Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was recently released from an Iranian prison after more than three years, arrived Thursday afternoon at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, a spokesman for evangelist Franklin Graham confirmed Wednesday night.
Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, said in a Wednesday text to the Idaho Statesman newspaper that she and her two children will join him on Monday.
“He will be at a retreat center with his parents for a few days and then the kids and I will join him on Monday and will be taking weeks or months healing as a family and going through counseling,” Naghmeh said in the text.
She did not identify the location, but the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said in a Thursday news release that Abedini had arrived at the 1,200-acre retreat center in the N.C. mountains, “where he will rest and spend time with members of his family.”
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In a statement, Franklin Graham – CEO of the Charlotte-based BGEA, which operates the Asheville center – said that “we want to provide him a quiet place to rest and visit with family.”
Graham, who played a leading role in the campaign by evangelical Christians to press for Abedini’s release, added: “None of us in America can begin to understand or appreciate what Saeed has endured after being imprisoned in Iran because of his Christian faith.”
The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove is, according to its website, “where believers can be refreshed and grow in their faith.”
Abedini and Graham were scheduled to meet Thursday night after the Boise, Idaho-based pastor’s arrival in North Carolina. The two are also expected to meet again Saturday, said Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss.
DeMoss also said Abedini would not be available to the media until he’s had time with his family.
“The family asks that they be granted the time and privacy necessary to reconnect after the stress of being separated for more than three years,” the BGEA release said.
It was announced Saturday that Abedini was being freed in a prisoner swap that involved four other Americans. Until his flight back to the United States, the pastor has been in Germany undergoing medical evaluation.
Abedini, who converted from Islam to Christianity, had traveled to Iran in 2012 on a mission to build an orphanage. But he was detained in July 2012 on charges of evangelizing and sentenced to eight years in prison. The judge said Abedini’s activities were “threatening the national security of Iran.”
The UN Human Rights Council declared in August 2013 that Abedini’s imprisonment was “arbitrary” and violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Iran is a signatory.
Rejoining his family may present challenges for Abedini. In two emails made public in November, Naghmeh Abedini publicly accused her husband of struggling with “demons” that led to sexual abuse involving pornography, though she later expressed regrets for doing so.
On her Facebook page Wednesday, she wrote this: “I am believing in a miracle for our marriage. We need your prayers more than ever. The enemy wants to bring division and destruction. Please pray that we can heal and move forward united as a family.”
Besides Abedini, the Iranians also released Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian; Amir Hekmati, a former Marine from Flint, Mich.; Nosratallah Khosravi-Roodsari, a businessman; and Matthew Trevitthick, a student.
In return, the United States “offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States,” a U.S. official said. “The United States also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”
The McClatchy foreign staff and the Idaho Statesman contributed.