After experiencing rejection from her community on top of her ordeal at the hands of Islamic militants Boko Haram, Agnes from Nigeria is slowly healing, thanks to your prayers and support. Please note that you may find some details of this story particularly distressing.
“The day I found freedom, I felt so much joy in my heart. I stayed with the soldiers, but nobody from my family cared to come and pick me up. I began to wonder... Nobody came to see me. My mum and dad were too far away, in another town. But even relatives and friends who were staying nearby refused to come and welcome me because they were regarding me as a ‘Boko Haram wife’. They had already condemned me...”
“...relatives and friends who were staying nearby refused to come and welcome me because they were regarding me as a ‘Boko Haram wife’” Agnes
When Agnes in Nigeria escaped captivity from a Boko Haram camp, she did not receive the warm welcome from her family and community that she had longed for. But your prayers and support mean that Agnes is receiving trauma care and practical help from local Open Doors partners, who are helping to mend relationships and eradicate the stigma that so often surrounds young women who escape captivity.
When Agnes speaks about the day in January 2019 when she was taken by Boko Haram militants, she seems almost dispassionate, as if she is speaking about someone else’s life. “We were working in the fields of our farm when armed men approached us,” she remembers. “They kidnapped three of us. They later killed my two friends. I am the only one living.”
Life in the Boko Haram camp was horrific. “We suffered a lot during our time in captivity. They forced us to work hard for them. They kept pushing us to denounce Christ... I was given to a woman who was married to one of the fighters. In secret, the woman was still a Christian. She told me to fake it. That if these people forced me to denounce Christ, I should say yes, but deep down within me I should hold on to Christ. And then, during times of Muslim prayer, I should pray to Christ instead of their ‘Allah’.”
It was an impossible decision for anyone to make – let alone a teenager. “The woman warned me that if I did not want to be killed, like my two friends, then I should just do what they said,” Agnes says. “So, I told them that I agreed to become a Muslim.”
Her decision kept her alive, but it didn’t make things easier for Agnes. “I suffered a lot of violence in their hands. Especially when I sometimes still mentioned the name Jesus. A few times they beat me up until I was unconscious.”
You might not blame Agnes if she had questioned where God was through her ordeal. But despite the horror, she found herself recalling over and over a song her father taught her and her siblings.
“When my siblings and I grew up, we were sometimes very worried that people would attack us,” she says. “At those moments, my dad sang this song to us: ‘God will never forsake us. God will never abandon us. Even when there is suffering and persecution, God will never leave us.’”
“I had strong faith that I would meet my family (again) someday.” Agnes
The song and fundamental promises from Scripture kept her going. “In the Psalms, there is a verse that says something like, no matter the troubles and suffering you go through, hold on to God. He will deliver you. It really helped to reduce worrying. I had strong faith that I would meet my family (again) someday. Those verses greatly encouraged me. And also, the woman I stayed with was deeply rooted in God’s Word. So, it helped me a lot to hold on.”
After two years, Agnes finally had the opportunity to escape.
“The day I escaped, I was sent with another young girl to go and look for vegetables in the forest,” Agnes recalls. “We were escorted by two armed guys. When we went a bit far into the forest, they said we should stay and pick vegetables. Because they had to go somewhere (but would come back for us). They left us alone. Then, the girl I was with told me to run with her and find a way out to freedom.
“After a long walk we approached a village just close to my village. But I couldn’t recognise many things because everything had changed. The village was deserted. The buildings were all destroyed. But we decided to walk into the village anyway.”
There, Agnes and her friend saw soldiers who brought them to a small camp where the Nigerian army keeps abducted people who have escaped or have been rescued from captivity. Agnes had to wait until a family member could come and officially identify her.
At first, no one came. After a long wait, Agnes’s sister finally came to fetch her – and shared some sad news. “She informed me that my father was critically ill, and he was receiving treatment,” Agnes says. “For two years, I didn’t see my father. Then even after I returned, I still didn’t see him... he passed away the week I came back home.”
“...pray for me, that God will bring an end to the rejection I am going through.” Agnes
Eventually, Agnes returned home – but it was not the return she had been hoping for. “When I came back home, I refused to step out of the house because of how people were talking about me. I wasn’t shown love at all. No one came to greet me. All they did was to laugh and sigh with contempt. At that point I told my sister that if I had known that this is how I would be treated, that I would have remained in the forest or would rather be dead.”
This is sadly a common occurrence among Boko Haram kidnap survivors. Open Doors often meets young women who bravely escape, only to find that their communities, and even their families, reject and shame them. The stigma attached to women who escape is difficult to understand and deeply rooted in the false perception that they have become indoctrinated, and any children born in captivity carry the seed of Boko Haram.
“For a time, I even left my home and community to see if would find peace,” says Agnes. “But I haven’t found it. Luckily, these days things are becoming better, even though sometimes people still insult me.”
Thanks to your support, Agnes and many others like her have not remained alone in their suffering. Your support has enabled Open Doors to find women like Agnes and offer them integrated help through things like trauma care to support their physical and emotional recovery.
Agnes’ journey towards healing has not been easy for her or her family. Her relationship with her mother is strained at times, and more time is needed for them to come to terms with the past and mend their bond. Agnes represents probably thousands more women and children who are still in the hands of Boko Haram.
Despite all she has been through, Agnes still walks with Jesus – and she asks for your prayers: “I want all believers in Christ to pray for the many girls still in captivity. Ask God to intervene. Also pray for me, that God will bring an end to the rejection I am going through.”
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