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There will be pain ahead, and trouble and problems that I won’t be able to fix on my own.
But in them all, I know God will be there, calling me to look to him. Inviting me to take the next step toward his open arms.
And I will say yes.
Annahita Parsan was born into a Muslim family in Iran and grew up with the simple hope of one day finding a good husband, having children, and doing some good in the world. Married and a mother before she turned eighteen, Annahita found herself unexpectedly widowed and trapped for years in an abusive second marriage that she later fled—discovering instead a God who might love her.
Stranger No More is the remarkable true story of Annahita’s path from oppression to the life-changing hope of Jesus. Fleeing Iran across the mountains into Turkey, she spent months in the terrifying Agri prison before a miraculous release and flight to Europe, where she and her two children knelt in a church and prayed, “God, from this day on we are Christians.”
Filled with unthinkable circumstances, miraculous rescues, and the quietly constant voice of Jesus, Stranger No More leads readers deep into the heart of God and draws them toward the same call that Annahita heeds today: using her past to save others from theirs. As the leader of two congregations in Sweden, Annahita has baptized hundreds of former Muslims since her own conversion, has seen firsthand the powerful ways God is at work among those who have left Islam behind, and is reminded every day that saying yes to God is always worth the risk.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Annahita Parsan is an ordained minister in the Church of Sweden and leads two congregations, one of which ministers to the growing number of former Muslim refugees. She is a confident public speaker who has regularly shared her testimony with live audiences, journalists, and TV interviewers, even speaking one time at the invitation of the Queen of Sweden. Annahita has worked pastorally with hundreds of former Muslims and regularly trains churches to reach out to Muslims and disciple them once they join the church.
Craig Borlase (craigborlase.com) is a bestselling British author and collaborative writer of more than 45 books. He specializes in memoir, and his most recent book is the New York Times bestseller Finding Gobi with Dion Leonard.
Read an Excerpt
PART ONE ISFAHAN, IRAN
COME," MY GRANDMOTHER SAID, JERKING me up to my feet. My whole family called her Khanoum, a title that conveyed the respect and honor she deserved. "We must hurry," she whispered. I did not delay, following her out of the mosque the same way that I had followed her in — my eyes locked down on the ground in reverence. Ever since I was a young child I had made these little journeys, accompanying Khanoum to pray at least once a week. Our visits always ended this way, with her rushing out and me chasing after. As the prayers of a thousand voices ended and the march of a thousand pairs of feet began, Khanoum would lead our dance through the crowd of women, all hooded and caped in black chadors that made them seem, to me at least, like ravens robbed of flight.
From an early age I had known to link my steps in with hers, imagining there was a short, invisible string between us. I still pretended it was there when I was thirteen, but by then I also allowed myself to look up and around me. As we passed beneath the ornate walls that stood taller than any tree I had ever seen, I stared at the vaulted ceilings that shone above. Their blue and gold tiles always made me feel as though I was at the bottom of an ocean, that above the roof was some unknown, mysterious world.
"Faster, Annahita," she said, as I fumbled with my shoes outside. Though I was already as tall as her, it was still a struggle to keep up as Khanoum sped down the alleys that bunched up behind the mosque. The string is being stretched tighter than usual today, I thought.
When we reached her house off Farshadi Street, I assumed that Khanoum would relax. Like any Muslim girl, I knew the change that came across a woman as soon as she crossed the threshold into her home. Once the door shut and the chadors were removed we could all lose the act. Laughter would return to our world, as would music and color. But that morning Khanoum did not remove her chador. She did not laugh or joke or impersonate the pompous men who paraded about the mosque. Nor did she twirl around the kitchen, and her feet and eyes did not dance in time as she prepared the black tea, fruit, and cheese.
She just moved in silence. I watched, equally mute, following her to the courtyard outside when our simple meal was ready.
Khanoum's courtyard was one of the finest I knew of. Two pomegranate trees stood guard by the tall metal gate, their branches never seeming to run out of the fruit that hung ripe and red. A pool as big as any bed I had ever seen sat in the middle. It was painted blue inside and out, the better to show off the fish that lived within. Low cushions lined the wall to the old house, dwarfed by the tall windows with peaked arches filled with colored glass. Though the world was alive outside its walls, Khanoum's garden was an oasis, and like the house it accompanied, belonged to a time when the city of Isfahan was home to a tide of wealthy merchants.
I sat next to Khanoum on the cushions and watched the pool.
My glass was half empty by the time she spoke.
"Annahita, do you know how old I was when I married?"
"I was thirteen years old. It was not my choice, but it was my duty. My husband was also my cousin, and he was twice my age. I knew nothing of what it meant to be the wife and woman that he wanted. I was just a child. He did not treat me well."
The silence returned. I knew it was not my place to break it.
"After four years he left me. He married another woman and moved to Tehran. I was still a child, and younger than you are now, so I went to live with his mother, my aunt. For five years we begged him to return, pleading with him to come back and lift the burden of shame from over me, but he refused. His compromise was to wait until I was eighteen years old and divorce me. A little of the shame left me, but I no longer had the protection of his family, so, once again I had no choice but to marry. On the day that we married, that man, your grandfather, was more than twice my age."
I had heard part of this speech before. I knew that my grandfather was much older than Khanoum, old enough for him to be little more than a vague wisp of memory to me. And I knew that she had been married before. But married at age thirteen, when she was even younger than I was now? That was new.
The information was not the only piece of the puzzle that was new. I had not seen Khanoum in this kind of mood before. I had always known her to be strong, to be the kind of woman who would not drop her speed or miss a step as she passed the mullahs outside the mosque. But this was different. It was as if a part of her was missing.
Two glasses sat between us, one empty, the other untouched. Khanoum reached out her hands and curled them around mine. Her eyes held me just as tight as her fingers.
"Annahita," she said, her voice almost cracking. "I am worried about you. I am worried that my bad life will repeat for you."
Somehow, I knew she was right.
I stood up from the dirt and checked my wounds. My knee was sore, both palms were scratched, and I could taste blood in my mouth from a cut on my lip. Nothing too bad, I thought.
"Again!" I shouted. I watched my brother Hussein wrestle the bicycle back upright and wheel it to the end of the alley that opened to the bright sunlight of the main road.
"You want me to go slower this time?"
"No," I shouted back, hands on hips to make it perfectly clear that I was more than a little offended at the question. "Go faster."
Hussein climbed astride our dad's bike and started to push. Within a few yards he had picked up enough speed for him to transfer his feet shakily to the pedals. A little farther along and he had tamed the bike itself, stopped it from wobbling, and was picking up speed as he came straight for me.
My brother was my elder sibling and my very best friend. I had a younger sister, Mariam, and another little brother too, Ali, but when I was old enough to love the taste of adrenaline and young enough to still be allowed to play, it was my older brother Hussein whose company I cherished the most.
Custom dictated that I could not play with the other boys who lived nearby, and many of my cousins were older and lived too far out of the city for me to visit on my own. Yet even if they had shared our house, I doubt I would have wanted to play with them half as much as I wanted to play with Hussein. He was everything I needed. He made me laugh, and he kept life interesting. He taught me how to play soccer, how to ride a bike, and, whenever I was injured, how to make a choice somewhere deep within to ignore whatever pain I was in and keep going.
Not all of the skills he taught me were quite as useful. Like trying to jump onto a bicycle as it sped past. But as his feet blurred and the alley was filled with the sound of rattling metal as he pedaled toward me, I was determined to meet the challenge he had set for me. I'm not going to end up in the dirt again, I told myself as Hussein passed me. I timed my sprint to perfection, reached first one then the other hand out to the fat leather saddle, and leapt.
Hussein is three years older than me, so by the time I was thirteen he was more than old enough to drive. Not that our father agreed. According to him, Hussein was not yet ready, and whenever my brother asked for the keys to the family car — an olive-green sedan made right there in Iran — the answer was always no.
Hussein may have been older, and the firstborn male as well, but I had a special place in my father's heart. On the few occasions that I fought with Hussein — which was only ever when his friends came over and I would try to come outside and see them — my father always took my side. So it was only natural that I be the one to ask for the keys whenever we wanted to try our hand at driving. All I had to do was wait until the afternoon when my father started drifting off to sleep on one of the floor cushions in the living room. Then he would not stop to ask why I wanted the car keys or what I intended to do. He'd simply reach into his pocket and hand the bunch over.
Caught between mountains to the west and desert to the east, summers in Isfahan were often brutally hot. The sun was particularly fierce one particular day, with temperatures getting close to 110 degrees, when Hussein and I snuck out with the keys. It suited Hussein and me just fine as we knew the streets would be empty while the city slept through the hottest part of the day. I handed my brother the keys and opened the heavy metal gates at the front of the courtyard.
It took a little practice for Hussein to edge the car carefully down the alleyway and out onto the main road without grinding the gears. My own driving was a little less advanced, mainly because the cushions I relied upon to help me see over the steering wheel made the pedals just a little too far out of reach. But I was determined not to give up, so I dutifully waited my time while Hussein took the first turn at the wheel.
We drove alongside one of the many canals that fed the city of Isfahan in the way we often did, in silent appreciation of the way the dry breeze filled the car and the water reflected back the sunlight like a trail of scattered diamonds.
The shouting only started when Hussein allowed the car to drift too close to the edge of the road and the front wheel slipped off the tarmac. The car pulled sharp to the right, the canal loomed, and, were it not for Hussein's strong right foot on the brakes — and the fact that he never drove very fast in the first place — we would have driven right in. As it was, the car came to a stop with two wheels off the road, stuck in the muddy banks of the canal. After we caught our breaths, we took turns attempting to reverse the car back out onto the road again, but no matter how hard we tried, neither of us could. We had no choice but to wait and survey the damage to the front fender.
Eventually the sun dipped a little, people emerged from their afternoon naps, and some kind strangers came to our rescue. They hauled us out, but there was nothing we could do about the damage to the front of the car. Again we drove in silence, only this time no amount of beauty could have lessened the fear I felt.
I should not have been surprised that Hussein was given a stern lecture about how irresponsible he had been. And I should have known that my father would have looked at me the way he always did — his head to one side, his eyes sparkling, and his arms offered in an easy embrace.
My mother, however, was less pleased. She folded her arms and stared before telling me how I had let her down. My little sister and brother watched from behind her legs. They knew not to interrupt.
In Iran there are two types of women. Some are weak. They accept everything that happens to them, act out of fear, and allow themselves to be ruled by the men. Almost from the moment these women are born they look to their fathers and their brothers for security. Once they marry they place all their trust in their husband, and so spend their entire lives under the thumb of men. My mother was not one of these.
Though my own father and brother were sources of love and security for me, my mother was one of the main reasons why I knew I was never going to grow up weak and timid. My mother belonged to the other type of Iranian woman — the sort that is strong, independent, and courageous. While the weaker women in Iran allow themselves to be dominated by men and religion — much like so many women from the Arab countries to the west of my homeland — my mother saw herself as a Persian woman, the sort who valued education and refused to let a man treat her as property.
Almost a thousand years before my homeland was turned to Islam, Iran was the heart of the Persian Empire. From the snowcapped mountains in the North to the wide sandy plains of the South, ancient rulers like Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar oversaw a glorious time in our history. Throughout their territories which often stretched as far as Europe and Africa, women were not treated as second-class citizens, nor were they hidden from view. In fact, in ancient Persia women could own property, be economically independent, and travel.
So, like everyone else I knew, my Persian history was far more important to me than stories of Islam. Those tales felt like secondhand memories to me. All I really knew of Mohammed was that he was the reason I kept my eyes down at the ground as I walked through the mosque. All I really knew of God was that he was far, far away.
Sitting beside Khanoum in her courtyard, her hands holding mine tight, the empty glass of black tea in front of me, I was confused. I had always thought of Khanoum as being strong like my mother. The two of them would so often be working side by side, Khanoum barely taller than my mother's shoulder. Despite her size, everyone in the house would hang on Khanoum's every word. She could conjure laughter like a master magician and our house was always happiest whenever she was within its walls.
I had grown to see her as the kind of woman who chose never to hide from a battle, never to allow a man to push her too far. She was strong, and she was fearless. To me she was the woman who parted the crowds, the lady who carried life and laughter wherever she went.
She was also a devoted Muslim. She had little time for the pompous mullahs and clerics, but she loved God — who we called Hodda, not Allah. Khanoum prayed five times a day. They were the only times when her smile and laughter would be absent. I had always thought she was just being a good Muslim, but I was wrong. To my grandmother, prayer was not about the outward appearance. It was a desperate attempt to have God protect the people that she loved. She prayed in fear to an angry God, not out of faith that she would be helped.
I was too young at the time to understand it all fully, but that afternoon, hearing Khanoum worry about my future, that was when I first discovered there might be more danger and pain in life than I had encountered thus far through my childhood pranks. Would my life really follow Khanoum's? Up until that point I would have been happy if it had — happy to end up strong and bright and fearless like her. I had never considered her life to be harsh or her story to be a cautionary tale. But as we sat in silence it was clear that a cloud had descended over her, weighing her down like an immovable chador, robbing her of freedom, joy, and light.
I think that on that day a part of that very same cloud clung to me too.
MY MOTHER EXHALED A CLOUD OF foul-smelling tobacco smoke as the hookah pipe fired into life. She sat with my father, my uncles, and my two brothers at the side of the room, sharing the pipe as they watched the rest of us get to work. The smell and noise of the hookah so repulsed me that I knew I had the better deal than Ali or Hussein, who were coughing hard, looking nauseated, and giving the adults something to laugh about.
I helped clear away the dishes that covered the sheet spread out across the floor. Thirty of my cousins, aunts, and uncles had visited us that afternoon, and we filled our stomachs on lamb kebab cooked on metal knives as long as my arm, tender rice mixed with saffron, and so much Coca-Cola I thought my insides would burst. As the floor cleared and the cloud of smoke around the men grew thicker, it was time for the most important part of the evening.
Iranians dance better than any other people on earth. At least, that was how it appeared to me as the cassette player clicked on and the whole room took to its feet and started moving as one. It was always infectious to see my family dance like this, their arms held wide and high, their hands tracing circles while their bodies melted from one side to the other in time to the beat. But it is always the eyes that are the things to watch in the best dancers. I loved nothing better than to dance among the crowd myself, seeing up close the laughter, the life, and the love that shone out from each face.
Here there were no mullahs or chadors, no strict religious rules, and no need to stare at the floor in mock humility. The air was full of heat and music, laughter and smoke. And when one of my elder cousins emerged from the bathroom, wearing his mother's dress and dancing like a bride on her wedding day, the laughter only got louder.
The cassette played song after song, each one driving the dancers to keep on moving, like a heart sending out fresh blood to tiring muscles. And when the fast songs faded and a ballad finally struck up, the room took the cue as one to break for a while and allow a dozen conversations to strike up at once.
But not me.
I was crouched down by the cassette player, my hands moving over the rough brown fabric that covered the speakers. I was transfixed by the sound coming from them. I could not name the instruments then as I could now, nor did I know that the voice that belonged to one of the most famous singers ever to come from Tehran. But I knew precisely what I was listening to; it was the sound of such pain and sorrow that I feared it would steal my breath.
Excerpted from "Stranger No More"
Copyright © 2017 Annahita Parsan.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Isfahan, Iran 1
Part 2 Turkey 67
Part 3 Denmark and Sweden 139
Part 4 Iran and Sweden 213
About The Author 269
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Finally finding refuge in Christ Annahita Parsan is a minister in the Church of Sweden and a public speaker. The book "Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee's Story of Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus" is her memoir that covers the time from her childhood in Iran to her "new" life in Sweden. Parsan grew up in a Muslim family in Isfahan under the Shahs regime with a mother who saw herself a Persian woman who valued education and refused to let a man treat her as his property. All she knew from God was that he was very far away. She had a close and special relationship with her grandmother. Her husband Mohammad, whom she married when she was still young, died less than a year after their wedding very shortly after the birth of their first child in the year that Khomeini took power. Her husband's death leaves her numb for months but the changes on the street shock her. She experiences how Khomeini's regime restricts her more and more. Then she marries Asghar who promises to treat her well but starts to abuse her already on their wedding night. Then he starts also to abuse her son from her first marriage. They flee Iran in 1979 taking only their youngest daughter with them but having to leave her son and his daughter from his first marriage behind. Their way to freedom includes four months of horror in a Turkish prison. Finally they are allowed to leave Turkey as refugees to Denmark where she receives a Bible in Farsi. The great violence and verbal abuse by Asghar continues and Annahita starts to pray to God. Finally her parents manage to come to Denmark and to bring her seven-year old son. After her mother-in-law who brought Asghar's daughter four months earlier supposedly leaves Annahita is able to flee with all three children and finds refuge in a safe-house. But the persecution by Asghar continues. Through the songs of the nons in a convent she is drawn closer to God. Ultimately her escape leads her to Sweden where she grows in her faith through various experiences and where she is baptized. I highly recommend this book to readers who have a certain amount of cross-cultural understanding since Annahita's background, some of their reactions, and also some of her religious experiences is difficult to understand for the "typical Westener" who has not lived in another culture and has insufficient first-hand knowledge about the middle-eastern and Persian culture and about Islam. Such a reader should read the book only if he or she has a really open mind and willingness to accept Annahita's life experience that is so much different from the Western world and Western world view. The complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley free of charge. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. #StrangerNoMore #NetGalley
I found myself staying up late delving into Annahita's life, her struggles, and her quest for in freedom from abuse and dominion as a Muslim woman. Her childhood in Iran was simple and then her world became complex beyond her wildest imaginations. One day she was married and the next, a widow. Her nightmarish world astonished me. This recollection of what she encountered, endured, and then escaped opened my eyes to a world I can barely comprehend. Not that it isn't believable but that in contrast, my life is vastly different. The trauma she endures to bring her children to safety, to practice her new found faith, and to experience life with choices amazed me. What a remarkable story and woman! I highly recommend this book of hope, suffering, stamina, and faith. I received a copy from Net Galley. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own.
Autobiographies are one of a few genres of books with which I struggle. I usually bail out before the 10% sample is finished. So it was with hesitation that I submitted my request to review Stranger No More but I had to know more about Annahita’s journey, her country but mostly her conversion to Christianity. I am so grateful I did, this book is powerful and moving! I didn’t notice the first 30% fly past and I read the entire book in one afternoon, I just had to find out what happened to everyone…the good people and the bad alike! Annahita has endured more than can be summarised in a review…it really does take a book. From the horrors of Iran to prison in Turkey to more violence in Denmark and Sweden, Annahita survives a barrage that seems to never cease! In the midst of the pain and confusion, a ray of hope appears in the form of Christianity. The last part of the book explains more about the faith and its ability to draw others in just from the way in which we live. It’s a great reminder to live out my faith! Annahita refers to Ruth, Joseph and Job as biblical people from which we can draw the strength to endure knowing good will come. Her framing of the suffering she experienced in this way is inspiring as is her sheer will to go on. The sensitive reader (a.k.a. me!) will be reassured to know that whilst what Annahita went through is severe and traumatic, it isn’t described in horrific terms. She keeps to the outline and leaves the reader empathetic but not destroyed. A five out of five for this extraordinary book!