From escaping Iran through the mountains as a Muslim refugee, to surviving domestic abuse and imprisonment in a Turkish prison, to carving out a life in Sweden, Annahita Parsan’s story is the stuff of a Hollywood movie.
Parsan, a convert from Islam to Christianity and mother of two, has emerged as one of the most prominent religious figures in Europe, both because of her unlikely geographic and spiritual pilgrimage and her decision to reach out to Muslims with the gospel -- at great personal risk.
“My life is completely different since coming to Jesus,” said the 47-year-old Parsan, whose memoir, “Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee Story of Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue and the Quiet Call of Jesus,” was published late last year.
Parsan was raised in a Muslim home in the ancient Iranian province of Isfahan with her parents and four siblings, she told Fox News. She was married at 16, and just after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 she gave birth to a boy, Daniel. Iran quickly became a different place under the Ayatollah Khomeini, and when Parsan’s beloved husband was tragically killed in a car accident – she was just 18 – she was forced to surrender custody of her son to her husband’s father, in accordance with the law. After several months, she bravely and successfully fought to get back her son.
“After two years, I decided to marry again. His situation was like mine; his wife had died,” Parsan recalled. “But soon, he began beating my son very badly… I was pregnant again, and it was impossible for me to divorce.”
On the heels of bringing a daughter she named Roksana into the world and with the Iran-Iraq war raging around them, Parsan’s husband Ashgar compelled them to flee in 1984 across frozen mountains into Turkey in the dead of winter. Without identification papers or passports, Turkish authorities tossed Parsan and her husband into a terrifying prison in the country’s Agri district for illegal entry. However, after a harrowing month they were released and traveled to Istanbul. There they spent nine months scrounging for enough funds to make it to Denmark.
It was in this tiny Scandinavian country where the seeds of her eventual spiritual transformation were planted.
“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 recalled. “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.”
Parsan said that over the next year she started to read the Bible, which she had to keep secretly from her husband. Eventually she asked God for answers to her questions and immediately felt a sense of calm and peace of mind that she had never before experienced.
“It was magic,” she avowed.
But the calm and peace did not last. After one especially brutal outburst from her abusive husband, during the Christmas of 1989, Parsan tried to take her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills. She woke up in the hospital, her survival itself a virtual miracle, and suddenly the pieces of her disjointed life seemed to her to fall into place.
“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,” she said. “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.”
After two years there she took the leap and was baptized. She and her children then lived quietly in the Swedish capital for a number of years.
Then in 2006, after surviving a horrific car accident, she decided that God had spared her life so she could spend it helping other Muslims come to faith in Christ.
After five years of intense study Parson was ordained in 2012 as a minister in the Church of Sweden.
My life is completely different since coming to Jesus.
The former refugee is now the leader of two congregations in Sweden. She not only evangelizes Muslims, but she frequently trains churches to reach out to Muslims and disciple them once they join the church.
“I work specifically with the Muslim community, many are also Farsi speaking,” Parsan said. “Sometimes they come to the church because they are curious. Sometimes they are asylum seekers and sometimes they are just visiting from places like Iran and Afghanistan, so they secretly get baptized and then they go back.”
She says she has been instrumental in the conversion of more than 1,500 people over the past five years.
Because of her successes, Parsan faces risks other Church of Sweden ministers do not face.
“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 added. “But for me, what I do is worth it.
“I hope people out there who have lost their faith, will maybe hear my story and be inspired to come back,” Parsan said.