Blazing Grace Radio Episode

Naghmeh Abedini Panahi, Part 1

Recorded: Jul 31, 2023

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Naghmeh Abedini Panahi, Part 1







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In September 2012, a news story broke about Pastor Saeed Abedini, an ordained minister with duel American-Iranian citizenship who was arrested in Iran. He had been involved with setting up house churches in Iran and was working on setting up an orphanage. In 2013 he was sentenced to eight years in prison where he was beaten and denied medical treatment.

Saeed’s former wife, Naghmeh, worked tirelessly for Saeed’s release, which took place in 2016. Shortly before Saeed was released, Naghmeh revealed that Saeed had been addicted to pornography and physically, emotionally, and verbally abused her throughout their marriage. In this first of two episodes, Naghmeh shares her story.


Episode Transcript


SPONSOR:

This program is sponsored by Blazing Grace Ministries.

ANNOUNCER:

This radio program is PG13. Parents strongly cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13.

Jesus’s mission was to comfort those who mourn, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to captives, and open prison doors for those who are bound. For those who want more than status quo Christianity has to offer, Blazing Grace Radio begins now. And here is your host, Mike Genung.

MIKE GENUNG, HOST, BLAZING GRACE RADIO:

Hey, Mike Genung here, and welcome back to Blazing Grace Radio. I’m coming to you from another 115 degree day here in Phoenix, AZ. I think this is like #21 in a row, with more to come!

So in September 2012, a news story broke about Pastor Saeed Abedini. He was an ordained minister with dual American-Iranian citizenship and he was arrested in Iran. He had been involved in the past, with setting up house churches there, and was working on setting up an orphanage. Then in 2013, he was sentenced to 8 years in prison. And the stories coming out of that prison were pretty dark, where he was beaten, and denied medical care, and it was pretty rough treatment. And I remember watching that story back at that time and praying for his release.

And his wife Naghmeh was… she seemed to be everywhere, petitioning for his release, and getting involved with the US government, and some big name Christian ministries got involved, and… and then Sabadini – or Abedini – was released from prison on January 16th, 2016. And then shortly afterward there were started… stories were starting to surface where he had been abusing his wife, and he was – he had some porn problems. And as we know in our ministry, those two can often go hand in hand, with porn and abuse. It could be physical, emotional or verbal abuse.

So, today I have Saeed’s former wife Naghmeh with me to tell her side of the story. She made national news when she publicly advocated for the release of her then-husband, Saeed Abedini. Through Saeed’s imprisonment, Naghmeh was able to bring worldwide attention to the plight of persecuted Christians, and able to proclaim the Gospel to millions across the globe by speaking at human rights groups, major news outlets, the United Nations at Geneva, the European Parliament Congress, and she had personal meetings with both President Barack Obama and [President] Donald Trump. When it came to light that she had been abused throughout her marriage by her husband, the Christian community suddenly changed on her. So, Naghmeh, welcome to the program.

NAGHMEH ABEDINI PANAHI, GUEST:

Thank you for having me.

MIKE:

So let’s get started, and have you share your story.

NAGHMEH:

Yeah, I, since I can… I became a Christian from Islam when I was nine years old. My passion had always been to missions and preaching Muslims for Christ. It wasn’t until my husband, who was very abusive, went to prison in Iran, that God started building me up. Because up to that point I have been so abused, so controlled, that I wouldn’t then rely on my own thinking. I was completely controlled by my husband, and his imprisonment is actually what set me free, where I was able to… I guess I drew close to the Lord, reading His word, and praying more. And through that time is when God revealed to me the abuse I was under and set me free. And, as you mentioned, porn was a big part of our marriage, and it was considered as “godly” to watch and to try to please my husband in a way that would… in a way, it was twisted to show that it was not sin, and that it was… you know, a way that I could serve my husband.

MIKE:

You talked about abuse. What did that look like?

NAGHMEH:

Well, it was very subtle. I didn’t even… when I met Saeed in 2002, I had no idea what narcissism was, or even any clue about emotional or psychological abuse. I knew about physical abuse, but even then I thought it’s someone that gets beaten up all the time and…. it started with, just when I was meeting him, it started with a lot of verbal putting me down, my looks, wanting me to change certain things about myself, where I had entered the relationship, I was very confident. I was becoming more and more… not confident and believing lies about myself and that I wasn’t desirable.

Also, around that time, it was the isolation. I didn’t realize that’s what it was, but just criticizing all my friends… At that time I was a missionary in Iran when I met Saeed, so I didn’t have a whole bunch of friends, but I had made some friends. I had come to Iran about a year early before I met Saeed, so some friends. And then my family would visit, and he was undermining them as not being spiritual, as Saeed was… Saeed was very Pentecostal, casting out demons, and a lot of signs and wonders, and he was basically… really, because I did see a lot of signs and wonders, I guess, he made me really trust in him and not to go to my family members or friends that I used to go for council. So he… Saeed became the only source of truth in my life.

And there was… there was a few physical… it was some pushing and shoving and… but it wasn’t a full-on beating until about a year into our marriage. About a year and a half into our marriage is when the first physical abuse happened. But before then, there was a lot of pushing me away, isolating me. The silent treatment, which is abusive as well, not speaking to me for weeks or months, and or… days, weeks, or months, depending on how much he wanted to punish me, and me begging to talk to him. And yeah, just some, I guess some physical, but at that time I wouldn’t have considered it abuse. Some pushing and shoving and yeah, that’s how it was.

Until about a year, we were so busy with the house church movement, pretty much when I met my husband, we… focused on, we were leading one of the largest house church movements in Iran, so we were busy building disciples. I was actually really busy with that, and traveling, and starting churches, and so our relationship was not so much the focus, even though I knew something was off. But we were so busy, until… November of 2005, we had to flee Iran. So three years. If I met Saeed in 2002, I didn’t… I met Saeed in 2002, I didn’t marry him until 2004. So about three years after we met and about a year after marriage, we had to flee Iran. We were getting arrested a lot, and… I personally had guns pointed to me and told to deny my faith, and it was just getting so intense that we believed that it would actually endanger the house churches if we stayed longer.

And, so, we went to Dubai, and a missionary family… it was around Thanksgiving, and a missionary family had gone to America for sabbatical for six months. So they told us we could use their apartment in Dubai until Saeed could get a visa to America. And the first night that we landed there I was pregnant with my daughter, and I was so tired, I was throwing out… I was searching through the suitcase for my pajamas and Saeed got upset and said “You’re making a mess,” and I said “Who cares?” and that’s when my first full-on beating happened was…

MIKE:

Oh.

NAGHMEH:

He just beat me, kicked me, punched me; head, stomach, everywhere, I was bruised, and I thought I was going to die. I crawled into the bathroom, and I mean I had bumps coming out of my head. I crawled into the bathroom and called his parents. I called my mom. They were, of course, his parents were back in Iran, and my parents were in America. And he never said sorry, I mean… he ended up saying it was just the demonic forces in Dubai that had made him do it, but never true repentance. And at that time I was pregnant with our first… child, our daughter.

So, having come from the Middle East culture, and also the American culture, church culture of purity movement, where if a girl kisses a guy, she’s lost her purity and you’re not supposed to, you know… you’re supposed to keep yourself for your husband, I felt like I was damaged goods. So I didn’t see a way out, in terms of walking away from that marriage. I thought, you know, “I’m stuck and I’m also pregnant, I don’t want to be a single mom.” So I… from that moment on, I guess I learned my lesson? I was walking on eggshells and did everything not to upset him again. And we ended up coming to America and we had our daughter in 2006, and our son in 2008.

So that’s… that’s my… that’s before his imprisonment. And I ended up, I was working until… he, yeah, I was working and we were raising the kids until he… he was traveling back and forth to Iran starting in 2009, when my son was about a year old. And in 2012, he was arrested. And that’s when my whole life changed, I guess, from what I thought was the worst thing that could have happened to me, ended up being… actually, God rescued me.

MIKE:

You met him in 2002. So in the two years that you courted, was there any clue of the physical abuse, or any type of abuse, or the pornography?

NAGHMEH:

No, he was so deceptive. No, because I, well now looking back, of course there was emotional abuse. There was spiritual abuse, he would use Bible verses, but not something… It was very subtle. And even with his porn addiction, he was very deceptive. We had satellite so we could watch TV shows that were outside of Iran, which sometimes they had kissing, and so when the scene would come up with people kissing, he would look away and I thought, “Wow, this is a really pure man that can’t even watch… like, he doesn’t want to watch that.” So no, I… the porn stuff I had no idea. I actually thought, “Wow, this is a very pure person.”

I knew of… of his past that was not very… was… yeah, his past was not good. I didn’t know about the… he didn’t talk about any porn addiction, but I knew he had relationships, there was even an incident of… gang rape, and his behaviors towards women. But all of that, he would say, was before he became a Christian, and he’d become a different person. And so, yeah. I just thought he’s a Paul. I would call him a Paul, because he has such a radical background, where he was trained by Hezbollah terrorist group to attack Israel, and then he was about to murder a pastor, and he got saved. And so… I just thought that’s the past. He’s… when I met him he was a baby Christian, probably two years in the Lord, and he seemed on fire. And so I didn’t… his past didn’t bother me.

It wasn’t til we came to America and I was pregnant with my daughter, and I would look next to my bed and he was gone. And, of course, I’m usually a sound sleeper, but when you’re pregnant, you go to the bathroom a lot [laughs] So it was towards the end of my pregnancy, and when I would wake up, and then I’d catch him in our living room, which was, you know, a good walk from the bedroom. It was, it was… I would search for him, where could he be? And I would find him in the living room and… he was watching porn. And he would turn it off and pretend it didn’t happen. And so that was my first wake up call of what’s going on.

And then when I had my daughter, when she was about 10 months old, I was pregnant again with my son, Jacob, and we… he was again, there was some abuse, physical abuse, where he had grabbed me and I called the police. He ended up being charged for domestic abuse. It was in 2007, because, yeah, because my son was born in 2008. So my pastor at that time suggested that we move in with my – or I move in with my parents. He said, “Get away, it’s not a safe place,” you know, “go somewhere away from him.” And so that’s when I moved in with my parents. And then just over time he left… you know, I don’t want to go into the details. There was a season where he left that then he came back, and ended up actually weaselling himself back into my parents house, coming back. And again, that’s when it came up.

It was… my parents now would walk in, and he had the TV on and he was watching porn, and he’d get so embarrassed and turn it off. And then it became to a point where he would just, if I walked in… he ended up watching it in the playroom, which was not an area my parents would normally come up at, because it was like the second floor. But then I would walk in, he was watching it, and it became to a point where he was no longer ashamed. He was just like, “Uh huh. I’m watching it. It’s not sin.” And so I didn’t know, I guess, what to say to that. He had good arguments that when he was going to… Bible school, I guess they talked about sexually learning to do things, and it was okay to do things in marriage, and they had, he had taken a class on Song of Solomon. And so he was basically justifying it.

And then soon… well, yeah, after my son was born, then he was demanding it. He was saying, “We need to watch it, and you need to do things like I tell you to do.” And I was resisting watching it. I watched it a few times, but I couldn’t stomach it. I just… the Holy Spirit within me was just so much against it. So I refused to watch it, but then he was watching it without shame. And but… and then he was, because of his porn addiction, sexually abusing me. He’s just like wanting to do certain things that I didn’t want to do. He wanted, you know, certain positions, and forceful, and aggressive, and… which again, at that time I wouldn’t have labeled as sexual abuse. But it was. It was… very forceful, and demanding, and not listening to my… I guess my… I’m not wanting, you know, certain things and… so, but at that time I didn’t see any of that as abuse, I just thought I have a hard marriage, and I didn’t know what to do with it. So yeah.

MIKE:

You mentioned something about a rape in his past?

NAGHMEH:

Yeah, he had mentioned… he had mentioned that as a young boy in Iran, they had… it was rape. That he had a relationship with older women and younger women, but he mentioned a specific situation where there was a street girl. I don’t know if she was a prostitute or if she was… she was being…. she was sex slavery or whatever her situation was, but she was pretty young, probably a teenager, and he was 18-20, because he got saved at 20. So he was… she was definitely much younger, and they kind of gang raped her. It was him and a group of friends, and… at that time when he told me I was, we were still dating, and so I couldn’t even, I had to have no sexual relationship, I couldn’t even fathom what he was saying, and… I… I didn’t realize the red flag of… a person, basically raping, what that, another human being, what that would mean.

MIKE:

Mhmm.

NAGHMEH:

And then years later, I… other women approached me and talked to me, and I realized he’s done that to many, many people, even in our house churches. He would pray for people, he would turn off the light, and he would pray for people and they would fall. Like Benny Hin. He was… Benny Hin was Saeed’s hero. And later, so many girls at my church said he was fondling with them, and he was sexually molesting them. And when they were on the ground and everyone else’s eyes were shut, Saeed was the only one praying and moving around, and praying for people. And years later, people start coming forward and saying that he was sexually abusing them and had used that opportunity to molest them, and things like that.

MIKE:

Mhmm [sighs]

NAGHMEH:

But it wasn’t until after I came out with the abuse that all these other people started coming to me about things that they had seen. I’d even had other pastors, house church pastors, come forward to me and said, “Now that you say it, like I’d noticed this and this and this, and I didn’t know if I was seeing it correctly, but Saeed was doing all this stuff with these girls,” and… so until the abuse and his sexual addiction became known to me, and I even understood how damaging, like you said, a porn addiction is, and how it goes hand in hand with abuse, because a woman is no longer viewed as a human being, that they’re objectified so… so usually porn addiction and abuse usually go hand in hand… I didn’t know any of that until my eyes were opened up to abuse.

And, so yeah, and the way they were opened up was when Saeed was in prison. So in 2012, as you said, Saeed was arrested. And at that time, right before his arrest, I remember crying out to the Lord because I could barely read my Bible. I could barely pray. The Bible was used to manipulate me, to control me –

MIKE:

Mmm.

NAGHMEH:

– to call me a bad wife. So I couldn’t even read God’s word because anytime I opened it, it was condemning. It was oppressive. And so when Saeed was arrested, I start opening up the word of God and I start praying. But before his arrest, I remember crying out and asking God to help with the marriage. I thought, “this is going to be my life for the rest of my life. This is going to be my marriage for the rest of my life.” Saeed had been in a hotel room, before his arrest, with another woman. And I had called and she had picked up, and I became hysterical. And instead of apologizing, he said I’m crazy and I need to go see a doctor because I was hysterical that another woman –

MIKE:

Mmm.

NAGHMEH:

– answered the phone in his hotel. And so at that time, I remember thinking, “Wow, like he’s saying I’m crazy for thinking that he cheated on me? They’re just sleeping in the same room?” And I thought, this is my… I didn’t even see a way out. I never thought divorce would be an option. So I remember crying out to the Lord, like, what’s going on? Lord is, you know, and for the first time, just pouring my heart out to the Lord. And then a few hours later, both this girl and my husband were arrested and put in the prison, or actually put under house arrest first, and then put in prison. And from that moment on, I just start praying and reading my Bible. And in the effort of trying to get my husband out, God was building my confidence in Him and growing my walk with Him.

And in 2015, I was speaking at a mega church in North Carolina, and the pastor’s name was David Chadwick, Pastor David Chadwick. And he… I just… Saeed had a smartphone inside of the prison, and he had gotten a smartphone about a year before his release and he was messaging me, he was seeing how famous he was getting –

MIKE:

Mmm.

NAGHMEH:

– and I noticed he was getting access to my Amazon account, and he was watching things like “50 Shades of Gay”, which I clicked on and it was just… it was making me like sick to my stomach, the sexual content. And so I noticed he’s definitely watching porn again, so I mean, from Iranian prison, and then and it was seemed like there was a lot of more gay porn which made me wonder about what’s happening in prison. And then I finally, I didn’t share that part of the sexual stuff, because I was so ashamed. I didn’t share it with the pastor, but I shared with him, like, “I don’t understand. Saeed has a phone inside of the prison and he’s sending me really rude messages saying me I’m a whore, I’m a… I’m a Jezebel,” and so this pastor looked at me, and I shared everything of what has happened in our marriage, and I couldn’t make sense of why Saeed was putting me down when I was trying so hard to get him out. Later it made sense that Saeed was noticing that I was becoming confident, I wasn’t the same girl as I was before, where I would just shrivel up and submit to him.

So this pastor, after I mentioned everything, and I showed him some of the text messages, he looked at me. He said “Naghmeh, you know, I’m not just a pastor.” And I said, “No, I didn’t know that.” He said. “I’m a doctor.” I –

MIKE:

Naghmeh, Naghmeh I need you to, I need to interrupt for a moment because we’re out of time for this first show. But your story is very powerful, and we’re going to continue this interview with Nagmeh next week, so I encourage you to join us. And then we’ll talk to you next week.

ANNOUNCER:

Blazing Grace is a nonprofit international ministry for the sexually broken and the spouse. Please visit us at blazinggrace.org for information on Mike Genung’s books, groups, counseling, or to have Mike speak at your organization. You can e-mail us at email@blazinggrace.org or call our office in Chandler, AZ at 719-888-5144. Again, visit us at blazinggrace.org, e-mail us at email@blazinggrace.org, or call the office at 719-888-5144.

SPONSOR:

This program was sponsored by Blazing Grace Ministries.