No one would have thought a Muslim woman in Iran who was simply trying to stay alive in an abusive marriage would one day lead two churches in Sweden, bring more than a thousand former Muslims to Christ, and be invited to speak before the Queen of Sweden.
Living in Darkness in Muslim Iran
As a young woman in a Muslim culture, Annahita Parsan was powerless and insignificant. Her only hope was that she might one day find a good husband, and she did. But he died suddenly in an accident. She had to fight for custody for her son, which she successfully won, and two years later was re-married to a man whose wife had died.
She found herself trapped in a second marriage so violent, she expected to die at any given moment.
Life during that abuse was a black void she says, “I didn’t know anything. It was darkness. It was a really bad life.”
And although she writes about the abuse in her book, Stranger No More, Parsan doesn’t like to talk about it now.
“It’s not that easy speaking about that.”
Beaten with a Shovel and a Suicide Attempt
Parsan amost apologetically shares how she was beaten with a shovel by her then-husband. As a battered wife, with bruises and cuts all over her body, Parsan eventually tried to kill herself with pills, but she survived.
Her daughter Roksana remembers when her father threatened to slit her own throat when she was just a small child.
“We wanted more cookies. Supernormal, and we ran up and we said, ‘More cookies! More cookies!’ And he came up with a knife, put it to my throat and he said, ‘Ask for cookies again.'”
But Roksana, like the children of many abused women, knew she had a supporter and love in her mom.
“She was striving to just survive for us, just survive to make a better life for us,” Roksana says, “And maybe that was something God had implanted in her so that she would have something to hold onto.”
Fleeing Iran Only to Land in a Turkish Prison, Then to Faith in Christ
Annahita Parsan’s journey to Christ and across two continents is the stuff of Hollywood movies, one that would include several brushes with death.
Parsan, her daughter, and the rest of the family fled as refugees in 1984 in the wake of the Iran-Iraq conflict, but met great hardships, including spending a month in prison in Turkey because they did not have identification papers or passports.
They would finally make it to Denmark where she divorced her still-abusive husband, and also heard the gospel for the first time.
“In about the first or second month there, a woman came to the door to speak about God. But it was not in my interest,” Parsan said. “I was so angry, I was so unhappy. But she came back the next day with a small Bible, so this time I asked Jesus to help me.”
She started reading the Bible, which she had to keep secret from her husband, and grew in the faith.
She survived an assault by her husband after he discovered her Bible and that was when she woke up in a hospital and realized she was being called for greater things.
“I was too scared to go home and the police came to the hospital to talk to me. Many people were helping me find a safe place to live, and I knew it was Jesus,” Parsan recalled.
“And soon, the police called to tell me that they had uncovered a plot in which my abusive husband had planned to kidnap the children back to Iran. After that, we moved to Sweden, and the policeman told me that I have an angel on my shoulder.”
Fearing she could still be harmed by her husband, she moved to Sweden where she and her two children walked into a church and prayed, “We are Christians, from now on.”
Her ‘Beautiful’ Ending: Becoming a Pastor in Sweden
In 2006 she was baptized in to the Lutheran Church of Sweden. In 2012, Parson became a minister in the church, focusing much of her work on reaching out to the Muslim community and inviting them to explore the faith.
After Annahita entered the ministry she became a kind of modern day Priscilla from Acts 18. Priscilla and her husband founded the first church in Asia Minor and Paul left it in her care upon his departure. So too, Annahita has founded two local churches and trains other churches how to reach out to and disciple believers who have left the Muslim faith. Amazingly, she has led more than 1,500 Muslims to Christ.
Former Muslims hungry for ‘the God who loves’ fill her church each Sunday. Parsan believes this was foretold in Jeremiah chapter 49, verse 39: “But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares the Lord.”
“It is about Elam and Elam is Persian,” Parsan said, “And when I read that I know that it’s about us. It’s about all their life and it’s amazing. God told Jeremiah at that time, and it’s happening just now.”
But Muslim immigration has also made Sweden a home for dangerous radicals. Parsan says has received numerous death threats, not by her former abusive husband, but by Islamists who have immigrated to Sweden. Now, she says, she lives with the knowledge she could be killed.
There is some irony there.
Sweden’s Immigration Policy Questioned
Parsan said Sweden has been open to, and even encouraged, large migrations of Muslims in the past without regard to their militancy or their lack of respect for the democratic principles Sweden is founded upon. Sweden “…is a free country. But it’s dangerous, too.”
The same principles that allowed her to immigrate to Sweden and minister to Muslims in the name of Christ also allows Muslims in who would want to murder her for doing so. She says she sometimes wonders if she will be killed by Islamists in Sweden.
“I have serious threats at least a couple of times per year, a threat of a knife attack or a bomb attack. I have a police officer attached to my case I can always call, and we have security during our services. I have other threats from my own distant family members,” she revealed. “But for me, what I do is worth it.”
As a young woman living what seemed like a hopeless existence in Iran, Annahita Parsan saw no plan and no purpose in her abusive marriage, only random violence. But God had a plan. Now Parson is seen as a leading figure of Christianity in Europe.
“God loved me and he was in my life from the beginning,” Parsan said. Even with death threats hanging over her head she says, “Sometimes [when reflecting on her life] I think, wow, it’s beautiful.”