Two years ago, Saeed Abedini flew to Iran and never returned.
The evangelical Christian pastor from Boise, Idaho, was imprisoned in his native country on charges related to his religion. Declared a national security threat by Iranian authorities, the pastor received an 8-year sentence in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. He reportedly has been beaten, tortured and denied medical care.
One year ago, a prayer vigil was held in Bellefonte as part of an international event not only to offer support for Abedini, but to raise awareness of his plight.
On Friday, Bellefonte participated in the vigil again on the steps of the Centre County Courthouse, marking the second anniversary of the pastor’s imprisonment.
Coordinated by Monteca Confer-Beisel, the vigil gathered about 100 people, who offered their own prayers, guided by seven local pastors and prayer leaders.
Russell Moldovan, pastor of Blanchard Church of Christ, cited some statistics for the attendees. According to Pew Research, he said, of the 7 billion people on the planet, 76 percent live under high religious restrictions. And according to the International Society for Human Rights, he said, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination are directed toward Christians.
More than 400 prayer vigils were taking places across 33 countries, Confer-Beisel said, with thousands praying for persecuted Christians.
She read a letter Abedini sent to his daughter Rebekka for her 8th birthday only a few days ago. He noted in the letter how proud he was of her and how much she’s grown.
He said while she’s prayed for his return, he understands if she has asked why he hasn’t returned home yet. The answer, Abedini said, is who is in control.
“God is in control,” Abedini said in the letter. “He knows what’s best for our lives.”
State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, detoured a planned trip to Harrisburg to participate in the vigil, saying we sometimes take for granted how free we are to do this.
“It reminds me, as a Christian, to take reverence in that in my own life and in my community,” he said. “I’m glad to see a nice turnout here. I think that speaks volumes for our community.”