After extremists attack—Charity’s unshakeable faith in Nigeria

April 29, 2022 by Lindy Lowry in Persecution updates

Charity and her children survived a violent Boko Haram attack on their Nigerian village. Through your prayer and support, they’re finding hope for the future.

Charity, a young mother of four in northern Nigeria, leans over and picks up another ear of corn from a metal container. She shucks it as she stands next to her two daughters, Elizabeth and Patience, and her son, Theophilus. She’s wearing a red headscarf, and she’s teasing Theophilus about something. He laughs and flashes a bright smile, then shakes his head.

The afternoon sun is intense, so they sit in the shade to prepare the corn. The wall of their mud brick home behind them, with window shutters of corrugated steel, is the same rustic brown as the ground at their feet. Beside them there’s a short wall made of thatched branches, and a kit of pigeons coos and pecks the nearby ground.

It’s a scene played out by millions of people every day—a family gathered together to prepare food for the day.

But the simplicity of the scene disguises something miraculous: Charity and her family nearly lost everything because they follow Jesus, and the mere act of preparing a meal together was something they thought might never be possible again.

Here in Guyaku, a remote village in northern Nigeria, being a Christian comes with significant risk. Nigeria is the deadliest place in the world for Christians, and extremist groups like Boko Haram, the Islamic State group and other militants target believers for violence.

In these attacks, Christians are often murdered or have their property and means of livelihood destroyed. Charity and her children know this firsthand. They’re survivors of a deadly Boko Haram attack on their village.

The night of the attack

“It was the hot season,” Theophilus says, “when they came.” Charity, a single mom, was cleaning up for the evening when her brother came running into the house.

“Put out the light! Put out the light!” he whispered urgently.

“That was the moment we found out Boko Haram was attacking our village,” Charity says.

Boko Haram has long been one of the most infamous terrorist groups in the world, inflicting devastation in Nigeria and other West African nations for more than a decade. They view themselves as the ultimate expression of Islam and want to establish an Islamic state ruled under their radical interpretation of the faith and the Quran. Across northern Nigeria, believers know that when Boko Haram arrives, terror is not far behind.

So Charity knew what was about to happen when she heard her brother’s warning. They knew all they could do was run. “I was scared,” Theophilus shares. “I thought we wouldn’t survive. So I grabbed my sister’s hand, and we ran. Charity grabbed her youngest daughter and quickly placed her on her back in a wrap.

“It was at that time that we ran away towards the mountains,” Charity says. “We were heading in the same direction when a motorbike came toward us. That was how I got separated from my children. I went with my little girl, and my son ran in a different direction with his sister.”

Charity ran toward the mouth of a cave and darted inside for shelter with others from the village. In the darkness, she whispered her children’s names. No answer. She whispered again and again: “Theophilus … ? Elizabeth … ?” But her words were met with silence.

What if they killed my children? Charity thought in the darkness. The night in the cave was long. Finally, at daybreak, everyone shuffled cautiously out of the cave and started to walk back to the village to view the damage. On her way back, Charity heard that Boko Haram had killed some of her family members in the attack. It was devastating news—but all she could think about was her children.

And they were nowhere to be found.

Picking up the pieces

“When I arrived home, I didn’t see my children,” Charity remembers. “I couldn’t even eat food or drink water throughout the day because there was no taste, and I was thinking, ‘If I drink this water and eat this food and my children are dead, of what use is the food to me?’”

A week went by with no news, and fear overtook the village. There was no cell service, and many thought the roads were too dangerous to travel. Charity didn’t know if she’d ever see her children again.

One day, alone in the house doing some chores, Charity heard her son calling out her name. When she looked out her front door, she saw Theophilus and Elizabeth walking toward her.

“I was so shocked and excited as I shouted their names!” Charity shares. “Seeing my children felt like a new dawn—everything changed because my lost children were back.”

“We shed tears of joy,” Theophilus says. The reunion was a profoundly moving answer to prayer. “But soon, after all the joy and laughter, we started remembering the fact that some of our family members had died,” Charity shares. “So we went to console our family members and mourned our loved ones. But I was greatly comforted because I saw my children were alive.”

The struggle wasn’t over for Charity, her children and all the Christians in Guyaku. In many ways, it was just beginning. They needed to rebuild their homes, find food and shelter, restore their churches from the ashes, replant crops and deal with the ongoing anxiety that Boko Haram was still out there. Somewhere. Would they attack again?

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Standing with our brothers and sisters in Christ

When Open Doors heard about the attack on Guyaku, our partners in the field rushed into action to help provide emergency aid, food relief, support to rebuild—and critical trauma counseling.

“Your coming helped us a lot,” Charity says, “at the time that we had lost hope and had no place to stay—because we were sleeping in the bush behind the town after the incident occurred.”

There are so many difficult memories that can stir up fear within the hearts of both Charity and her children. The darkness is a reminder of the violence. Loud noises can trigger shocked reactions, and even dogs barking can bring a shudder of fear after the sun sets on Guyaku.

Fortunately, the trauma counseling has had a positive impact on the family. “The attack put a wound in our hearts that would not be healed. But the teachings you gave us really helped us because it brought unity,” Charity adds. “We didn’t know we were traumatized. We didn’t even know what trauma meant. Then you came just at the time we needed the teaching on trauma. The teaching on trauma has helped us a lot.”

After being separated from his mother during the Boko Haram attack, Theophilus finally found his way home to Guyaku. Here, he tells us about his experience and how God was present even in the midst of the violence:

What was that night like for you?

We ran far that night; we didn’t turn back until we met with our neighbors [in a cave] under the mountain. Then we kept on walking together to a town called Ushibara. We walked very far. When we arrived, we didn’t see our parents because they were also looking for us in the night.

What was that night like for you?

We ran far that night; we didn’t turn back until we met with our neighbors [in a cave] under the mountain. Then we kept on walking together to a town called Ushibara.We walked very far. When we arrived, we didn’t see our parents because they were also looking for us in the night. The morning came. We were still looking and couldn’t find them. People came and were trying to find out what was happening in our hometown. Then they said two people died— our grandaunt and our uncle opposite our house died. When morning came, we went to Gombi so we could go home. We went back home and didn’t [see] our mother for a week— and then we met with our mother

What was the impact of the attack on your community?

Boko Haram came and drove people away—then people sought after God. People became close to God because everyone was scared of death. If anyone is sick, that person would be praying, looking for God; if he gets healed, he then forgets about God. So that was what we did during that time: we sought after God.

What’s a verse that helped you?

Psalm 23 that says, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Why did you and your family weep when you saw each other again?

When we met, being that we didn’t think we would meet again, we shed tears of joy, because we didn’t think we will meet again. That is why we cried—because we missed each other.

How can we pray for you, Theophilus?

I am in need of prayers because Boko Haram have spread everywhere. We don’t know—maybe in the night they [could attack]. The kidnappers and Boko Haram are everywhere.

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