Iranians sentenced or awaiting trial in the United States, according to news reports. The U.S. released the seven Iranian men early Sunday.
The prisoner exchange occurred ahead of implementation of the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and six world powers.
Laurie shared that Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, told his wife, Cathe, that she and the children are rejoicing over the release of Saeed from prison.
"She is still waiting for information from the State Department as to when and where she could be reunited with her husband," Laurie said. "Saeed's sister, Zeebandeh Abedini, said that the family had been on an emotional roller coaster and that Saeed's parents had been in tears since last night to this morning.
"She (Zeebandeh) also quoted Psalm 30:11–12, 'You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever' (NKJV)."
The "Iranian criminals for American hostages" deal, as some critics of the negotiation framed it, left many in the U.S., including Laurie, with a bittersweet sentiment.
"Personally, this does not make me feel any gratitude toward the nation of Iran," he said. "They should not have taken Saeed prisoner to begin with, so this release is the very least they could do.
"It's a good reminder that God is ultimately in control. When the wicked King Herod executed the apostle James and imprisoned Simon Peter, the church began to pray fervently (Acts 12).
"That is what happened globally for Pastor Saeed as well and God has answered our prayers. God can move even ungodly people to accomplish His purposes. The Bible says, 'The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; He guides it wherever He pleases' (Proverbs 21:1 NKJV)."
When asked about the "bitter" part of the prisoner release negotiation, Laurie answered, "We can remember that God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God allowed Pastor Saeed to suffer in this prison, even as He allowed the great apostle Paul to face similar circumstances.
"There are other Christian brothers and sisters suffering persecution from hostile nations to this day for daring to speak up for their faith as Pastor Saeed did. This is why we must pray that we never lose the freedom in the United States to openly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ."
He added, "That is why we have booked one of the largest stadiums in America, AT&T Stadium, to proclaim the gospel on March 6 at Harvest America. I would ask that Christians would remember us in prayer, that many would come to believe in Jesus Christ."