Awaiting his third Christmas in the isolation of his dark, cold prison cell in Iran, Pastor Saeed Abedini penned a letter to his family and international supporters.
“This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my familyis presently outsideof the country,” he wrote. “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.”
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard first imprisoned the American pastor in the fall of 2012. Abedini was at work building an orphanage in the country.
Informed that he must face criminal charges for his Christian faith, the pastor was harshly interrogated, and his belongings confiscated.
Despite an overwhelming show of international support – with over 610,000 signatures in a petition for his release and a 50,000 letter writing campaign – the American remains imprisoned. White House officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, called for his release. Artists from Toby Mac and Michael W Smith to Relient K and Mercy Me have also raised awareness of the pastor’s plight.
Abedini suffers critical wounds inflicted during interrogations, yet still the pastor retains a joyful outlook concerning the Christmas season.
“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,” Abedini wrote.
Through his own suffering, Abedini persevered to recognize the true joy of the Christmas season:
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. These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? . . . Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today, we, like Him, should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though 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. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world . . . 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. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas . . .
Read the entire letter here.
Learn more about Abedini’s story and sign the petition for his release here.
Readying for a grand opening on Wednesday of next week, Faith Happenings aspires to revolutionize communications in the Christian community. The organization intends to build a one-stop search engine for everything from local events and resources to where to buy the latest worship or Christian rock CD.
Becky Caputo, Faith Happenings’ Portland and Vancouver Area Coordinator, describes the site as “the Christian Google-Facebook-Craigslist all in one.” High aspirations for a relatively new organization, yet the site’s rapid growth would deem it possible.
Since its initial opening in June, Faith Happenings expanded to eighteen area coordinators managing over 30,000 cities throughout 454 regional sites across the country. With more area coordinator applications pouring in daily, the organization hopes to expand to 200 area coordinators in the next few years.
“We’re not trying to find a niche in an already established market. We are the market,” said Caputo. “There really isn’t anything else online [like this] that’s this big.”
Faith Happenings stands apart from a mere yellow pages compilation of Christian resources. According to Caputo, the organization specifically targets vendors who truly embrace a relational mindset in their work and faith outlook.
The site is meant to work in tandem with churches, nonprofits, and businesses of the Christian community. “It excites me …. to get people connected to the family of God,” said Caputo. “We know we’re new, but we also know that we’re filling a need that’s a very real deep need for lots of people.”
Registration is free for users. Those who sign up receive 10 free music downloads from Integrity Music and a free audiobook from ChristianAudio.com.
Users receive informational listings based on personal preference as well as location. For example, parents may request to see kid-friendly resources and community events, while others may specify interest in concerts, book releases, and blogs.
Though the registration process only takes about three minutes, user subscriptions are thoroughly individualized. The site aims to provide users with content based on their personal demographic, denomination, interests, and tastes.
Organizations offering free resources to the public may post on the site for free. For-profit operations can post on the site for between $100 and $200 per year, depending on the number of users in their area. One-time events, such as conferences, lectures, or concerts are also listed.
Users may search in areas across the country to find events and churches they can visit when out of town or new to a neighborhood. Faith Happenings also hopes to aid local churches in directing their congregants to appropriate ongoing or emergency resources.
Caputo recalled being unable to direct a woman to an appropriate rehabilitation center during her previous work as a church staff member. Caputo and her coworkers’ ineffectiveness was not for lack of heart, but for lack of knowledge concerning available resources. She said that Faith Happenings can give church workers a place to begin the search for specific people’s needs.
“I wish churches would know [that] we’re here to unify them and we’re here to serve them,” said Caputo.
“We’re looking to partner with you and to get you to partner with the church down the street so that you don’t have to do it all and so you don’t have to be the end all for everyone. Because God didn’t call us to do that. God called us to work together.”
Due to its unifying purpose, Faith Happenings only requires its listing owners to follow a traditional Trinitarian theology, regardless of denomination. The site explains that this inclusion is intentionally “broad because there is room for disagreement within the larger Body of Christ, but especially because the worth of, and ministry by, individuals within all of these churches are of greater importance. It’s not our job or goal to sort out every difference, not when there are people in need of body and spirit whom God’s people should be serving.”
Caputo said that the site steers clear of political or controversial topics, and that while such discussions are important and beneficial in a relational setting, Faith Happenings is not the place for them.
As the site expands, Caputo believes it will serve as a tangible example of Christians loving and working with one another. “That’s going to be a very unique thing that people are going to see on a local and national level,” she said.