Chris Rosenblum | Bellefonte to offer prayers for pastor imprisoned in Iran

Monteca Confer, one night this summer, emailed an Idaho woman.

She asked Naghmeh Abedini a question. What were some tips for holding a prayer vigil?

Confer, the co-owner of Confer’s Jewelers in Bellefonte, wanted to know because her heart had been touched.

She had first heard of Abedini’s husband on a Christian radio station. Saeed Abedini, a naturalized American citizen and evangelical Christian pastor, had been jailed in his native country for months.

Declared a national security threat by Iranian authorities last year, the pastor received an 8-year sentence in the notoriously brutal Evin Prison in Tehran. He reportedly has been beaten, tortured and denied medical care.

Confer’s husband and the pastor are both 32. Like Naghmeh Abedini, the mother of two young children, Confer has a small daughter. And both women are devout Christians.

“I just really felt connected to the story,” Confer said.

She acted on her feelings.

When Confer saw Naghmeh Abedini’s Facebook request for a day of prayer to draw attention to her husband’s plight, she wrote to the pastor’s wife.

“She emailed me back directly, which really impressed me,” Confer said.

Out of their steady correspondence came Bellefonte’s part in an international event.

An inspired Confer organized a prayer vigil for Saeed Abedini at noon Thursday in front of the Centre County Courthouse. On the same day, the 1-year anniversary of Abedini’s imprisonment, similar vigils are scheduled in 81 towns and cities nationwide and in Puerto Rico, as well as 14 countries.

“When I first heard about it on (the Christian station) K-LOVE, I prayed about it,” Confer said. “I just felt it was what I should do. There was no doubt.”

Saeed Abedini, who became a U.S. citizen in 2010 after marrying his American wife, had been freely traveling to Iran for three years. Thirteen years ago, he led the growth of Christian “house churches” in Iran, small congregations at odds with the Islamic state.

Back in Iran last summer to start an orphanage, Abedini was first placed under house arrest in July, then sent to prison two months later.

After a January trial during which Abedini had one day to present his defense, he was convicted. The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian and human rights advocacy group now representing the pastor and his wife, called the trial “a real travesty — a mockery of justice.”

At the time, the U.S. State Department condemned the sentence, and has since called for Abedini’s release. So has U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. Abedini’s wife has twice spoken to the United Nations in her effort to mount international pressure on Iran.

According to the ACLJ, the group has heard from about 620,000 people demanding that Iran free Abedini.

Last month, a Tehran appeals court rejected the pastor’s appeal, refusing to reduce his sentence.

Confer said she has was moved by communicating with Naghmeh Abedini, who told her that the pastor is in poor health. He shares a small cell with 40 other men, Confer said, and “can’t even sleep without his arms and legs being on somebody else.”

One night recently, she and Naghmeh Abedini emailed back and forth. Confer told her friend that she’s “a real inspiration to people who are suffering.”

“A lot of people would cry and hide and feel sorry for themselves, but she’s organizing this prayer vigil,” Confer said.

Locally, Confer said, she received tremendous support from the religious community. Pastors dropped by her family’s business, picked up flyers and included them in weekly notices. Radio stations promoted the vigil.

“I have been really impressed with how people have embraced this and have been interested in it,” Confer said. “I think it’s been a real blessing. It really rejuvenates your faith in people.”

Joe Rose, the pastor of the Nittany Bible Church in Baileyville, plans on attending the vigil.

“To hear about him going over there and the work he was doing, and to hear about his imprisonment, it was honestly moving,” Rose said.

As a fellow pastor, husband and father, he thought about being separated from his wife and three children, facing lean odds of ever seeing them again.

Which deepens his admiration of Saeed Abedini’s faith even more.

Prison officials, Rose said, have offered to let Abedini go home if he renounces Christianity. So far he has refused.

“That give me strength,” Rose said. “If he can stand up in that kind of persecution, and he can remain true to what God wants him to do, then boy I can do that in my daily life.”