CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Pastor Saeed Abedini—an American citizen, husband; and father who was imprisoned in Iran for three years is now a free man, able to return home to his family.
Many believe Saeed was targeted because of his Christian faith.
He was reportedly in Iran to build an orphanage, but was arrested for allegedly endangering national security.
Many people in the Charlotte area were saddened and angered by Abedini's imprisonment; and pushed for his release, including Congressman Robert Pittenger
Pittenger wrote letters to Pope Francis, President Barack Obama; and Secretary of State John Kerry in an effort to free the pastor, and he is thrilled to see the result.
"He's a wonderful Christian man, he's over there helping kids, it’s just been a long road they’ve been through a lot of emotional trauma,” Pittenger said.
Bob Woodard, of the South Carolina Pastors Alliance, was also among the thousands nationwide praying and pushing for Saeed's release.
"I couldn't imagine being ripped away from my family like that," he told Channel 9. “Anyone, with a heart, how can you not feel for that?"
Pittenger tells us Abedini is on his way to Germany, where he will undergo some medical tests, and he will soon be headed home.
Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will lift sanctions against Iran.
He said Iran has fulfilled its obligations included in last year's nuclear deal.
This comes just hours after the U.S. and Iran did a prisoner swap.
Iran released five Americans in exchange for seven Iranians.
Among the Americans released was pastor 'Saeed Abedini' who reverend Billy Graham, lawmakers, and Charlotte church leaders have been advocating for since he was detained in 2012.
Elsa Gillis spoke with the head of the South Carolina Pastors alliance about this major breakthrough.
Pastor Saeed Abedini's capture resontated with people across the country, including here in the Charlotte area.
His release comes after several people locally advocated for years on his behalf, and now they're overjoyed.
Pastor Saeed, an American citizen, had been imprisoned in Iran for over 3 years.
He was sentenced to serve 8 years. Many believe he was targeted because of his Christian faith.
He was reportedly in Iran to build an orphanage but was arrested for allegedly endangering national security after being accused of setting up a network of Christian churches.
Bob Woodard, of the South Carolina Pastors Alliance was one of thousands across the country praying for his release.
He told Channel 9 he reached out to some people in Washington and tried to unify the thousands across the country, all pushing for pastor Abendini's release.
Woodard shared with us why this was something he was so passionate about.
“I couldn't imagine being ripped away from my family like that, I can't imagine for the children, having their father ripped away for them. Anyone with a heart how can you not feel for that,” Woodward said.
He said as a pastor, and an American, no one should be imprisoned because of their faith, and that's a cause worth fighting for.
Congressman Pittenger on Iran’s release of Pastor Saeed Abedini
Congressman Robert Pittenger called Mrs. Naghmeh Abedini to congratulate her on Iran’s release of her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini.
“We are all deeply grateful and thrilled at the release of Pastor Abedini. Certainly, this has been a long, difficult road for Naghmeh, her children, and Saeed. Let’s celebrate today, and then remember to keep praying as Pastor Abedini recovers from the injuries he suffered in prison and transitions back to family life,” Pittenger said.