Esther finds joy in the midst of sadness

As the government of Nigeria continues its battle against the Islamic radical Boko Haram in the Northeast, it allows people to return to their almost completely destroyed villages to try and take up their lives again. But for many like Esther, carrying on is not so easy. Boko Haram captivity left her with deep emotional wounds and a child others like to call “Boko.”

While Esther* was in Boko Haram captivity (October 2015 – November 2016), she was under constant pressure to denounce her faith. She was just 17 when she was abducted by the militants. She had been living with her father in Gwoza, Southern Borno State, after her mother passed away. Esther attended school and took care of her ailing father as best she could.

Esther’s life completely changed in October 2015, when Boko Haram attacked her town. The militants struck down her father and left him in a heap on the ground. As they carried Esther and several other young women off into the Sambisa Forest, she continued looking back to see if her father got up. He died during Esther’s captivity.

In the Sambisa forest, Boko Haram used various methods to try to make the Christian girls renounce their faith. The militants tried to entice the girls with privileges; when those did not work, they turned to threats and intimidation. Many of the girls gave in.
Esther’s captors found her very beautiful and many of them wanted to have her as a wife. The pressure was severe. But Esther was determined not to give in. “If I perish, I perish, but I will not become a Muslim,” she decided in her heart.

It was a brave decision, but it had dire consequences. She tried to hide her tears as she told an Open Doors worker that she was continually raped. She said, “I cannot count how many men raped me. Every time they came back from their attacks, they would rape us, defile us.

“Each passing day, I hated myself more and more. I felt that God had forsaken me. There were times when I was so angry with God… But still I could not get myself to renounce Him. I found myself remembering His promise to never leave me or forsake me.”

Esther eventually got pregnant. She doesn’t know who the father is. “I had no idea how on earth I would ever be able to love this child.”

The military rescued Esther and the others around November 2016. But the joy of her freedom was soon overshadowed by sadness. People were not so eager to welcome back the ‘Boko Haram women’.

As her father had passed away, Esther went to live with her grandparents. Esther said, “They mocked me because I was pregnant. Even my grandparents despised me and called me names. 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’.”

Esther was put in touch with Open Doors through her church leaders, and she was invited to an Open Doors trauma care seminar. As part of the seminar, participants were invited to write the burdens of their hearts onto a piece of paper and pin that onto a hand-carved wooden cross at the venue, as an illustration of the spiritual act of bringing their sorrows to the cross.

Esther said, “When I pinned that piece of paper to the cross it felt like I was handing all of my sorrow over to God. It felt light within me. When the trainer later removed all the pieces of paper from the cross and burnt it to ashes, I felt like my sorrow and shame disappeared, never to come back again.”

Today, both Esther and Rebecca are doing well. Even if people still struggle to accept her and her child, she is at peace with herself and what has happened to her. Even if there are still some who refuse to accept Rebecca, Esther shows her all the love she is capable of giving. Esther said, “She has become my joy and laughter amidst sadness.”

She continued, “People have noticed a change. Some of those people who used to mock me now ask me my secret. I tell them, ‘I forgave my enemies and now trust God to take vengeance in His time’.”

Esther works on a farm and the grains she gets she uses to provide for herself, Rebecca and her grandparents. However, this is very little, so Esther also received food aid from Open Doors to help support her and her family. Esther said, “I have no family other than Open Doors. After hearing my story, you did not despise me but encouraged me and showed me love. Thank you so much!”

*names changed for security reasons