Dzangola, northeastern Nigeria, an area severely affected by Boko Haram.
No matter where you live in the world, being widowed is very, very hard.
Most of us have experienced grief at some point, and know the pain and disorientation that it can cause. In this difficult time, facing coronavirus, we’re more aware of this than ever. Grief is the same everywhere. In Nigeria, losing your husband can have an additional, drastic effect: being widowed can lead to social and economic exclusion and poverty.
That’s what Rikiya found after her husband died – and that’s why your support can make an enormous difference in the life of a vulnerable Christian widow.
THE SPREAD OF ISLAMIC EXTREMISM
Islamic extremism is spreading across West Africa. While Nigeria has remained at number 12 on Open Doors World Watch List, Burkina Faso has seen a shocking rise (from 61 to 28) and Cameroon is on the list for the first time, at 48. The numbers of violent attacks are increasing in these countries, and various Islamic militant groups are taking advantage of instability in several nations.
This broad trend has a very local impact. Nobody knows that better than the women of Dzangola, a remote village in Adamawa State, northern Nigeria – the same region as Rikiya’s village. In the past five years, Boko Haram has attacked Dzangola three times. Each time, they have killed and abducted people, burned down houses and left many lives and livelihoods destroyed.
“My husband was killed in the first attack,” remembers Kwate, an elderly woman who has lived in Dzangola through all the attacks. “When they pushed him into one of the huts, I ran away. I didn’t see how they set fire to the hut, because I was hiding. He kept shouting and screaming. And then I couldn’t hear his voice anymore.” Her husband was burned to death in the hut, and she only managed to escape because the militants couldn’t find her.
“I still go to farm and, with the little I get, I can feed myself,” says Kwate. “I used to do this work with my husband, but now nobody helps me.”
Mariayamu has similar painful memories, from the second attack: “We ran, but my husband stayed behind.” When Mariayamu and her children returned, she found out that the militants had killed her husband; he couldn’t run away, because of a physical condition.
This is the human cost of rising Islamic extremism, targeting Christian villages in Nigeria and across West Africa. These senseless killings leave behind vulnerable widows – and their lives don’t get easier once the militants have gone.
In most places in the world, a widow is usually treated with compassion and dignity. In northern Nigeria, being widowed puts you at the bottom of the social hierarchy. A woman who has lost her husband hasn’t just lost the person she loves; she’s lost a breadwinner, a vital contributor to her livelihood and a support for her children.
A Christian widow is vulnerable on two further counts – her gender and her faith. Open Doors’ vision/goal/aims to ensure that every Christian woman who is doubly vulnerable for her faith and her gender is seen, heard, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential. At the moment, women like Rikiya are persecuted for their faith, and their gender means that they face social and economic exclusion when they are widowed. They are isolated and traumatised.
Thankfully, Open Doors partners in Nigeria offer microloans and trauma counselling. Rikiya, Kwate and Mariayamu are among the Nigerian women receiving ongoing loans to pay for farming equipment – helping them on the path to long-term self-sufficiency and trauma counselling.
Despite all they have been through, the women in Dzangola also continue to praise God for His goodness and mercy. He has shown that He is truly ‘a defender of widows’ (Psalm 68:5), and that He ‘sustains the fatherless and the widow’ (Psalm 146:9). “He spared me and helps me in my small farm,” says Kwate. “I will continue to praise Him.” Mariayamu puts it simply: “Jesus is my Saviour. He can save me from any calamity.”
We believe, with your support today, we can see change. We can help Christians like Rikiya, Mariayamu and Kwat to make peace with their trauma and build a new life for their families, secure in their knowledge of God’s love for them.
Dear Father, the defender and sustainer of widows, we pray that You would draw close to Rikiya, Kwate, Mariayamu and all other excluded, isolated and traumatised Christian women. Please give them comfort and encouragement, and restore their hope, their dignity and their livelihoods. Thank You that You see them and that You love them.
* Thanks to the support of people like you, Open Doors’ Trauma Centre, opened its doors officially in March 2019. It is specially set up for Christians in Nigeria who have suffered all sorts of trauma and persecution, and provides a temporary respite and place of healing for them. The Centre also trains the Nigerian church to provide trauma care for their people.