It seems like a story from a movie. Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born pastor with U.S. citizenship, is serving eight years in one of the worst prisons in Iran for doing nothing more than preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
For his wife and children, this story is all too real.
Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini's love story began in Iran. Naghmeh has been an American citizen since she was a child, but in 2001, she felt God calling her to go back to her homeland to minister to Muslim women.
One night, in an underground church in Tehran, she first saw Saeed. The young preacher was leading worship in one of the churches he helped start.
Naghmeh Abedini testified March 15 before a congressional human rights panel regarding the plight of her husband Saeed, jailed in an Iranian prison for his faith. Click here for that story.
When asked why she fell in love with Saeed, Naghmeh answered: "His passion. As a young woman I always prayed, 'Lord, I can't marry someone who is mediocre.' But I had no idea how He would answer my prayer, no idea it would be so radical."
Not long afterward, the couple married in Iran. Their wedding drew hundreds of well-wishers and aroused the suspicion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
"Our wedding, our union was miraculous because we were both Muslim converts allowed to have a Christian union," Naghmeh said. "Bibles were passed out; people are still getting saved from that day. It was not a wedding day, it was a crusade."
Some might say that it takes a special bride to share her big day with others.
"You imagine that day is all about you -- it wasn't but Jesus shined and that's what we both wanted!" she said.
A Fairytale Becomes a Nightmare
Today, nine years and two children later, Naghmeh is living her worst nightmare.
Last July, during one of Saeed's routine trips to Iran to establish a government-endorsed orphanage, he was detained and put under house arrest.
In January, the Iranian Revolutionary Court's so called "hanging judge" sentenced him to eight years in Iran's brutal and deadly Evin prison. His only crime was preaching the Gospel.
Officials at Evin prison are known for leaving on display the hanged bodies of executed criminals in an attempt to terrify inmates and their family members.
"Just the name really scared me. I've had family members who were hanged at that prison, abused, raped," Naghmeh said.
She is not allowed any personal contact with her husband. Before his sentencing, Saeed was allowed to Skype with his family. But now Naghmeh can only learn news about her husband from reports and letters from her family in Iran.
The latest information is that Saeed is being tortured and pressured to renounced his faith, but Naghmeh said he will never turn his back on Jesus Christ.
"They don't know who they're dealing with. It almost made me smile. He would never renounce his faith," she said.
A Mother's Heartbreak
No matter how much faith she has in her husband and her God, Naghmeh said it's difficult to watch her children suffer.
"As a woman, God's given me the grace to go to Him for comfort, but as a Mom it's a stab in my heart to see them struggling," she said. "My son's character has changed. He's not as talkative. My daughter, as a girl, cries a lot, 'Daddy, daddy...where are you?' They draw pictures of sad children crying, missing their daddy."
She admitted that she sank into despair for a time.
"I was on the edge of extreme depression, anxiety ... almost had to check myself in. But the Lord didn't let me break...He gave me such peace, such joy," she said.
"I said, 'Lord, in Philippians You promise to give peace,' and He gave me peace," she continued. "The Scripture is true. He does give peace and that's my testimony. He's bigger than the dark hole. Hold on to Him, he'll get you through."
Campaign for Saeed's Release
In the meantime, the American Center for Law and Justice is going full throttle with both a legal and a media campaign to free Saeed.
ACLJ Director Jordan Sekulow said publicity could be a life-saver for Saeed, just as it was for Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkharni. He had been sentenced to death for his Christian faith, but late last year, after a major publicity and prayer campaign, Nadarkhani was freed.
Sekulow told CBN News that putting international pressure on the Iranian regime is the best chance to see Abedini walk free.
"[The] only chance is if people speak out...Chance wise, surviving one day is not great. You could be beaten to death by guards or fellow inmates. If the story is talked about people don't get beaten as badly," he said.
People are talking about his case. Nearly 500,000 people have signed the "Save Saeed" petition on the ACLJ's website and several Christian musicians are also speaking out on his behalf.
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Secretary of State John Kerry promised to work for Saeed's freedom but has made no public comment on the matter since being sworn in.
Naghmeh said she believes prayer -- not government -- will free her husband and feeds her hope that one day she'll see him again.
"My flesh wants to say, 'He's not going to survive that prison,' but when I pray, I feel like the Lord, the God of hope, tells me: It's in His time. He will release Saeed."
You can sign the American Center for Law and Justice's petition to free Saeed here.