Boko Haram – the name of Muslim extremist group based in Northern Nigeria that has terrorised Christians there for years; loosely translated to mean ‘Western education is a sin’.
Boko – the degrading nickname of a baby girl whose mother is also labelled as one of the “Boko Haram women”. All of the young women in a village who were captured by Boko Haram were called that when they finally returned home after more than a year of captivity.
In October 2015, Boko Haram stormed a village in Gwoza, Borno State. 17 year old Esther* tried to flee with her ailing father as gunshots and screams rang around them, but they were too late. Her father was struck down and left where he fell. Esther, together with several other young women, was carried off into the Sambisa Forest by the extremists. She never saw her father again.
The following months became the worst time of her life. The men of Boko Haram did everything they could to make the women renounce Christ, from offers of privileges to threats and intimidation.
Many of them thought Esther was beautiful, and wanted her to be their wife, which meant more pressure for her. But she was determined not to give in. “If I perish, I perish, but I will not become a Muslim,” she decided in her heart.
Brave as she was, Esther’s resolve was brutally put to the test. “I cannot count how many men raped me. Every time they came back from their attacks, they would rape us… defile us…” She looked down as she said this, trying to hide the tears on her face.
After a long pause to contain her emotions, she continues, “…Each passing day, I hated myself more and more. I felt that God had forsaken me. There were times when I was so angry with God… But still I could not get myself to renounce Him. I found myself remembering His promise to never leave me or forsake me.”
One day, while still in captivity, Esther realised she was pregnant. She did not know who the father was, and more than that, she did not know if she could ever love her baby.
Soon after that, the Nigerian army rescued Esther and the others. But their homecoming was not sweet. The people in their village did not want them back, and called them the “Boko Haram women”. Even her grandparents – her only family left – despised her and called her names because she was pregnant. Lonely and dejected, her heart broke even more when they refused to call her daughter by her name, Rebecca, and only referred to her as ‘Boko’.
Thankfully, Esther’s church was there for her. They connected her with our Open Doors team in Nigeria, and she was invited to a trauma care seminar for victims of the prevalent violent persecution there.
At the seminar, the participants were asked to pin the burdens in their hearts onto a wooden cross. “When I pinned that piece of paper to the cross it felt like I was handing all of my sorrow over to God. It felt light within me. When the trainer later removed all the pieces of paper from the cross and burnt it to ashes, I felt like my sorrow and shame disappeared, never to come back again.”
Esther is now at peace with herself and what had happened to her. More importantly, she has come to love Rebecca, even though there are some who still refuse to accept her. “She has become my joy and laughter amidst sadness.”
Esther has also become a testament to God’s love and grace. “People have noticed a change. Some of those people who used to mock me now ask me my secret. I tell them, ‘I forgave my enemies and now trust God to take vengeance in His time.’”
*Name changed for security reasons
ENCOURAGE ESTHER WITH A SHORT LETTER
Even though Esther has now come to terms with what had happened to her, the stigma of her past may stay with her and her daughter Rebecca for a long time. She currently works on a farm, earning very little to provide for herself, Rebecca, and her grandparents whom she lives with now.
Encourage Esther with a short letter as she continues her journey as Rebecca’s mother and Christ’s ambassador to her neighbours. WRITING GUIDELINES
Please send your letter by 15 December 2018 to:
Open Doors Hong Kong
P.O. Box 78516, Mongkok Post Office, Kowloon, Hong Kong