“Trauma is something that affects people in their daily lives. So many things are happening in Nigeria today, and many people are traumatised,” says Tirham*. “Everywhere, people are getting attacked by armed robbers, kidnappers, Fulani herdsman, Boko Haram.”
Tirham knows the truth of this more than most people. As a volunteer at an Open Doors trauma centre in Nigeria, she meets many women and men who have been persecuted for their Christian faith. She helps them heal from what they have experienced and understand a deeper level of God’s love for them. Your support and gifts meant the centre could open.
“Some people come here and you see their face, from their expression, you know that they are traumatised, you know that they are hurting inside. Now, after working with them for five days, one week, you see their faces change – there’s a glow in their faces and you know that God has touched them through trauma healing.”
Tirham speaking with a woman on a trauma care course
Tirham has worked with vulnerable Christians for a long time. She was involved in the spiritual and community development of the congregation of her husband’s church, and has headed up several village care initiatives.
These activities have given Tirham a greater insight into the specific difficulties faced by Christian women. That includes non-Christian husbands forbidding their wives from going to church or withdrawing financial support and young girls being taken out of school and forced into early marriage, as well as physical attacks from outside the community. While all Christians are vulnerable to persecution in northern Nigeria, where attacks by Islamic extremists are sadly common, women are doubly vulnerable.
“They go through persecution because of their faith and because they are women,” says Tirham. “They are seen as the pride of the community. Once they have been destroyed, it breaks the resolve of the men to fight back.”
This double vulnerability is the theme of Open Doors’ See. Change. campaign, which includes the handmade petition, exhibiting in Chapter House, Westminster Abbey, from 17-24 November. It is designed to say “I see you” to women whose stories go unseen, and who suffer persecution for their gender and their faith.
A place of refuge
Tirham was also already well aware of the devastating impact of trauma because of her work with sickle cell patients: she saw it every day in the lives of parents facing the possibility that their children would die. She undertook several courses of training in trauma counselling, and began to work at the Open Doors trauma centre in Nigeria.
“I see it like a place of refuge, where people come with their hurts and you walk with them for a while,” she says. “People have hurt and wounds in their heart, and they need to be cared for.”
People like Christy, a pastor’s wife who was kidnapped, raped and beaten by Fulani militants. Thankfully she was eventually released, after her husband sold all he had to pay a ransom. The centre has helped her begin to heal from trauma.
When Tirham meets victims of rape or other violence, she says they find it difficult to express what they have experienced or to spend time with others. “Showing them love and acceptance has opened up their hearts to share their ordeal,” says Tirham. “The act of listening to them and allowing them to share their frustration, humiliation and fear for the future proved to be very helpful.”
Seeing God’s purpose
Often, the trauma that people have experienced has shaken their view of God. Thanks to your support and prayers, the trauma centre is able to offer reassurance of His love and power.
“When people come, and you ask them, ‘Have you ever felt that God doesn’t exist? That God is not powerful or strong enough?’, most times they say ‘Yes’.” Those who have suffered trauma can experience doubts or a feeling of distance from God. The trauma care centre helps people understand the truth about God’s character. “At the end, they see the purpose of God allowing them to go through suffering. God has worked in their lives when they were suffering.”
A verse that is close to Tirham’s heart is 2 Corinthians 1:3-5: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
A gospel of peace
She feels compelled to this courageous work by God’s command for His children to be a comfort to one another. “My motivation is knowing that many people are hurting, and this is like a gospel of healing, a gospel of peace, a gospel that will bring forgiveness to the hearts of people and let people draw closer to God. Above all it’s a gospel that leads us into the heart of God, knowing that in every situation we go through, God is there with us.
“It’s been impactful in the lives of everyone that’s come here. There’s no one that has come here and left the same.”
And Tirham is keen that the world doesn’t let the stories of Nigerian women go unseen and unheard with the international church: “Our appeal is that the church in the UK can join Open Doors to help make this thing open, that people will know that this is happening in Nigeria. To join hands with us and with Open Doors to find a way to stop this evil that is perpetrated against women.”
- For Tirham as she speaks to Open Doors supporters at Standing Strong events, that God would give her the words to say, and that listeners would be moved to pray for and support our persecuted family
- That Nigerian men and women in the trauma care centre would be healed of their trauma and see God’s purpose in their life
- That the handmade petition would have a real, lasting impact in the lives of persecuted Christian women around the world.
*Name changed for security reasons