Americans leaving an empty place at Thanksgiving dinners for Saeed Abedini
Americans are being asked to leave an empty place at their Thanksgiving dinners as a sign of solidarity with Pastor Saeed Abedini and the persecuted church worldwide.
Pastor Abedini, an Iranian and US citizen, has been imprisoned in Iran for over a year as a result of his Christian faith. He is serving an eight-year sentence in one of the most notorious prisons in the world, Tehran's Evin prison.
He was first arrested in 2009 after helping support and grow a network of underground churches in Iran for Christian converts who are forbidden by law from praying in public churches. He was incarcerated last year when he returned to Iran to help build a state-run, secular orphanage.
In prison, Pastor Saeed has endured long stints in solitary confinement, and beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates.
He has been told by his captors to deny his faith, but he has repeatedly refused to do so. In a letter written from prison, he says his response to his persecutors is "Romans 8:35-39. The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives. Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God."
In the face of extreme violence and horrendous circumstances, Pastor Saeed has thanked his supporters for their continued prayers. "I rejoice knowing that in my chains the body of Christ has chained together and is brought to action and prayer," he has said.
Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, has encouraged Americans to remember the "millions around the world [who] are being brutalised, persecuted and attacked for their Christian faith" as they celebrate the holidays this season.
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"Pastor Saeed will not be able to spend this special day with his wife and two young children, but instead will be spending it in a cramped prison facing constant violence," he says.
In his Thanksgiving appeal, Rev Mahoney said Christians must never stay silent when it comes to issues of human rights, justice and religious freedom.
"We must always be a loud prophetic voice in the public square calling for an end to the persecution and violence directed toward people because of their faith beliefs," he asserts.
The Facebook group dedicated to the cause quotes a verse from Hebrews 13, calling Christians to, "Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them: and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body".
Those behind the campaign will set a Thanksgiving place outside the White House in Washington DC, as a reminder to President Obama "to be a much stronger voice for religious freedom around the world" and to continue to demand the release of Pastor Saeed.