Many people in Persian countries live with trauma, says Revd Annahita Parsan, a refugee and survivor of domestic abuse and the presenter of a new biblical counselling series on SAT-7 PARS. But the liberating message of her series, Detox for the Soul, is that no-one with these emotional and mental scars is a lost cause: they can be set free.
Although now a pastor, caring for a mixed Swedish and Iranian congregation in Stockholm, Annahita does not speak from theory. Her own story, told in a gripping biography, Stranger No More, is harrowing.
Her first husband was killed in a car accident in the first year of her marriage. As a new mother aged just 19 she bowed to societal pressure to marry again, only to find herself in a nightmarish relationship with a violent abuser. When he fell foul of the authorities in early post-revolution Iran, Annahita had no choice than to flee Iran with him. That meant walking over the mountains in winter with a newborn baby and facing abuse and detention in another country before they reached Sweden. There she was eventually able to escape from her abusive husband, find safety and to slowly discover a new faith in Christ.
In addition to her church leadership role, Annahita travels widely in Sweden, teaching and running retreats on Christian mental health care. “Soul treatment” is the Swedish word, she explains, and one that well describes her work, given with the help of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts.
We see a number of examples of Jesus offering this “soul treatment” in the Bible, she explains. He sits down with people like the Samaritan woman, now with her sixth partner and apparently shunned by others in her community.
“She was sick in her soul, not her body, but after meeting with Jesus, she went away having been set free.”
Annahita’s passion is to see people set free from the wounds of traumatic experiences and the toxic messages and harmful behaviours that bind them. Having known many of these things herself and been healed from them, Annahita is well-placed to help others. She understands the struggles others are having and can identify the causes, she says.
“Hearers quickly take notice of what I share because they recognise that often I have had similar experiences. They open up quickly because I understand what the problem is,” she says.
Some of the issues Annahita tackles in her ministry and in the new series on SAT-7 are especially prevalent in Persian culture. One is the religiously sanctioned practice of temporary marriage (known as sigheh) where a man can have marital relations with a woman for a specified time and leave without any consequences. Sexual abuse is also widespread, Annahita says, downplayed and not acknowledged for what it really is and a taboo issue.
The series also looks at other forms of abuse and the harmful behaviours that are frequently passed down from one generation to another. It looks at the roots of toxic thinking that lead to harmful behaviour and contrasts these with God’s thinking, helping people to “renew their minds”, as Paul teaches (Romans 12:2), so that they are no longer stuck with these false ideas.
“You can also murder someone with your words,” Annahita says. So several episodes explore the power of words and how, by embracing God’s words and truth about us and those around us, we can step away from using this toxic language.
Mikael Tunér, the series producer for Detoxing the Soul, is very excited about the programme. “Christian mental healthcare is almost unknown in Persian culture,” he explains. “This is probably the first series on SAT-7 PARS that is competely dedicated to it and Annahita is one of very few women pastors and teachers who are able to put this teaching across in a very clear and practical way.”
The teaching is also relevant to people of all faith backgrounds and none, Annahita stresses. “Someone might be a Christian but could still be battling with issues from their past.”
Other viewers might also be seeking freedom from the things that bind them. Through the programme, they will gain a deeper understanding and learn what it means to believe in Jesus. “You can open your heart and have a relationship with Him,” she tells them. “When we believe in Him, we can receive the faith to be healed.”
Forgiveness is often the key to healing, she says, speaking again from experience. After years of controlling, violent and cruel behaviour from her ex-husband, she was able to forgive and pray for him. She says, “When you are able to forgive, you receive peace and can start to build a life that is no longer full of strife.”
Please pray that Detox for the Soul will be a key to healing and freedom in Christ for many viewers across the Persian world. It is hoped that the series will air before the end of the year.
You can read Annahita’s journey to Christ in Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Story of Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus by Annahita Parsan with Craig Borlase (Nelson Books).