4 widows share their stories of loss & hope in Nigeria

March 24, 2020 by Robert Kenna in Stories of Persecution

One of the men from the village points toward the hills rising up above the morning mist, “That’s where they come from when they attack,” he says.  

Dzangola is a remote Nigerian village in Adamawa State that rests neatly between a wadi that runs to the east—one must cross this ravine to visit the village—and endless rolling hills to the west. The remote location adds to the beauty, but it’s also what makes the people a vulnerable target for militant groups like Boko Haram.  

Responsible for thousands of deaths and abductions in Nigeria, Boko Haram is one of the most infamous terror groups in the world. Their goal is to establish an Islamic state based on their version of Islam, in Nigeria.   

Meet the widows of Dzangola
Meet the widows of Dzangola

In the last five years, Boko Haram has attacked Dzangola three times—once in 2014, once in 2015 and again in 2017. Each time leaving a trail of burning homes, abductions, loss and pain.   

We spent the afternoon with four Christian widows on a blazingly hot Nigerian day, right before torrential rains came in the evening—forcing us to seek shelter under the corrugated roof of the church. Each of these women is currently involved in the Open Doors trauma counseling program, but their needs are still significant, and their future still hangs in the balance. 

The Christian widows of Dzangola know the width and the depth of extreme persecution—and in their pain and loss, they still cling to Jesus. Here are their stories. 

Meet Kwate

“My husband was killed in the first attack,” Kwate says. 

We’re sitting with Kwate, an elderly widow, in the afternoon sun just outside her home. She has lived through all three Boko Haram attacks on her village.  

In the first attack, Boko Haram came at night, calling villagers out by name. No one is sure where they received the names, but they used this tactic to appear friendly to pull villagers out of their homes and expose them.   

“Before I came out, the [attackers] pushed my husband and locked him in the room. I kept shouting and screaming, and they kept shouting and screaming too,” Kwate says.  

In the commotion, Kwate saw an opportunity to escape and she slipped away from the attackers in the darkness. She hid behind a woodpile. She points to the woodpile outside of her home, walks over and shows us how she crouched down to hide her face. “They looked for me and didn’t see me,” she says.  

But as Kwate hid, the members of Boko Haram set her house on fire—with her husband inside.   

Kwate walks us to the back of her property, where there’s a pile of burnt corrugated steel. “This was where they killed him,” she says, “and this is the door where they pulled him inside the room.”  

Later, Kwate tells us more about her life and the struggles she faced from the trauma. She keeps folding her hands over one another. They are strong and rough from years of farming the Nigerian soil. When we pray together, she reaches out and holds our hands. The warmth is unmistakable.    

“In the afternoon, I am normal and happy, but when night comes, and I remember what happened to my husband, I began to cry. I never blamed God at all. What pains me is that they burned him. They could have killed him so that I could see his body instead of burning him and leaving me with nothing to remember,” she shares through tears.  

Kwate attends the Open Doors trauma counseling sessions in her village. “There is a woman who comes every Sunday, she will even come tomorrow. All the widows whose husbands were killed, we read the Bible and pray together. The trauma healing has really helped us,” she says. 

As for her enemies, her husband’s killers, she takes a long pause and says, “I can forgive them, I have forgiven them.” 

The Nigerian culture is all about survivaland Kwate’s needs are great—as an elderly widow, she’s doing her best to continue to provide for herself. “I still go to farm, and the little I get, I am feeding myself,” she says. “Please pray that God will help me, as I continue to farm and fend for myself.” 

As we prepare to leave, Kwate adds one crucial thought, “Since God did not allow them to kill me, he spared me and is helping me. I will continue to praise him.” 

Meet Victoria

“My husband was killed during the second attack. They came over the bridge. We were sitting by the door at home,” Victoria says.  

Boko Haram took the village by surprise. Before Victoria and her husband could react, Boko Haram members surrounded them. The extremists, dressed in soldier’s uniforms, took her husband and carried him to the roadside. Victoria cried out for mercy, but they pushed her aside and killed her husband. All she could do was lie by his side and weep.    

“It has been so difficult,” Victoria shares. “I am suffering with my children…you can’t stop remembering and feeling the pain.” 

Victoria says the trauma counseling has been so important to her healing. “Your teachings are very helpful, it teaches us how to livehow to manage the little food we have and how to bring up our children,” she says.  

 However, living without a husband in Nigeria comes with incredible challenges“The pain of the heart cannot leave just like that. Sometimes you just remember all the tragic events—and when things are not coming in for food or school fees, I feel pain,” she adds.  

But Victoria’s hope remains steadfast in the Lord. She looks up, pauses and says she gets all her strength from God. “I believe if I commit and submit to God, he will help me in all I do.” 

Meet Mariayamu

I have no husband,” Mariayamu says, that thought alone has traumatized me. I can cry the whole day.” 

When Boko Haram attacked, Mariayamu’s husband told her to take the kids and escape to the bush while he stayed behind. Due to a physical condition, he wasn’t able to run with them. “We passed the night in the bush and returned the following morning, only to find out that he was killed,” Mariayamu says. 

The next morning, Mariayamu snuck back into the village with a few young men to find her husband. They took his remains, buried him and then she returned to the bush with her children.   

“We had to stay in the bush for another seven days,” Mariayamu says, “shifting our tent closer to the village day after day for seven days.” Eventually, it was deemed safe to return to the village, and Mariayamu started the long journey of healing and recovery. 

When asked why Boko Haram is so hell-bent on killing, Mariayamu says, “To me, the devil has taken hold of them and they have totally given into his leadership.”  

She, too, received trauma counseling from Open Doors. It’s through the trauma counseling she found hope again. “I realized that crying all day is not the solution or the way forward. The teaching has brought comfort to me,” Mariayamu shares.  

Mariayamu still faithfully follows the Lord and trusts Him to provide for her children. “Jesus is my Savior. He has the ability to save me from any calamity,” she adds.  

Meet Doris

“When they came, we ran for our lives,” Doris says.  

Both Doris and her husband ran toward the bush, but her husband took a different route. Doris called to him, “Follow me, this way!” she yelled. Moments later, she heard the gunshot that killed her husband.  

“When they shot him, he fell to the ground, he rolled twice and struggled before he gave up,” she says 

Doris had to keep running for her life. She never saw her husband again. Later, she heard that some of the villagers had buried him. “He has a grave, he was buried right there in the bush,” she says and looks toward the rocks on the outskirts of the village. “I don’t know the exact place.”  

They killed him in the third attack. “I was so bitter. I lost my mind … If I tell you I can forget this pain, I am lying to you. It’s something that I can’t forget,” Doris adds.  

It’s a long journey to find healing from such a traumatic event, but Doris says, “When am in the class, the teaching is so encouraging and I feel strengthened. 

Stand with Christians in Nigeria

The story isn’t over for the widows of Dzangola—their future hangs in the balance. They still wrestle to pay school fees for their children and finding the money to buy food is always a struggle without husbands to help carry the load. Will you stand with widows like Kwate, Victoria, Mariayamu, Doris—and thousands of other Nigerian women who’ve lost their husbands or children to Boko Haram?

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