Throughout the world, Christian women are doubly vulnerable–for both their faith and their gender. They are persecuted because they are women and because they follow Jesus.
In Nigeria, mothers like Rebecca Sharibu are waiting for the return of their children kidnapped by Islamic extremist groups like an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria. In India, where widows are 10 percent of the population, Christian women like Kusum are raising their children on their own in a culture hostile to their faith. In North Korea, mothers must protect their families and essentially disregard the idea of raising their children to know Jesus.
Below, in honor of Mother’s Day, we share portraits of mothers who live out dangerous faith in countries where following Christ requires daily sacrifice and surrender.
Living in Nigeria, Esther is raising six children on her own after losing her husband in an attack by an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria insurgents. The young widow now plays the roles of both parents–nurturer, encourager, protector and provider. In a society that often marginalizes women, she is walking out her faith as she cares for and provides for her family.
Also in Nigeria, a heartbroken yet hopeful Rebecca Sharibu prays and waits to be reunited with her daughter, Leah. In February 2018, an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria militants kidnapped 105, including Leah, girls from a school in the town of Dapchi. Years of Rebecca’s deep-level commitment to disciple her children to know and follow Christ are part of her family’s story–a story the world has come to know. While her Muslim classmates were freed, Leah refused to deny the God her mother has raised her to trust. As a result, she remains a captive of an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria.
“When Leah went away to school, I gave her a copy of the Bible so she could have her personal devotions even when I am not there,” Rebecca recently shared. The devoted mother and Christ-follower has encouraging words for anyone tackling pain and grief: “For those who are going through situations and trials, just be hopeful and hold on to God.”
In Egypt, Rasha disciples her children, 7-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Jolie, in the face of increasing violence in a country that in recent years has become a hotbed of Christian persecution. Her oldest, she says, is dealing with anxiety. “Daniel used to be an extrovert and outspoken. He was always the leader in the group of kids, but recently he has been really scared because of all the stories he hears. Now he doesn’t even dare to walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water on his own anymore; he always wants to be close to us.
“The most important thing I try to teach my children is that Jesus is their best friend; that He is always close by. I tell them that I can be one foot away from them, but God’s inside them. Always. And with Him, they don’t need to be afraid.”
In Saudi Arabia, Narwal is one of 10.5 million women in the Middle East who has converted from Islam to Christianity. She lives in the very real tension between finding ways to follow Christ in secret and being a wife and mother in a Muslim family and culture. Each day, she faces the terror of fear, silence and isolation. She knows the brutal and unjust consequences if her husband, a Muslim, discovers that she has turned from Islam and put her trust in Christ. If she is found out, he will likely beat and abuse her.
An unbearable consequence, however, would be losing her young daughter. In countries governed by Sharia law, Muslim husbands are entitled to take legal custody of their children and forbid their wives from seeing their children. So Narwal behaves like a proper Muslim, performing the Muslim prayer rituals five times a day, at least when other people are around. But in her heart, she is still praying to Jesus and asking Him to give her the strength to keep standing for Him and her family.
In central India, Kusum is a young widow and mother, forced to live as an outcast in her Hindu village because she is a Christian. When she was 24, Kusum’s husband died of an illness and only two years later her 5-year-old son died of sickle cell anemia. Kusum has faced deep persecution from her village and her husband’s family who blames her “toxic faith” for her family’s deaths, even threatening her life. Yet Kusum still clings to Christ and is raising her only son to trust Jesus.
“Despite all of my tragedies, [Jesus] has never disappointed me,” the young mother says. “God gives me strength.”
In Malaysia, Susanna Liew is parenting her children alone–something the pastor’s wife never really thought about doing. But that was before February 13, 2017, when her husband, Pastor Raymond Koh, was kidnapped in broad daylight near Kuala Lumpur. Before his abduction, Pastor Koh had been accused of preaching Christianity to Muslims in the northern state of Perlis (proselytizing Muslims is illegal in Malaysia) and had even been sent bullets in the mail. In the physical absence of her husband, the courageous wife and mother continue to lean into Scripture.
“Only by the Lord’s grace can we stand strong. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I found strength in His word. Psalm 46:9-10 reminded me to be still and know that He is God. The story of Ruth and Naomi also ministered to me. They did not have a future but Boaz, their kinsman-redeemer, gave them a future. Likewise, Jesus is my kinsman-redeemer and I have hope, I have a future.”
In Indonesia, Rouli, a mother and homemaker is also an elder of her church, Batak Protestant Church Filadelpia. Not long ago, a government official refused to grant the church a permit and ordered the building sealed. Rouli and the church were forced to worship in front of their building next to the ditch and streets. She didn’t want the unwelcoming location to discourage church attendance, so Rouli pleaded with God for help. She also created weekly communications to notify attendees when the church’s venue needed to change. And when Rouli preached during Sunday services and women’s fellowship meetings, she continuously warned members not to despair over the fragile condition of the church. The church, she insists, is alive and stable.
“There are times when I feel tired,” she admits, but she persists. “If [people] feel afraid and lose their spirit, who else is going to be the church members?”
In Iraq, young mom Noor is working hard to rebuild her home city of Qaraqosh. She and her then-fiancee, Anmar, were forced to flee their village when ISIS invaded. During their displacement, they married in displacement and had Ashley two years later. Now Noor is working as an architect in an effort to rebuild her beloved city. Over the last few years, Noor has realized how many Christian families didn’t return to their homes. Instead, they left Iraq and migrated to safer countries. “I also thought about doing that because of the insecurity and thinking about the future for my little daughter,” she admits.
But Noor and Anmar made the determined choice to stay. “Because I love my town and my family, I decided to stay here and work with them to build and reconstruct everything.”
This Mother’s Day, remember and pray for the Esthers, the Rebeccas, the Narwals, the Kusums, the Susannas, the Alias the Roulis and the Noors of the persecuted Church. Women who are leading with courage and resilient faith, as they raise their families and stand for Christ through daily sacrifice and surrender. Pray that they may be a witness to their children–even those mothers who must testify in silence through actions rather than words. And pray that God would use their risk and sacrifice to take hold of their children’s lives and hearts.
Because God has equipped and uniquely designed mothers to invest in others and build His Kingdom.
Through your partnership with Open Doors, mothers living in persecuted countries get the help they need to stand for Christ and their families. For example, Open Doors came alongside Esther in Nigeria to help her start a business. With her earnings, she’s empowered to feed and house her entire family—and send all of her children to school.