Ruth in Nigeria was a teenager when Islamic militants Boko Haram kidnapped her and held her captive. Eventually she managed to escape – with a young son, and pregnant with another baby, after being forced into ‘marriage’. Here’s her story, and how Open Doors trauma care helped her on a path to healing.
“It happened so quickly. I was so scared,” remembers Ruth*. “Boko Haram was heading straight toward us on their bikes.”
Ruth was only 14 years old when Islamic militants Boko Haram attacked her village in Adamawa State, north eastern Nigeria. She was getting ready to play with her friends when a large group of men came on motorbikes. Their aim? To cause great distress and destruction to Christian villages, destabilising communities of believers.
Boko Haram terrorists often kill men and burn down houses and churches – but women are often kidnapped and sexually assaulted. This form of persecution targets the perceived vulnerabilities of women and girls – and thus undermines the whole Christian community.
“Tears streamed down my face as I ran as fast as my feet could carry me,” says Ruth. “I remember my mother shouting ‘Ruth, ki yi gudu – run for your life!’”
"I remember my mother shouting 'Run for your life!'" Ruth
Though Ruth tried to escape, the men caught up with her. They grabbed and restrained her. She was one of several girls who were taken away by the Boko Haram militants.
“I screamed and begged them to let me go, but they just slapped me and ordered me to keep quiet,” says Ruth. “We drove for hours into the Sambisa forest. I had no idea where I was. We were all scared. That night, I cried myself to sleep.”
Ruth was held for a long time. She suffered terrible persecution at the hands of Boko Haram. “The first year was hell,” she says. “Each day after they returned from their attacks, they would beat and rape us. I became very skinny because they didn’t give us enough food.”
Ruth was told that she would receive better treatment and more freedom in the camp if she denounced Jesus and became a Muslim. “I refused to deny Christ, and I kept crying and praying to God to rescue me,” she says.
Eventually, Ruth decided to tell the persecutors that she had become a Muslim. And her situation did ‘improve’ – in the sense that she was given a room to herself, and had more freedom, even though it also meant being married off to one of the men. Secretly, Ruth kept praying to Jesus.
“My decision took away some of my physical suffering, but I was still miserable. When we were taken for salat (prayers) I would recite Psalm 23 in my heart. I still wanted to believe that Jesus was my good Shepherd.”
As a result of the sexual violence she was subjected to, Ruth became pregnant and had a baby boy, called Samaila. “It was difficult for me to love this child,” she remembers. “I hated his father and my [supposed] new religion.”
"God showed me a way and He gave me the courage to run." Ruth
Ruth was pregnant again when she eventually managed to escape the camp. She had never stopped praying that she would find a way to get away from her persecutors. And one day all the women and children were left unguarded as the men were away, probably carrying out further devastating attacks.
“Every time I washed my clothes at the stream, I tried to figure out a way to escape,” she says. “That day, God showed me a way and He gave me the courage to run. I place Samaila on my back and fled. I didn’t look back.”
Despite all she had experienced, Ruth knew God was faithful.
On the way to meet her family, Ruth was filled with mixed emotions. She didn’t know who would be there to meet her. The last time she saw her family they were all running for their lives. Would they be alive? If they were, would they welcome her and her children back?
“Some girls saw me and started shouting, ‘Ruth is back! Ruth is back!’” she recalls. “When I saw my sister and brother, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks. When I arrived home my mother was elated. She kept singing, ‘God is alive, yesterday, today and forever’. She held me and my son and we all cried together.”
But Ruth’s father did not share their joy.
“When my father saw Samaila, he asked, ‘Who is this?’” remembers Ruth. Women and girls who escape from the sort of abduction Ruth experienced are often rejected by members of their family, particularly if they have had children. Although they have not done anything wrong, these women and girls can be stigmatised by the communities that should love them the most. It’s a form of persecution that particularly affects women, and can have far-reaching effects even when the immediate persecution is over.
“My father began to treat me as an infidel because of my son and the child in my womb,” says Ruth. “‘I don’t want to see you or this boy anywhere close to me,’ he said. Those words broke my heart!”
Other members of the community joined in the rejection, calling Samaila ‘Boko soldier’ and mocking Ruth. She was already finding it difficult to love and accept her son, and this all made it even harder. “Anytime Samaila called me ‘mama’, I slapped and chased him away.”
Thanks to your gifts and prayers, and God’s grace, this isn’t where the story ended. Ruth and other survivors of Boko Haram abductions attended an Open Doors trauma healing programme in Nigeria. It looked at the different impacts of trauma, and the teaching and counselling Ruth received brought healing over the course of the week. Within days, Ruth began to see Samaila in a new light.
"It was a miracle unfolding in front of us." Patience, Open Doors trauma counsellor
Patience*, an Open Doors trauma care worker, recalls seeing the change: “Where she took little notice of Samaila before, we started seeing her lovingly patting him on the head and even laughing and playing with him. This brought tears to our eyes. It was a miracle unfolding in front of us. This showed us the power of God’s Spirit and His Word, and the impact the truths she learned in the trauma programme.”
Ruth has also had her second baby now: a little girl called Ijagala – she’s in the picture above. And the impact of the trauma care is still strong. “My pain is healed!” Ruth says. “I have learnt to forgive the people that mocked and insulted me. I have forgiven my father.”
And it’s not just Ruth who received healing in her family. When Ruth returned from the programme, she brought home a workbook – her father started reading it. To her surprise, he too found healing as he read and understood that Ruth and her children were innocent victims of other people’s persecution. It’s caused a huge change in the way he treats his grandson.
"My pain is healed!" Ruth
“Today, my father carries Samaila around in his arms and takes him for walks,” says Ruth. “This is something I never imagined possible.”
Ruth’s message to Open Doors supporters is this: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to attend [the Open Doors] seminar. It has brought back peace to our home.”
Your gifts and prayers can bring peace, healing and recognition to many other Christian women around the world who are persecuted for their faith and their gender. Thank you so much.
*Name changed for security reasons
Every £25 could mean a persecuted woman receives visits from Open Doors partners, to help encourage and strengthen her in her faith
Every £30 could provide ten women with discipleship through social media
Every £56 could help provide a safe space for women to meet and receive extensive spiritual support and training
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.