Last flight before stopping public speaking in 2015
My trip to Washington, D.C. was the first time that I had stepped out into the public eye in 3.5 years. As I prepared to leave thoughts and anxieties filled my mind. I did not like traveling. I did not like airplanes, and I did not like leaving my two children. I had shut the door to ever stepping out again in this capacity. So how did I end up on a plane traveling to Washington DC again? Seven years ago the thought of someone I loved suffering in an Iranian prison drove me to publicly advocate. As a naturally private person, stepping out publicly was the hardest thing I ever did. Once out of the Iranian prison, I felt so much shame and humiliation as my marriage fell apart before the public eye and my husband who had been recently released from the Iranian prison divorced me. My public divorce was so painful that I vowed I was done with anything public.
Again, how did I end up here?! Last year I had begun teaching churches in Iran over the internet. I watched these churches grow and as they grew so did the persecution and arrests. I could not close my eyes to the immense pain and suffering that these Christians, mostly single moms, were facing because of their faith in Christ. I kept quiet hoping that the situation would improve, but it did not. I could no longer keep silent. I had to do something.
I reached out to my dear friend Mariam Ibraheem and Anne Basham and asked for help and prayer. I did not know that Mariam had also not been in the public eye for two years due personal issues. As Mariam received my text and videos and saw the faces of sisters who were facing imprisonment and persecution, her heart was touched. Thoughts of her own imprisonment and the joyous moment of her release filled her mind. She decided to step out again and advocate for those persecuted for their faith. It was because she had seen the suffering of her Iranian sisters in Christ that she accepted an invitation to speak at Coptic Solidarity and encouraged me to come to Washington DC also in order to meet with lawmakers to see what could be done for the persecuted church in the Middle East. Mariam’s leap of faith into the public eye and advocacy gave me the courage to step out again.
First flight after returning to public speaking in 2019
Anne Basham, Mariam Ibraheem, and Naghmeh in Washington, D.C. in June 2019
The day before I left for D.C. I struggled with many insecurities, fears, and feelings of shame. Every fiber of my being wanted to stay home. However, in front of me were the faces of those I had come to love and respect. Those who had gone through great threats and torture but had not bowed down to fear and had not denied Jesus Christ. Their tears, fears, and their suffering was before me, and it motivated me to push forward.
Once in Washington DC, I did not know what to expect. I was thankful to be there with my friends and colleagues Mariam Ibraheem and Anne Basham. I did not expect much from the trip. I certainly did not expect the divine appointments. I was excited to see my dear friend, Mariam Ibraheem, bravely return to public advocacy and share her story at the Coptic Solidarity Conference. It was also an honor to meet Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey, his wife Norine Brunson, Ambassador Brownback, Congressman (Ret.) Frank Wolf, and International Christian Concern President Jeff King. 21Wilberforce made many of these meetings happen, and for that I am truly grateful.
Naghmeh and Mariam with Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife Norine
Naghmeh Panahi with Dwight Bashir and Scott Weiner from USCIRF
I am not sure what the future holds but I am reminded of the Corrie Ten Boom quote “never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”.
I am trusting in God for each step.
Naghmeh Panahi (formally known as Naghmeh Abedini)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.