As a Christian in Iran, Naghmeh Panahi was arrested numerous times—and once even had a gun pointed at her head. But as awful as that was, Naghmeh says she endured something far worse when she began speaking out about abuse from her husband. It was then that she faced persecution—not from radical Muslims, but from Christians.
En esta edición de El Informe Roys, you’re going to hear Julie’s powerful interview at the Restore Conference with Naghmeh Panahi. Naghmeh was catapulted into the national spotlight in 2013, a year after her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned for his faith in Iran.
With the help of Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, Naghmeh launched the Save Saeed campaign. The campaign garnered worldwide attention. And it eventually led to Saeed’s release in 2015.
But during this time, Naghmeh learned that Saeed’s violence, repeated insults, and spiritual manipulation were not just a sign of a bad marriage. It was abuse.
Yet, when she se pronunció about the abuse, the backlash from Christians was virulent and cruel. And the psychological and spiritual damage from that backlash was far worse than anything Naghmeh said she encountered in Iran.
In this interview, Naghmeh talks candidly about the abuse and the Christian community’s failure to stand with victims. But she also talks about the persecuted church—and how the Western Church’s failure to care for the abused and broken is not a bug but a feature.
Drawing from her book, aptly titled, I Didn’t Survive: Emerging Whole After Deception, Persecution, and Hidden Abuse, Naghmeh’s message is a prophetic witness to the American church—if we will listen in and take heed.
Naghmeh Panahi is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher. Naghmeh made national news when she publicly advocated for the release of her then-husband, Saeed Abedini, who was imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith. Naghmeh’s autobiography, I Didn’t Survive: Emerging Whole After Deception, Persecution, and Hidden Abuse, is available now. Learn more at NaghmehPanahi.com.
NAGHMEH PANAHI, Julie Roys
julie reyes 00:04
As a Christian in Iran, Naghmeh Panahi was arrested numerous times and once even had a gun pointed at her head. But as awful as that was Naghmeh says she endured something far worse when she began speaking out about abuse from her husband. It was then that she faced persecution, not from radical Muslims, but from Christians. Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys, and today you’re going to hear my powerful interview at the RESTORE conference with Naghmeh Panahi. Naghmeh was catapulted into the national spotlight when her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, was imprisoned for his faith in Iran. And with the help of Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, Naghmeh launched the Save Saeed campaign. The campaign garnered worldwide attention and it eventually lead to Saeed’s release. But during this time, Naghmeh learned that Saeed’s violence, repeated insults, and spiritual manipulation was not just a sign of a bad marriage, it was abuse. Yet when she spoke out about the abuse, the backlash from Christians was virulent and cruel. And the psychological and spiritual damage from that backlash was far worse than anything Naghmeh said she encountered in Iran. In our interview, Naghmeh talks candidly about the abuse and the Christian community’s failure to stand with victims. But she also talks about the persecuted church and how the Western Church’s failure to care for the abused and broken is not a bug but a feature. I am so grateful for Naghmeh’s, prophetic witness to the American church, and I’m confident that God is using that witness both through podcasts like these, and in Naghmeh’s book aptly titled, I Didn’t Survive: Emerging Whole After Deception, Persecution and Hidden Abuse.
julie reyes 01:50
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julie reyes 02:56
Well, again, here’s my interview with Naghmeh Panahi on surviving persecution from the church. This is from our last RESTORE conference in October 2023.
julie reyes 03:07
Let’s just start with a little bit of your story. And again, those of you who know her story, this may be familiar, but I know I learned a lot of new things. You were born in Iran. And the interesting thing is you got to see Iran before the revolution, and then after. Talk about what the change was in Iran when you when you saw that happen?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 03:29
Yeah, I was actually born soon, a few years before the revolution. So, my mom was one of the first women in the king’s army, as a woman, which was pretty radical for her time. And also just, you know, Iran has had Islam for about 1400 years, so not Islamic culture. And she was very proud woman with her gun and protecting the Shah, but also, you know, having authority in a sense that women usually didn’t have. So, my mom was kind of protecting the king from the revolution. My dad was actually one of the people that wanted the Islamic Revolution, because, before the revolution, people like my mom, were wearing miniskirts. And, you know, just like the US, they were free, and my dad and his group of people thought, you know, we’re becoming too westernized. And if we have an Islamic religious revolution, then the culture will be more purified. And so, I kind of grew up in chaos. I saw tires burning, my mom going, and my nanny would cry, and is she going to come back? Cuz she was trying to defend against the protesters, and then my dad would be in the streets and there was different groups that were trying to take over the government. And they were all radical and there was a lot of people just been killed in the streets. And so, I kind of grew up in a very chaotic political atmosphere of where the country was becoming very Islamic. And so, I went to school I shared in my book, my photo from my school, elementary school and I looked at and I was the most covered up. Like some of the girls had their head covering a little back. Just from the photo, you can tell I was so afraid. I was told you can’t show hair and all this teaching that was like going through the schools about just Islam and how we had to cover up. And so, it was very foreign to me, having seen my mom without a covering, and then seeing her, she had to be all covered up and her rank taken away from her. And she had to be in an office setting, as a woman couldn’t have any authority over men in any position of power. And so, I was noticing a lot of that changes and the fear that was gripping a lot of the woman. I would actually have a lot of dreams that I was walking in the streets in Iran without head covering, and I was being arrested. And that was one of my, a lot of the nightmares I had. But just the fear of having to cover up and right around the revolution right after there was a war with Iraq. So, I also grew up in war, we had bombs and missiles. And I was just flipping through my social media, and I saw a video with the sirens going off in Israel. And all of a sudden I had a panic attack, because I would hear those sirens all of the time, the bomb sirens and you have to go to shelter and not knowing if your house was going to be the next one that was bombed, or a missile would hit it, or a lot of the Iraqi soldiers were certain parts of Iran were attacking and raping and taking captives and women and children were being killed. And so, it’s brought back a lot of that memory as a child, even just hearing that siren was so hard to listen to.
julie reyes 06:47
I’m thinking when you’re talking about being covered up your mother losing her rank, being afraid as a woman I mean, I’m thinking of Sheila’s talk yesterday. I mean, this is like modesty message on steroids. As a young girl, how did you internalize, did that make you feel different about you?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 07:04
Yeah, I was told as a seven-year-old at that time. Like when I went to school, I had to dress up, like cover up, I was told that I was sexually appealing to men.
julie reyes 07:14
As a seven-year-old?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 07:16
That’s what I we had to once I went to school, like six, seven-year-old got to be fully covered. And people I know that had their relatives like their grandmother had married at the age of nine and their mother had married at the age of 12. Right now, we do work in Afghanistan, and since the Taliban has taken over these, as soon as the girl hits puberty, like nine, a lot of times 9-10, they’re being married and they’re now giving birth to babies at like 10, 11, 12. And so yeah, it’s unfortunately it was part of the culture. And as a little girl, you’re told that you had to cover up because it would be tempting to a man as a little seven-year-old. Which is interesting, because years later was like, the purity culture sounds very Islamic.
julie reyes 08:05
So, your parents did leave. And it sounded like the impetus was the fear that your brother might get drafted in the army. And the little boys were basically sent out there to check where the landmines were right? So, I mean, it was almost certain death. So, your parents escaped out of there and came to the US, settled in Idaho, and then the story of how you became a believer is really phenomenal and interesting too, how your parents when you became a believer, that was not welcome.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 08:41
No. My mom was more of a moderate Muslim. My dad was very strong Muslim. Like he had his prayer life and fasting. I’d never in the Islamic Revolution world, I never heard of the name Jesus. And so, when we came to America, my twin brother who actually he got his doctorate at University of Chicago in quantum physics, and so he was not emotional growing up, and even with the war I was the more emotional one he was, the more like, questioning God. But he was crying like I’d never seen him emotionally. And he said, I know we question Who is God? Why is he allowing, we would see our classmates like their dead bodies in the street. The houses of the kids that we would play with, completely gone. And we didn’t know if we were next. I mean, just growing up in war was just insane. And so, we had a lot of questions about God. And he came running to me one day when we’d just come to America, and he said, I found the God we’ve been looking for. His name is Jesus. And I was like, what? He had a vision, I guess he had seen Jesus and he said, he is all I felt was love. And I just know we have to find out who this Jesus is. And so that’s how we were saved. We were running around acting like crazy nine-year-olds, like who’s Jesus? And with our limited English, we found some people who, you know, spoke Farsi, and told us and gave us a Farsi Bible. And we thought our parents would be as excited as us. They were angry. My dad wanted us actually, to move us back to Iran. He said, it’s better if we die in the war. You’ve become Christian. You’ve lost your culture. You’ve lost everything. And my full name is Naghmeh Sharia Panahi. So, Sharia is Islamic law. Panahi means protector, so our last name meant protector of Islamic law. And so, my dad always prided himself like we’re related to the Prophet Mohammed, like the Prophet of Islam. And so, for him, for us to become Christian was like, the worst thing ever. And so, he was in the process of moving us back into a war with like chemical warfare. My brother was about to be signed up to go to like, run through the mines. And he didn’t seem to care. He thought us becoming Christian was like the worst thing that had happened.
julie reyes 11:07
Unbelievable. And despite that, I mean, you would think as a nine-year-old, something like this happens, your parents don’t support it, it’ll be gone, it will be eradicated from your life. Why didn’t that happen?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 11:19
Yeah, my uncle, my uncle, who graduated from university in California, had found a job in Boise, Idaho. And he said, you know, let’s move them there. They’re only nine. It’s just a little feeling. They’re going to forget about this Jesus, you know. And as a nine-year-old, you want to please your parents. They’re all we had in the war. Like, they were our lifeline, and wanting to please them. And so, they thought he said, they’re going to forget about this Jesus. And we didn’t. I mean, it’s by grace of God, he kept our faith, our Bible was taken from us, me and my brother weren’t allowed to even pray together. My dad had a lot of fits of anger. Just a lot of it, we experienced a lot of persecution, anger in the home. And in Idaho, we were pretty much isolated. Try to forget about Jesus, and we didn’t, and it was not until we were from nine until 16-17, where my parents, I guess, were on their own journey. We didn’t know but they were on their own journey of finding Jesus. They were secretly reading the Bible they took from us. I didn’t know that at that time.
julie reyes 12:26
When did they actually become believers?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 12:29
Right around as I was graduating, I could see they had softened. I would sneak out, as soon as I got my driver’s license, I would sneak out to a church. And I thought they didn’t know but they knew. And they were okay with it because they were reading the Bible. But they didn’t become Christians until I went to college. And when I came home, they were like, We believe we want to be baptized, from nine until 22.
julie reyes 12:57
And why is it? I’ve always you hear this among Muslims so often, that they have these visions of Jesus, and they come to Jesus through that. I mean, it just seems to be a feature. Why do you think that is?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 13:14
I think that whoever cries out to God, anywhere in the world, God will make himself known. In Iran, you don’t have a lot of missionaries right now. And I would talk to people in Iran, I would talk to, and I would say, hey, I would talk to a woman, I’d say, Do you know who Jesus is? And they would start crying. And they would say, Yes, I saw him in a vision. Like, tell me more. My child was dying, and I cried out to God, and I said, help and Jesus appeared to me and said, I am the way the truth and the life, but they didn’t know much. They just knew that he’d healed their child, or he was the way the truth and the life. Like they knew little parts of who Jesus was. But it was really not hard to evangelize. That’s why I think when I returned to Iran, we saw such a revival because people already knew who Jesus was. They’d seen him in dreams and visions, and they’d already seen him move in ways that wasn’t, we weren’t trying to convince them. They were like, Yeah, we know him. He healed our child, or I saw him in a vision.
julie reyes 14:15
Wow. So you went to college, were planning on becoming a doctor. You must have done quite well in school.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 14:23
I think coming from an immigrant family, you’re told you have no choice, lawyer, or doctor. We’re in America you have to pursue the American dream.
julie reyes 14:33
Right. And probably the last place on earth you wanted to go was Iran and yet you ended up back in Iran.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 14:41
I did. My parents really struggle with that because I went right after September 11. And when no one wanted to get on an airplane, and no one wanted to fly into the Middle East. So, I had the whole airplane to myself flying into Iran, and President Bush was like there’s gonna be war in that region. And so, I just felt like God was like, this is the time to go, I’m going to change that land through the gospel. My fight is through the gospel is through love, you know, in Christ. And so, I didn’t know when I went back. And my parents thought I was crazy. I was about to take the MCAT like I was on the road to being a medical doctor. And I said, I need a break. I feel like God’s telling me to go to Iran I didn’t know that I was going to be at the forefront of a revival. But I just knew God was like, You need to go now. And so, when I went, he allowed me to be at the forefront of revival and be part of leading one of the largest house church movements in Iran.
julie reyes 15:46
And when you flew over there, was it on the plane, you get those cards, and you have to declare things?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 15:51
In Muslim countries, I don’t know why, but every single they have no shame about discrimination. Religious discrimination is like they don’t there’s like nothing. So, everything you fill out has religion, what’s your religion? So, that’s why Christians when people become Christians, they have to fill up. And because of their conscience, they can’t put Muslim. So, they put Christian so as soon as they put Christian, even like filling out a passport. If they write Christian, they’re arrested. They can’t work if they write Christian, if they’re not arrested, they can’t find job, or they can’t go to school, Christians are not allowed to go to school. And so even on the airplane immigration form, I had religion, and I knew my last name meant I was a Muslim. Like people could tell by your last name, you’re a Muslim, but I knew I was a Christian, I really struggle with that form. And it was right after September 11. And I was like, stepping into radical Iran that I had read about killing so many pastors and hanging them as an example. And I wrote down Muslim.
julie reyes 16:57
And also because of your name, they would know that you were born Muslim, yeah. That you converted and that’s a major, major no, no.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 17:04
Yeah. I was fine by myself. And I mean, I just felt so bad. I felt like a Peter moment. I just there was so much fear, flying into Iran. And as a Christian, I’d never experienced that. Anyway, I had left Iran as a Muslim. God was allowing me to go back as a Christian and to experience what it meant to really understand the persecuted church. And so yeah.
julie reyes 17:30
So, you get into Iran. Talk about the church and the, you know, the way the house church movement was going and also about this very charismatic pastor that you saw over there named Saeed.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 17:43
Saeed. Yeah, so I grew up in the purity movement. I was like, when I went to Iran, I was 24. I hadn’t dated I was told first hold, holding hand or first kiss had to be with someone you married. I had some people pursued me in college, good Christian guys that I was like, nope. And so, I hadn’t really experienced anything. And Iran had right now they don’t they had some building churches, that they allowed the Armenians to conduct church, because the Armenian people are considered Christians. They’re not converting. They were like, they have been Christians for generations. So Iranian government allows for religious freedom for the Armenians to conduct church. They weren’t allowed to let Muslims in like Persians. Persians are, you know, have been Muslims for so many hundreds of years, you know, 1400 years. But the church actually that I met Saeed in had started allowing Muslims to come in and they were converting, and one of them was Saeed. And that’s why they had killed some of their pastors. The government had arrested and killed some of the pastors at that building church. And I saw Saeed he was on. It’s a long story, how I ended up in that church. I had a cousin that had gotten saved and invited me, so I was about to leave Iran. I had been a missionary for one year, and I had five people who accepted Christ. And I was like, Okay, I shared with every single relative, like aunt and uncle gave out Bibles. And there was five people became Christians. And then I was like, Okay, I’m done. I was about to leave.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 19:12
My cousin invites me to this church service. And I go inside Saeed was on stage worship on the worship team. And I really saw a lot of passion for Jesus. And then he was like, I love evangelism. Like that’s my number one passion. And even in Boise, I would always go and evangelize to the refugees, the Muslim refugees that were coming in. And so, he seemed like this great evangelist, and I was really drawn to him. And so, we started working together. He actually reached out to me and said, Hey, you want to do ministry together? And I didn’t realize but he was going to an underground bible school by the Assemblies of God there. And because the government was heavily persecuting the building church, they were being trained to start house churches. So, at that time, he had about a dozen people, I had five we decided to join forces. And within a few years it grew to 1000s over 33 cities and it was college students, they were our house was in the middle of Tehran-by-Tehran University. And so, all these college students were getting saved. And then they would go back into their city and evangelize. And all these house churches was just popping up. And all over Iran, every 33 major cities had churches, within two years.
julie reyes 20:34
NAGHMEH PANAHI 20:35
Very, it was all college students, very organic.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 20:39
And women. Women did a lot of leadership. Yes, it’s really I mean, ironic in a Muslim country.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 20:46
Very ironic. I was just sharing that is China and Iran had this revival of house church movement, and women are the main ones leading it. And in a culture like, Iranian culture, where women are literally told their property, and a lot of the Muslim men treat them with a lot of contempt, they don’t have a lot of freedom. And so, a lot of Muslim women are drawn to the church and become saved because they see how the men in the underground church honor women and they’re leading. And the men are completely okay with that. And they’re working together. I mean, there’s no titles, there’s no stage, they call each other brother and sister, even the pastor, which is like a shepherd or shepherdess. It’s called sister like Sister Naghmeh, Sister Julie. So, no one’s called, , no one’s given a title. And actually, being the pastor or the leader of that house church, means you’re going to be the first one to be arrested and killed, you know. And I share in my book about a 10-year-old girl that I met in one of the cities and she got saved at 10. She was passionate by 25. She was a discipling like 500 women. And she was arrested, tortured, and solitary confinement. She would not even give out one name, she was defending her flock. She went through so much. And she came out she’s like, I didn’t give out one name. They weren’t able to find any of the 500 people that she was discipling. And so that’s what it means to be the leader, it’s, you’re literally laying down your life for the sheep. It’s not like a place of popularity, it’s actually not a place, I’ve shared that in the podcasts with you. Not a place that a lot of narcissists like to serve. It’s not fun.
julie reyes 22:33
I mean, that’s the thing, if you hear so often, the shepherd should be the first to lay down his life, right? And if that were the case, it does just sort of naturally weed out the chaff.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 22:47
Literally, if you’re the leader means you’re going to be the first one that’s arrested and tortured. So what narcissist want to do that? So, you don’t see a lot of narcissists. And you don’t see, unfortunately, you don’t see a lot of the men wanting that position. So, a lot of the women are the ones carrying the torch of the gospel, and they’re the ones being arrested. They’re the ones being raped. They’re the ones being tortured. They’re the woman by the well that Jesus is using. I was sharing with one of my pastors recently, I was like, how dare God use women on the underground churches in Iran? Why does he do that? But it’s the woman but they’re not getting any popularity. They’re literally being tortured and killed, but they’re the ones, the weak, Isn’t doesn’t Jesus says he uses the weak, broken? It is the weak, broken woman who’ve been so shattered in that society that God is just lifting up and honoring and giving the privilege to suffer for the gospel.
julie reyes 23:45
And where we see the church shrinking in the West, in these places where it’s organically happening without all of the money and the programs and, you know, all the seven steps to this that are the other thing. The gospel is going forward.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 24:02
Yes, it is going without a program. It’s weak vessels that society has crushed, that Jesus is honoring and using for the gospel in one of the hardest countries in the world that has the most crazy governments. With great wisdom, God is using that. And doesn’t he say that in his word? That’s who he uses, but it’s really It’s so confusing for me because I see that happening in the Middle East. And then the way women are honored in a place where they haven’t been. And then I see something different here, which has been so hard to try to digest that. But it’s so radical. I mean if you guys could understand how radical it is. And I know you’ve watched like sheep among wolves and all that. It’s radical for women to be leading in the Middle East, the house churches. Just think about that in a culture that has said You’re nothing your property, just how radical that is. And for Jesus during his time to do that too; be so radical in the way he honored women. I am just still shocked by the fact that how the men in the house churches really honor the women and really God, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. There’s no other explanation.
julie reyes 25:19
It is so cool. So, you told of a time when you denied the Lord, but you had another chance.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 25:26
Yeah, I told the Lord. I went home and I cried, I said, God, if I have another opportunity, I will not deny your name. And two and a half years later, I was arrested. But I’ve been arrested a lot. Many times, for the gospel. We were like, if we were smuggling Bibles, like at night, we would try to move around Bibles and give it to different house churches. So, we were arrested many times, there’s so many stories. But there was an incident where it was the scariest because I was actually detained. I have guns pointed to my head, we were basically told, if you say you’re a Christian, you will go to a woman’s prison, you will get raped and tortured and you will die. If you say you’re Muslim, you get to walk out this door right now. And everything within me wanted to be Muslim. I just want to get out of that door. I had the radical Revolutionary Guards all around me with guns and I was just like, Okay God, you know how the Bible says, he will put the words in our mouth? And I said, I’m a Christian. And the story is more detailed in my book. But towards the end of it, this top interrogator was crying and asking for a Bible. The guy that threatened to kill me, was actually ended up asking for a Bible.
julie reyes 26:46
And Saeed said that he got his inspiration from you because you. . .
NAGHMEH PANAHI 26:52
There was three of us that got arrested. The first guy wrote Muslim, and then it was my turn. And so, I wrote Christian, and the Revolutionary Guard interrogator asked for my testimony. He said, basically my testimony was the evidence that was going to convict me of the death sentence they were going to give me for converting. And then Saeed also said he was Christian. And he told me after we left, I was gonna write Muslim. But when you said Christian, I got inspired to also write Christian. So yeah.
julie reyes 27:32
So, you guys come back to the States. You end up getting married to Saeed. There were some red flags in your dating relationship, obviously, that you talk about in the book. And we don’t have time to go into all of what happened. But what was your life with Saeed behind closed doors?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 27:55
Yeah, so Saeed had never been to the states. We came to the States in 2005, after a lot of persecution. But in Iran, it was the first full on physical abuse happened when we fled Iran in Dubai. So about a year and a half into our marriage, but I didn’t see the signs of abuse, obviously, now looking back, but early on, he didn’t find me attractive. He would say, you’re so dark, and you’re so ugly, and you need to do nose surgery, you need to do surgery with your eyebrows, and you need to lose weight. And so, he was just, pretty much I start questioning, I said by that by the time we were eight years into the marriage before Saeed’s arrest, I couldn’t even think for myself. I remember the interviews, I would tell people, this is the first time I’m processing life without Saeed because I would have to ask him permission, what do I say? And it was really hard being put in the spotlight and having to rely on my own. Not as Saeed to give answers. It started out with him putting down my looks. And then it was like, questioning the way I was seeing things and then questioning the way I was looking at Scripture and saying, I was idolizing scripture, I needed to let the Holy Spirit , you know, his own idea of what the Holy Spirit is. And just he started questioning my understanding of Scripture. There was not a full-on beating, but he would shove me he had me beg. He would have me beg and kiss his feet. It’s in the book. There’s some really hard stuff in the book. But pretty much, after eight years of marriage, we came to America because of intense persecution. And then after four years of being in America from 2005 to 2009, we didn’t go to Iran, but then he started traveling. And then he got arrested. He thought, Well, we haven’t done house church for four years. I can go back. He went back and forth, back, and forth. 2012 was arrested the time he was arrested; I was a shell of a person. I had no friends. He cut off my family, my friends. I had so much makeup on, I was 30 pounds lighter than I am now. I tried everything to be exactly how he wanted me to be. And I couldn’t show emotion. If I cried, he would say you’re trying to manipulate me with your tears, he would get very angry with tears. I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t express any emotion. So I was just like this very dead person, just basically, I worked full time he didn’t work. So, I was full time I was a slave, I was working full time taking care of the kids cooking, cleaning. And he was just traveling, and I was funding his travels. And so I was, close to death. I didn’t realize his imprisonment was my freedom. I did not see it; I was so mad at God. And I explained it in my book. I thought God was being so cruel to me. Now I have to try to get my husband out of the worst prison in the world.
julie reyes 30:55
And you are gone from being premed, you had done incredibly well in school, then you help your dad run his business.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 31:02
I was very confident.
julie reyes 31:03
Confident, competent, all of these things. And after these years of marriage, you have been reduced to that point. And then you start advocating for him. It doesn’t dawn on you that you’re being abused till pretty far along in the whole process. But talk about when you finally because I think a lot of people have heard you know the story up until this point. But then you advocated for him. And then you got to the point where you finally said, it dawned on you you were being abused. And you said something.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 31:36
Well, the reason it dawned on me if he hadn’t had a phone, most people don’t realize this part of the puzzle. The last year of his imprisonment, he had obtained a smartphone where he could literally get on the internet in maximum security prison in Iran. It was a smuggled phone worth $7,000 to get that phone to him. But I’m glad it happened. Because at first I was like, why does he have a phone and he’s treating me like this? He would call me Jezebel, like that was the number one word he’d use against me. whore and again, you’re ugly, you’re nobody if people are clapping, they’re clapping for Abedini, Saeed Abedini. They’re not clapping for you. I’m the hero of the story. He saw that I met with Obama I met with Trump I was on the news. And we did a prayer vigil with Mr. Franklin Graham and 2 million people watching online and he saw when he called me for the first time he saw this confident woman that he had destroyed for eight years. So, he saw, Oh, she has confidence in Jesus. I dreamed in his time of imprisonment. It was my time in the cocoon. I was reading the word praying again, because I couldn’t even pick up the Bible when I was in abuse. I couldn’t imagine, I kept myself pure. I had been a missionary and part of me was really mad at God for allowing me to suffer like this. I mean, I describe a lot of hard things in the Bible. In my book, I was raped by him. It was just a horrible, horrible marriage.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 33:15
And so, part of me, I guess, had distanced myself from God thinking, I kept myself pure. I wanted to serve you. Why would you allow this? And so, when he was in prison, actually, I drew close to God and like you said, I had been raised in a home where my dad gave me a lot of confidence. And so anyways, my Heavenly Father was like, really, through the Bible I am finding confidence. So, when he got a smartphone, he saw that confidence and he was scared. I didn’t see it at that time. So, as he was calling me all sorts of names, I’m writing articles for The Washington Post and New York Times. I’m writing op-eds on being on the news and traveling, speaking in churches and he’s calling me names. I couldn’t understand why because people are like, Your husband must be so proud of you. I was literally traveling the world getting him out. He had an eight-year sentence. He spent three years in prison, six months in house arrest, but he could have been there for a longer time. They were actually going to give him more and more years. People are like, he must be so proud. You’ve met with presidents to get him out and then here he was calling me names and I couldn’t get it.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 34:22
So finally, I broke coming from the Middle Eastern culture and the Christian culture, you don’t want to air out your dirty laundry. So, I didn’t tell anyone even my parents had experienced abuse themselves. He had physically beat up my dad, but it was a culture of you don’t divorce no matter what, but also a culture, you don’t talk about it. So, for the first time I shared with this pastor that I was speaking at his church, I said, I don’t understand. Here’s all these text messages he’s sending on Skype to me. He’s calling me all sorts of names. I don’t get it like why? And he said, “You’re an abused wife. He said, This is why he is And then it started making sense Oh, he needed to crush me to control me. And I wasn’t crushed. During his time of imprisonment, God was setting me free inside was seeing that. And so, he was calling me all sorts of names. And when this pastor gave me the diagnosis, that was it There was no going back. Because before then I was like, I have a hard marriage. And then once I knew it was cancer, I’m like uh, this needs chemo, and I knew I had to educate myself on what abuse was and what do I do?
julie reyes 35:35
And so, you sent an email. To like, 100 close supporters.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 35:39
Yeah, I was like, Nah, this is the way the media has blown it up. I sent an email to really close friends. And then that got leaked to the media. And then yeah, I was, I think Lori Anne Thompson said this stone was like the person bleeding by the road. I was like, stones were thrown at me. I was bullied by Franklin Graham, told to shut up. You’re damaging the cause of Christ. He used every power every connection he had. And he was like, You’re never ever going to do ministry again if you talk. I was like, I don’t want to do ministry. I just want to live quietly in Boise, Idaho. Why is ministry an idol? He was scaring me but saying you’re never gonna do anything. I’m like, It’s okay, I don’t want it. So, he couldn’t hold that over me. But I lost everything like Lori Anne Thompson said, I had to quit my job to advocate for him. So, my income had been speaking engagements. And that was taken from me. So, all of a sudden I’m in the middle of he comes out, files for divorce, because how dare I have leaked, shared with a group of people that leaked information about abuse. And so, he came out filed for divorce, the worst thing I was afraid of which was actually my freedom. But at that time, it was heartbreaking. Because I fought to get him out. He didn’t even want to fight for our marriage. He just came out and filed for divorce. And I literally lost everything. I lost my marriage, I lost my income, I had stones thrown at me, I was literally by the side of the road. And all the religious leaders were like either kicking me, or quietly walking by. It was very few that were there, all the text messages stopped, all the Naghmeh, we got you and my poor kids too, they would always get gifts and support. They would get so many gifts on their birthdays. And it all of a sudden stopped. And they’re like, Mom, what happened? And all of a sudden, we’re just like, I mean, I got so many calls from past, pastors that were just throwing things at me. And I had a really interesting experience with Family Research Council too. And so, it was just like, a lot of stones at a time where my marriage was falling apart. And yeah, it was a very difficult time.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 35:43
So that the title of your book is I Didn’t Survive.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 37:58
People don’t like that. They’re like you’re a survivor.
julie reyes 38:03
But the old Naghmeh is not the Naghmeh who’s sitting here is this like Dr. Monroe said, you know that you change your different. How have you changed and why?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 38:19
I am not the person I was 10 years ago once I went to prison. I think I would describe it like a caterpillar going into the cocoon. The caterpillar is no longer the caterpillar, it’s a butterfly. There’s a confidence I have in God. There’s a lack of fear of what religious leaders. My Goliath was Franklin Graham. He used every power he had to shut me down. I know this for a fact. Some megachurch pastors called me and said yeah, Franklin called us and every person I reached out for help, Franklin would call and say if you help her, you know? And so yeah, there’s a lot of stories. I don’t have fear of losing anything. I know that losing income, ministry, people’s praises, all of that fell and the old Naghmeh was afraid of losing a lot of things like marriage, status, income, even as a single mom; all that fear is gone. He’s been my provider, day in and day out. I live for Christ and if people don’t like that, then it’s okay. I don’t get any benefit from people either copying or so there’s a lot of people pleasing. I’m just not the old Naghmeh. The old Naghmeh was so afraid, scared about people’s opinion. I mean, I care for people but I’m not a people pleaser. You would have been surprised to meet the Naghmeh of 2012. She would have been a completely different person.
julie reyes 39:49
Thing Mariam said in her book, that she said that the domestic abuse that she suffered by her husband was worse and If you read Miriam’s book, I can’t quite even wrap my head around what can be worse than some of the things that she suffered at the hands of Muslim persecutors. But in what ways was that worse when you get persecuted from professing Christians?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 40:22
She said it’s worse? So, Miriam and I are, she’s one of my best friends. And she came out of Sudanese prison. She was on death row, and I met her soon after she’d given birth to her daughter, Maya in prison. And then she faced this horrific, you will read her account in prison in her book that’s out there. The prison experience her growing up as a refugee in Sudan. Her mom was a refugee. Her dad was Sudanese, and she grew up in a horrible situation and then she was given the death sentence by the radical Muslims there in Sudan and treated horribly. For her to say what she experienced in domestic abuse and the church’s response was worse than that? I was like, “Are you what?! She said she knew that was the enemy, she’s like, I knew that was my enemy. I knew that those people that had persecuted me where my enemy. I didn’t expect it to come from my home. And I didn’t expect it to come from my Christian community. Like that was what was like I think you said that about Lori Anne Thompson’s, that it came from the church is the most messed up thing with the name of carrying the name of Jesus to for broken people that Jesus so cares about to be trampled on. And use then abuse is I just that just, it’s so messed up. And so that’s why she says that she’s like, I didn’t expect it in my home, that my enemy would be in my home and that the way the Christian community respond to her she was a Christian hero for standing up to the Muslim community in Sudan. And then she was a bad person for wanting to divorce her abusive husband. No one wanted to touch her. She shares that. It’s like the modern leper, she Yeah, she actually became homeless, no one wanted to help her. She had to flee her home with her two kids that had just left Sudanese prison. And no one wanted to touch it. No one wanted to get her a lawyer help get her nothing. She had nothing. She just come out of Sudan with no English. She filed for divorce in 2018. So, four years after she came out from Sudan, so she knew a little bit of English, but she had never worked in the US. I mean, she literally was helpless. She had no family. Her mom had died. I mean, she had no family and the Christian community that had tried to help her escape Sudan was now like, don’t talk to us, don’t reach out. Don’t talk to us. Like she became a leper. Yeah, so I wish she was here. And we tell her story.
julie reyes 42:56
Yeah. So last question because we’re gonna have to wrap up. But having been through what you’ve been through, seeing what you’ve seen in the house church movement in Iran, then coming to the US and experiencing what you did by the American church, what message do you have for the American church today?
NAGHMEH PANAHI 43:18
To get Lance’s book. It’s so messed up the way the system is destroying is not Christianity, what we have here is a system it’s a business. It’s not laying down your life for the sheep. It’s actually like Ezekiel, where God’s like you’re abusing, you’re using the sheep for your own benefit. A good shepherd would actually lay down. I mean, Paul says, you know, parents should give to the children, not children, like he should have been this rich pastor, and he’s like, I’m poor. I’m homeless. I’m treated like he wasn’t a great speaker, he wouldn’t be probably have any church gathering. And so, it’s just the way the system is really. If anyone that comes from the house church movement in Iran or China, they come here and they’re like, Oh, the church is asleep, like there’s no church. There’s buildings, people are gathering in buildings, but the church is dead. Anyone has ever come that’s the first reaction they give is, wow, the church here is sleeping. And so, I would say I think we really need to rethink and not just read about Jesus was the servant, what does that mean in my life? And I love what Lori Anne Thompson said that we don’t also as abuse survivors, we are not the heroes either, Jesus is. I think the reason I wrote my book is that it’s not heroic, someone wrote a review. It’s not about anyone being a hero. It’s about the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony, and my hope is my testimony is going to help draw people to Christ because I’m not the answer. Christ is. And so that’s why I’ve kind of refrained from writing a curriculum or having an answer. I’m and like Jesus, he helped me, point to him. And so, we’re not the heroes. You know, as survivors, or as the persecuted church. The persecuted church doesn’t want to be heroes. They’re just following Christ. But I think we can learn a lot from the persecuted church and really learn what it means to carry our cross. I don’t think the American church really, the leadership understand what that is. What does it mean to carry your cross and die to yourself daily?
julie reyes 45:36
And I do believe that out of the ashes, new things are coming. And who was it that said, maybe it was last night at the dinner that I think it was Laurie Adams Brown, who said that she believes that survivors and a lot of what’s happening for people that have been through this who have really experienced the pain of what’s happened, it’s fertile ground for a new thing to happen in the church. And so that’s my prayer.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 46:07
I think this is my I’ve prayed and cried out to God many times. I think God’s gonna use the broken. We are looking for oh, I think Sheila said that, too. We’re looking to these big platforms to do something and God’s like, No, I’m going to use the little scattered broken people on the outside. You keep looking to these megachurch pastors see, please see this. And they’re not because for them to see it, it means their whole world would be toppled upside down. And so, we’re trying to change these big organizations. But a lot of times the answer is actually Jesus is like, no, I’m actually going to do a work outside of that. And that’s going to, yeah, anyways, I think just having spent many hours just crying for the church in America, because I was born and raised for the first nine years in Iran. But I’ve been in America for like 37 years. And so, I’ve cried for this country. And as a Christian, and I think he’s going to work in a way we didn’t expect him to. It’s not going to be people with platforms, it’s going to be a grassroot, no one’s going to be the hero, it’s only going to be Jesus. I tell people because they like to build heroes. I’m like, don’t look to me to be the chain. It’s gonna require every one of us, like Sheila I think said, and a lot of the speakers. It’s going to be a grassroot because like I said, Jesus Himself, God is a jealous God. He deserves all the glory; he’s going to be the Savior. There’s no minnie saviors that are going to change the climate, you know, here. So, it’s just gonna be all Jesus. But all of us are just a voice. But we need to use our voice. And I think what Lori Anne said, or Adam said is true, I think it’s going to be a lot of the movement is going to start with the survivors and the broken. And that’s why people ask me, you were so passionate about the Middle East, I still work with the underground church in Iran and Afghanistan. I’m not a ministry, but I try to collect money and just give everything there. But I also care about their views, then they’re like, this is kind of two different worlds. I’m like, No, it’s not. Because Jesus is with the broken, the persecuted church is broken. The abused are broken, they’re both desperate for God. And guess what God cannot resist? God cannot resist His people being broken. Like he will step in like you have not. Gloria Thompson said she was like, once she had her daughter, she’s like, I will fight for her. And God is that jealous for us. And when we’re broken, that’s when God’s steps in. And so, for both the persecuted church and the abused, my heart is for them. First of all, Jesus says, If you want to minister to me, minister to the least of these my brothers. So, if you want to actually walk with Jesus, it’s not on the big platforms. It’s literally walking with the least of these. That’s where I experienced Jesus is when I’m walking with an abused woman. I’m not on I’m literally just, I’ve had abused woman live in my house, like, that’s where I’m experiencing Jesus, or when I’m working with the persecuted church, who have no money to eat, and they’re still carrying forth the gospel. They’re in these countries that are sanctioned. They’re so poor, and as Christians, they’re even poorer, but they continue to take the gospel. So when I hang out with the least of these, I truly experience the move of the Spirit. And so, they’re related. The persecuted church, and the survivors abused, you know, women and men. They have a common thread that is attractive to me, and that’s brokenness and desperation for God. Anyways.
julie reyes 49:47
Naghmeh, every time I sit with you, I get inspired. Thank you so much. Thank you for so truthfully telling your story and for being an inspiration to so many of us.
NAGHMEH PANAHI 50:02
Thank you, Julie. And I just so appreciate it. You know, people have attacked you before being divisive and like, trying to go after the church, but your heart to bring healing to the church is I think I just know there’s going to be I’ve prayed for this, there should be 10s of 1000s of people coming to this conference of just finding that restoration. And you know, and so I appreciate your work so much. And yeah, keep going. You have my prayers. And so, thank you. Thank you.
julie reyes 50:45
That was just such a special interview with Naghmeh Panahi, and it’s one of many unforgettable moments from our last RESTORE conference. And if you’re listening and thinking, man, I don’t want to miss out on that next RESTORE conference, I want to encourage you to send us an email at The Roys Report at JULIEROYS.COM, and just put in the subject line RESTORE EMAIL, and we’ll be sure to add you to our email list. And then when we announce the date and all the information about the next conference, you’ll be sure to be the first to know. Also, if you’re grateful for these interviews and talks, which we’re making available free of charge, would you please consider giving to The Roys Report. As I’ve noted before, we don’t have any big donors or advertisers, we simply have you the people who care about abuse and corruption in the church and want to expose it. To donate, just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts or Spotify. That way you won’t ever miss any of these episodes. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you were blessed and encouraged.