American Christians have experienced a number of cultural shifts over the past few years, but I think it’s safe to say that most of us have not had to endure religious persecution. We are relatively safe, for now. Our brothers and sisters around the world have not been as fortunate, although some say that they are thankful for what they have experienced. Their faith has remained firm, and their relationships with God have flourished. Without the details of their suffering I could smile and rejoice at their perseverance, and indeed, I do rejoice! They have stood up for Christ and are not ashamed of their scars! However, I’ve read what some have endured, and I couldn’t help but cry and pray. To go through even a fraction of what they’ve gone through would cause many to shatter and remain broken.
I think it’s important to know what’s been happening to our fellow believers in Christ. They deserve our love, encouragement, and prayers. In honor of their boldness in the faith, I would like to share a couple of testimonies from the recent Voice of the Martyrs newsletter:
“Danjuma Shakaru’s grave is still empty. Villagers had dug the 13-year-old boy’s final resting place after he was critically wounded during a Jan. 28 attack on their village. When they saw his mangled, lifeless body covered in blood, they fully expected him to die. But God had other plans.
Three months after the attack, Danjuma’s face is marked by horrendous scars where his right eye was carved out … and by a beaming smile.
Danjuma’s memories of the attack begin with the gunshots he heard at about 6 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. He remembers running for his life and then being confronted by some of the more than 1,000 Islamic insurgents who attacked his Christian village, burning homes and killing villagers who didn’t manage to escape. Although his memories of the attack are incomplete, one thing he’ll never forget is the pain caused by a machete slicing through the left side of his head.
The rest of the attack, by God’s grace, he doesn’t recall. ‘Then I found myself in this situation,’ he said. ‘I can’t remember how the story continues again.’
Danjuma can’t recall the attackers hacking at his left arm with a machete. He has no memory of them cutting out his right eye. And he doesn’t remember them cutting off his genitals.
Danjuma is among the thousands of Nigerians who have been brutalized in violent riots, bombings and village raids since 1999, when Islamists began their campaign to establish Islamic law and an Islamic territory in the north. The insurgency escalated in 2009 with the rise of the extremist group Boko Haram.
According to the research group Joshua Project, Christians make up nearly 51 percent of Nigeria’s 177 million people. More than 43 percent of the population is Muslim, while others practice one of several ethnic religions.
In spite of what he has suffered, Danjuma is certain that God is still in control. He has no anger toward his attackers. ‘There is no problem,’ he said. ‘I have allowed God to handle everything.’
Danjuma not only forgives his attackers but almost pities them for the condition of their hearts. ‘I forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,’ he said, echoing the words of Christ. ‘If they had love, they wouldn’t behave that way.’
Following the attack, which left 23 villagers dead and 38 injured, survivors began to dig graves for those killed. Villagers had walked past Danjuma’s body and assumed he was dead, but later they heard him crying and shouting. He had somehow regained consciousness. They transported him and others with serious wounds to the nearest city, about 15 miles away.
‘They couldn’t believe that the boy would come back alive after all of this,’ said Hadila Adamu, a manager at the hospital where he was treated. ‘He bled so much. It is a miracle. That’s why he calls himself ‘Miracle.’’
Prior to the raid, Danjuma was a typical Nigerian boy. He lived with his mother, a widow, and enjoyed playing with friends. He often went on fishing trips with fishermen from the village. It was after one of these trips that the attack occurred.
While the attackers stole so much from Danjuma, they couldn’t take his joy. It is still evident on his face and in his voice. ‘The joy comes from the Lord,’ he said.
Danjuma said his relationship with God has only grown stronger since the attack. He continues to pray regularly and seek God’s guidance. ‘God continues to guide and protect,’ he said.
Danjuma’s life is much different now. A catheter extends from his lower abdomen, draining urine into a bag that he must carry as he walks. He is fully dependent on God, on his mother and on the care of others around him.
VOM is helping to ensure that Danjuma’s life is as whole as it can be, helping with medical costs and assisting his mother with this care. Danjuma asks VOM supporters to pray that his faith will continue to grow.
‘If they hear the story, they should pray for me – for my [broken heart] and that I have strength to serve the Lord,’ he said.
Danjuma hopes that any children who read his story will remember that Christ can get them through any trial.
‘If they find themselves in such a situation, they should embrace God,’ he said, still smiling. ‘They should believe that God who created us knows everything about us, so let’s be faithful and let’s be kind. The way I find myself today … God knows the reason I am supposed to be, so you should embrace God and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.’” (The Voice of the Martyrs, August 2015, p. 5)
“Sept. 11, 2014, began as a happy day for Mary Patrick. She and her older sister were walking to a wedding in a nearby village with the bride-to-be and the bride’s younger sister. But their lives, like those of many other young women in Nigeria, changed forever with the terrifying sound of yelling and gunfire.
Mary, who is 24 years old, quickly hid in a nearby house with the others when the Boko Haram attack began in Adamawa state, in northeastern Nigeria. They hid in the house for four days before being captured while trying to escape.
‘The only thing I was thinking when they took me is that I will die,’ Mary said. ‘I know they will kill me. I’m just praying to God everything that I do that is wrong, that the good Lord will forgive me.’
The horror that Mary faced during four months of captivity with Boko Haram became clear to VOM’s medical coordinator in Nigeria recently when he tried to buy her a meal.
‘I wanted to buy food for her and bought some meat,’ the VOM worker said. ‘She told me she couldn’t eat the meat. She said, ‘In the camp they used to eat human flesh, so every meat looks like human flesh.’’
Boko Haram’s nearly 6-year-old campaign to establish an Islamic territory in northern Nigeria has resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Christians, including a reported 10,000 people in 2014, and has forced more than 1.5 million people from their homes. The insurgent group also has kidnapped hundreds of young women like Mary, brainwashing them and using them for whatever purposes they desire.
Mary’s brainwashing began as soon as she arrived at the Boko Haram camp, in another part of Adamawa state. She quickly found herself behaving like the dozens of other young women in camp, some of whom were ‘Chibok girls.’ The April 2014 abductions of 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno state, brought international attention to Boko Haram’s practice of kidnapping and abusing young girls. Although some of the Chibok girls have managed to escape, 219 remain in captivity.
Mary said the more than 50 Chibok girls she met were among the most vicious prisoners she encountered. ‘The [Boko Haram] train women how to shoot, how to bomb,’ she said. ‘They even taught how to shot a gun, how to kill somebody, bomb places like churches, wood houses and schools.’
The women were told these attacks were the work of God. Mary even carried out an attack on her own church, but she said she tried to shoot away from people.
Boko Haram’s brutality scarred Mary deeply. She watched as they killed her older sister for disobeying orders to murder a man who had refused to renounce his Christian faith. She watched as her friend, abducted on her wedding day, and her friend’s younger sister were married off to Boko Haram commanders. And Mary was repeatedly raped during her time in captivity. ‘Sometimes five men at the same time,’ she said. ‘After this one, this one.’
As Mary was forced to recite verses from the Quran week after week and even was given a Muslim name, her Christian identity began to slip away.
‘I just forgot how to pray, how to read the Bible,’ she said. ‘When I was Boko Haram, the only thing is Muslim prayer.’
After four months, Mary saw an opportunity to escape. One night when the Boko Haram terrorists were drunk, she and an older woman fled into the bush.
The escape came just in time. Mary was days away from being forced to marry a man who had raped her several times and had killed her sister.
When Mary made it home, she learned that her father had died of a heart attack following the abduction of his daughters. She is now the only living member of her family.
The VOM medical coordinator’s family has welcomed Mary into their home to help her work through the trauma she suffered in captivity. After several months of freedom, Mary is still recovering small pieces of her identity each day.
‘She is a bit bold now and she is outspoken,’ the VOM worker said. ‘It is like she is trying to manage her situation, finally.’
Despite Mary’s unimaginable suffering, she said that her captivity, escape and time living with the VOM worker’s family have ultimately deepened her faith. ‘Before, I didn’t go to church, I didn’t read Bible, I didn’t pray,’ she said. ‘But now, I go to church every day; I pray so that God will forgive me all my sins because I don’t want to go back to my life in the past. I am now a born-again Christian. I am thankful for my life.’
As her faith matures, Mary is learning how to forgive. It’s something she struggles with as her emotional wounds are still healing. When asked how she would respond to members of Boko Haram today, she pauses to consider. ‘I forgive them, but … if I catch a Boko Haram I will not leave him,’ she said. ‘I will kill him.’
VOM has provided Mary with a scholarship so she can attend a university in June, and she will continue to live with the VOM worker’s family. As she heals and rebuilds her life, Mary asks for prayer – but not just for herself.
‘I would be grateful to have other people pray for Christians in northeastern Nigeria because they are suffering the most,’ she said. ‘I am thankful to God for what happened to me, but I would ask for prayers for strength for all Christians in northeastern Nigeria.” (The Voice of the Martyrs, August 2015, pp. 6-7)
These are just two testimonies out of thousands who have endured and survived persecution for the sake of Christ. It seems like we are worlds apart, but in fact, we are all part of the same body. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26 NASB). It’s time to put petty differences and theological ramblings aside and focus on the gospel message, the hope and life that only Christ can give.
I’ve been worrying about too much lately, about things so temporary that it’s shameful. After taking a few moments to read these testimonies I was reminded again that life is surely a fleeting vapor (James 4:14). Everything could change in a moment, and when everything else is gone, Christ is the only One who remains if I choose to be faithful.
If we lost everything and were asked to recant our faith, would we stand?