Persecuted yet persevering: Christian victims share chilling tales of encounter with terror

It’s been years since terror first visited the Christian community in Nigeria, yet the attacks are still on. International Christian organisation, Open Doors, after a recent visit to Nigeria’s worst hit area of terror, the North-East, shares the stories of two Christian victims, Hannatu and Deborah, and how they are  standing strong in their Christian faith, in spite of the torment they have suffered.

TO state that terror has become a reality for many Christians would be stating the obvious. This is all the more so when Christians are tortured for their faith, a reality many believers outside the frontline of insurgency may not understand. However, for Hannatu and Deborah, the experience is all too real.


Hannatu’s story

Hannatu (not real name), is a 16-year-old lady recovering from a very traumatic experience. In June 2016, she was kidnapped, forcefully Islamised and married off to a middle-aged Muslim extremist.

At the time of her kidnapping, Hannatu lived in an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, with her widowed mother, Ladi, where they faced great hardship due to insufficient water, food and shelter.

According to Open Doors, Christian families are under constant pressure from Muslims who try to use these difficulties to lure them to Islam. It was no different for Hannatu and her mother, but they kept resisting.

But that fateful day in June, Hannatu was running errands for her mother when Muslim men, who had made advances earlier, kidnapped her. When Ladi couldn’t find Hannatu anywhere, she was worried. Little did she know that Hannatu had been forcefully converted to Islam and married to a Muslim.

Hannatu’s captors forced her to study the Quran and some Islamic books. Because she resisted, they took her to the chief Imam for instruction and initiation rituals. When Hannatu told the imam she was not a Muslim and was married against her will, he informed Ladi. He said if she wanted her daughter back, she needed to go to court.

There was no way Ladi could afford that, but an Open Doors partner informed the Christian organisation about their plight. A lawyer was provided and the background information needed for the court case.

The case was heard for the first time on July 6. During the subsequent hearing on September 2nd, the case was won, and Hannatu publicly denounced Islam and was set free!

When Open Doors was recently in Maiduguri, they saw Ladi happily reunited with her daughter.

“Thank you very much for rescuing my daughter from the lion’s den. I now believe that angels still exist. If not for you, I don’t know where I would have gotten help from. Just as you rescued my daughter, may God continue to meet your needs,” her mother stated.


Deborah’s story

Deborah (not real names) has lived in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, throughout the insurgency that has gained momentum since 2009. It is a miracle that she has survived the constant battles, suicide bombings and targeted attacks. It is an even bigger miracle that this woman has survived spiritually after losing all of her family members in Boko Haram attacks.

On the afternoon of April 25, 2012, a group of Boko Haram attackers stormed Deborah’s house. They shot and killed her husband in her presence and then abducted her two daughters, Tabitah (7) and Sarah (9). Deborah begged them to leave her daughters, but the only response she received was a blow to the face that left her nearly paralysed on the floor.

Three months later, another group of Boko Haram followers broke into her home. This time they killed Deborah’s only son. These devastating events left Deborah deeply traumatised and everyone wondered how her faith could possibly survive.

Deborah had converted to Christianity from Islam and married her husband against the wishes of her family. She expected no help from them, and was not a surprise when they tried to use her vulnerability to get her to return to Islam. Her Muslim neighbours also threatened her.

Instead of giving in to their demands, she decided to move away. She left behind the house her husband had built, which was now overflowing with painful memories, and rented an apartment elsewhere.

“I have been living a difficult life,” she stated during a previous visit from Open Doors. But she showed no signs of giving up her faith. “I have decided to accept Christ. I will, for as long as I live, remain a Christian. It doesn’t matter the threat,” she bravely declared.

She displayed a mature outlook on her suffering when she declared, “Life might not be very easy with me, but the grace of the Lord will keep me going. My situation doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about me. He does. Therefore, I will praise Him even in this situation. Who knows? He may change my situation for the better. He loves me and I will never let Him down.”

There was no suggestion of self-reliance in her demeanour; rather, she marveled at her own survival and it all only made sense when she heard about the many believers praying for her around the world.

When Open Doors visited Maiduguri recently, the team went to visit Deborah. She was so excited to see the team, but for the visitors it was upsetting, in a sense, to see her.

The past four years have taken a heavy toll on Deborah. She looked tired and worn out, and she lost a troubling amount of weight.

“I have been crying anytime the thought of my girls comes up. I have cried my eyes out. My heart is aching and every night my eyes remain widely open, waiting expectantly for God to come to my rescue, to show me His mercy over the situation, to connect me in this life with my daughters again. This has been my expectation and plea to my loving heavenly Father,” she said.

An additional challenge is now facing her: her lease has expired and the landlord has doubled the rent. He is threatening to eject her.

“Where would I get the money? I can’t go back to the house my husband built. There are just too many painful memories. I feel stranded and confused,” she sobbed.

Open Doors is helping her pay the rent now, and has promised to keep a close eye on this development.

Astonishingly, her spiritual knees did not appear to be buckling under the constant pressure. It seems the love Open Doors and believers around the world had shown over the years is still contributing to her survival. The team was surprised to see cards they had delivered earlier pasted on her walls.

“Though I have a lot of fear about the fate of my children who are in the hands of Boko Haram, these messages have kept telling me that millions of believers around the world are praying for me and my children. I might not know where they are or what their circumstances are, but I believe your prayers may reveal where they are and even cause us to be reunited. But I also take comfort in knowing even if I may not see them again in this life, we will meet at the feet of Jesus.

“I can wholeheartedly say that Open Doors has been the best companion in my troubles. Though life has not been easy for me, your concern and prayers have kept me. Sometimes I am fed up with life, and I desire death more than life. But then I read a card and I’m simply reminded that people are praying — and then those feelings change. Then I look at the world differently. It is a blessing. Open Doors has been a Godsend to me personally.”