Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to Esther, a Nigerian Christian who was abducted as a teenager by Boko Haram militants. The letter was one of 40 letters written by the Foreign Secretary to persecuted Christians and those who support them.
The Foreign Secretary wrote:
I cannot begin to imagine the horrors of what you have suffered. I stand in awe of the great faith that has given you the strength to rebuild your life and dignity. I want you to know that you are not alone that British diplomats continue to raise your situation that we continue to fight your corner and that we stand with those who are being denied the basic rights to practice their faiths.
Open Doors worker, Hanna* who delivered the letter said: “When I handed her the printed letter and explained who it was from, Esther kept looking at it in confusion, and eventually asked, ‘How does he know me?’
“‘Christians all over the world have heard your story and are so concerned about you. They are praying with you,” I explained. This caused Esther’s face to break out in a big smile as she held the letter tightly to her chest. It is impossible for me to describe the joy on her face as she read the letter, realising that people care so much about her.”
Esther wrote back to the Foreign Secretary saying:
Dear Sir, I was shocked when the team visited me in Maiduguri to deliver a letter from you. I count it a privilege, thank you so much. God bless you in Jesus’ name. You care for me with words of encouragements. I feel loved. God bless you. Please continue to pray for me and Becky. Thank you and God bless you. Esther.
The first of the 40 letters was sent to Open Doors founder, Brother Andrew. The letters come amid the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s review into the persecution of Christians.
Hanna also delivered letter of encouragement written by Open Doors supporters. Esther was overwhelmed by the love and care shown to her through the letters she said: “Thank you for these words of encouragement! God bless you.”
Video of Esther reading the letter.
Esther was 16 when Boko Haram extremists attacked her village in Borno state, Nigeria and abducted her.
“I cannot count how many men raped me. Every time they came back from their attacks, they would rape us, defile us,” she said. Esther was seven months pregnant when she escaped.
When she returned home, Esther was ridiculed and abused by her village: “They mocked me because I was pregnant,” Esther said. “I cried many tears. I felt so lonely. What broke my heart even more was that they refused to call my daughter Rebecca. They referred to her as ‘Boko.’”
Open Doors partners provided Esther with food aid and she joined a trauma care programme: “Before I came for this programme, if you called my daughter ‘Boko Haram baby’ I would fight,” she said. “Now, even if they call her that I don’t feel pain anymore because I know that’s not who my baby is.”
Open Doors is working with communities like Esther’s to help them respond positively and not reinforce the cultural stigma associated with abuse and sexual violence.
According to research by Open Doors, Christian women are doubly vulnerable to persecution, targeted for both their faith and gender. Their suffering is often unseen and ignored by the world around them. Through the campaign See. Change. Open Doors is ensuring women are treated with care and dignity, and seen when isolated.
In places of conflict, such as Nigeria, sexual violence is weaponised. If the act itself doesn’t kill the women, the trauma and stigma, potential pregnancies and diseases wreak havoc on their lives for generations. Open Doors wants to ensure doubly vulnerable women are seen and recognised in UK government policy on sexual violence in conflict. Urge the government to act on this vital issue by signing your name on a piece of cloth which will be sewn into a banner. This banner, a handmade petition, will be presented to the UK government in November 2019 during the Preventing Violence in Sexual Conflict (PSVI) Conference.
Nigeria is number 12 on the Open Doors World Watch List.
The majority of Christians live in the south of the country, and their religious freedom is respected. In the north of Nigeria and the ‘Middle Belt’, where Christians are in the minority, they face horrific levels of persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists. The militant group Boko Haram abduct and kill those who refuse to conform to their extremist brand of Islam. Attacks by armed groups of Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians. Twelve of the northern states are under Sharia (Islamic law), and Christians in these states face particular discrimination.
*Name changed for security reasons