By P. Todd Nettleton
The first time I met “Padina,” she had been following Christ less than a year. I was interviewing her to include her conversion story in a book published by VOM, Iran: Desperate for God.
In Luke 7, Jesus talks about a woman who “loves much” because he had rescued her out of a life of much heartache and difficulty. Even while young in her faith, Padina “loved much.” Jesus had healed her mother from multiple sclerosis and healed Padina from depression and filled her heart with love. Her passion for Christ was evident.
There was no way to know, when I first met her, that God would lead her into marriage with a wonderful Christian man and direct the two of them into a leadership role among Iran’s house church Christians.
Recently I had the chance again to sit down with Padina, and hear about what God has done in her life since the first time I talked with her and to hear what he is doing today in Iran. Translating our conversation and providing some additional context, was Hormoz Shariat, the evangelist whose TV program helped lead Padina to faith in Christ.
Here are pieces of our conversation:
Todd Nettleton: The first time that I met you, you had been a believer only a few months and now you are one of the leaders in this house church movement. This is a big question, but how has God brought you from where you were when I first met you to what you are doing today?
Padina: That is a big question.
TN: Let me say it a different way — when you look back at that person who had just been a believer for a few months, do you even recognize her?
P: It feels like it was many, many years ago.
TN: Because a lot has happened?
TN: What are some of the things that God has taught you over those years?
P: Because I was religious in my life [as a Muslim] and pursuing Allah so the first thing I experienced after salvation was how to have a right relationship with God. When I was religious one thing that we didn’t pay much attention to was gossip and lying; we did that all the time. I am learning how to live with God after my salvation. Of course I still have a long way to go in that direction. I am still changing in that regard. He gave me a good Christian husband. And the ministry I got started, it grew after my marriage. It was my dream to always work with Arabs and God expanded my vision to work with them. I never thought it would be possible for me to have that wide ministry even to include Arabs. So after my salvation the greatest blessing God ever gave me was my husband, which is more than I have ever dreamed after I attempted suicide because of a failed love relationship, and that caused me to come to Christ.
TN: One of the things that is amazing to me is how your testimony resonates with people in Iran because you were very depressed and took medicine for depression and so many people in Iran have those same issues. So when you come to them you come out of [understanding] their own experience. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’ve seen God use that over the time?
P: Jesus healed me from those things after I got saved. After my salvation and the healing of my mom I was passionate about just going on the streets to the hospitals and sharing the gospel and serving. People became my desire and goal for life. Ministering became my goal in life.
TN: How did the people receive your testimony, especially people that are depressed and are sick and need medication or whatever. How do they respond when you say, “I was exactly where you are?”
P: I started sharing with others who are depressed right after my salvation. I told them, I said, “Because I was religious it took me a long time, but you can experience Him now!” The same thing Hormoz told me, I started telling others: “Try Jesus for one week and if it doesn’t work you’ll know.”
Inviting them to a worship gathering always changed them, the worship. We brought them to our house and we would turn on the TV.
Hormoz Shariat: And telling from my side of the story too — after she came to Christ, I think it was a Thursday program so after that week that she prayed and the miracle, every Thursday for weeks, every Thursday she would call. And every time she would have people in her home and would say the prayer with them, “So-and-so is ready.” Then later she told me that she would go all week and gather other people that were depressed and invite them to her house and have dinner and then they would “accidentally” turn on the TV at the right time on the right channel and they would listen and then she would challenge them and say, “Why don’t you pray and see if it doesn’t work?”
So every week she had 2 or 3 friends and family members [there]. She thought everybody has to come to Christ just like her — being depressed and suicidal and then call me to come to Christ. Within two months I think she had 20 people, she had a couple house churches two months after her salvation.
TN: How soon did you know that she would be one of the leaders?
HS: Seeing that, of course I said this lady is very serious. So continue, because of that zeal, continue the relationship, and then I connected her to a newly-started house church. People were coming to Christ but I realized they aren’t being fed. It took, I think until the next year. Six months later I connected her to our first house church we just had started so she was connected to a house church. After being connected, six months later we had our training and it was just the start of it because I think it was like our first conference. I had asked our leader, asked her to find [Padina] and bring her for training.
TN: The situation in Iran has changed a little bit since then. It seems like more arrests and more persecution. How does that affect you and your work?
P: Persecution has caused us to be stronger in faith, has caused us to be more in prayer and fasting, and we take what we are doing for God more seriously, that this is serious. Because every place we go and every ministry, every trip, we feel this might be our last. So whenever we go out, especially on trips, we feel this might be our last trip.
I have chosen this way knowingly and I know that this was my choice so I don’t have a problem with it. But I am more worried about my husband because of the way I feel about him. During the day when I think about my husband being arrested, when I consider all these things I come to the point and I think I know I love Jesus more than this and I may even give up my husband for the love I have for God. So it challenges me, my love for Jesus — do you really love me at that level? So that causes me to have a more loving relationship with Jesus himself.
TN: That is almost a daily process in your ministry?
P: Every day.
TN: “Take up your cross daily.” [Luke 9:23]
P: And because our ministry is expanding, we almost once a month have a training conference which are all new people and all new risks for my husband to be arrested [because new people could be spies]. So he is at constant risk.
TN: So you know all the risks but you keep doing the work every day.
P: I am in a fight with myself every day. I struggle every day with this idea that I could go out of Iran and minister and already have enough connections to have a large ministry outside Iran, but then I realize God has called me for this country and I have to stay. I won’t do that — leave Iran — until I am confident that I have done my part and the ministry is strong and stable.
TN: There is a famous quote to the effect that courage is not the absence of fear; courage is being afraid and doing it anyway. So I think every day you show amazing amounts of courage. But I also think if we talk to your husband he would say I am not so worried about myself I am more worried about my wife. Do you think so?
P: Yes. These days, even a regular arrest of a woman is very uncertain what happens to her in the jail, especially if she is arrested for this kind of thing [Christian activities]. My husband says, “It is very hard for me that you might be arrested and raped. But I have come to a point with my faith in Christ,” he says, “at that point give your body to Jesus.”
TN: Are there particular scriptures that you come back to again and again that you draw strength from?
P: Psalms gives me a lot of comfort. Especially Psalm 91, I love that Psalm. Even with the snakes and all the enemies around you, I will protect you. I receive a lot of peace and comfort from the book of Psalms. Also, Psalms not only reminds me of God’s protection but reminds me of his love for me and my love for him.
TN: How can we, Christians in the United States, pray for the ministry in Iran?
P: A prayer would be that God would give faithful and courageous leaders that would continue to minister under persecution. Because when persecution comes some of the leaders, because of fear, they go away. So pray for courageous and faithful servants.
Second, my prayer would be that God would increase our faith. Not just for me but the leaders, that they would not lose their faith under persecution. And number three is for protection.
HS: Let me share something that has touched me the last six months talking with Padina and her husband. Actually I just reminded her of the blessing I got from her and I want her to say it from her own words. They fast a lot, and especially they do the “Daniel fast” because of [the connection between] Daniel, Iran, and the Prince of Persia. So they choose that kind of fasting because they think it is proper for this spiritual warfare in Iran.
P: And when we are fasting we decide that for 40 days every night we will have communion. We say that sentence, when we have communion every night, we repeat the sentence that Jesus said, “I will not drink from the fruit of the vine until I see you in heaven.”
HS: And for them that is literal. I mean they take it knowing that this could be literally true for them, that they may not drink of this [communion elements] until they are in heaven with Jesus.
P: Every night that we are coming in we do repentance and we prepare ourselves for spiritual warfare.
TN: So they really treat it as the last supper; that it could be the last time that we sit down together.
HS: It is literal for them; literally it could be their last supper.
TN: More Christians need to live in that spirit…
TN: …[The spirit of saying,] I need to do everything I can today because I don’t know about tomorrow.
HS: Another worker asked them one time, “You guys are in danger every day but there is so much joy and laughter. Tell me why you are so joyful.”
Padina said, “When I was serving Allah, I was ready to give my life for Allah who was a distant, unloving, and violent god. How much more I should [be willing to give my life] for Jehovah, who is loving and who is so intimate?
TN: I think that is the biggest misconception in the American church, that when you come and meet with people in restricted nations they are going to be really down and depressed because of all the persecution. And when you sit down with them, like you said, they are so joyful and excited and you see it on the faces of all of the people as they worship that they are totally not depressed.
HS: That’s so true.
P: At least a couple of times when we were in prayer and fasting people got a strong message that we need to leave Iran, that we were in danger. We don’t take it lightly when there is prophecy like that. But we say God you are a God that can change things and if we stand by faith you can protect us even with the threats and danger.
So we had the Daniel fast and we had communion and we asked everybody to pray that this threat that was prophesied for us will pass over. One person [praying for us] saw a vision, a dream that we were in a place and the demons were attacking us and the angels came and closed the door against us and them, protecting us. They saw four angels on all four sides of my husband and as he was walking they were just his guards walking with him. This message and this vision that this person saw really strengthened us.
If God doesn’t allow, nothing will happen to us. We have had a couple of instances where some of our church members have threatened that they will turn us in. Under those circumstances family members and other leaders are pushing us and even crying saying we have to leave we are in danger and these people are going to turn us in, we have to leave here. But we stayed under those circumstances, saying, ‘We are telling them to stand under persecution, and if we leave they will say when they are in danger they just leave but they are asking us to stay.” So we stayed under those circumstances to tell our leaders and members that with faith you can stand. Even under persecution and danger, you still can take your place and stand. By His grace nothing else has happened until now.
TN: When you do these training sessions with new people and there is fear because you know any one of these people could turn you in, any one of them could be a spy, how do you get past that sense of fear?
P: We fast before every training session. We pray and fast a few days before every one. We have communion before every one. Even regular weeks we have communion two times a week and we pray specifically for the training. Then we trust him and we go.
Posted: December 1, 2011
Updated: September 12, 2012