Agnes and her husband John, a university lecturer, along with their nine children, lived in Nigeria’s Benue state where Christians are coming under increasing pressure from Muslim extremists. Together they built a household of faith. Although Agnes knew from the Bible that Christians are not to be surprised by persecution, nothing could have prepared her for the radical turn her life took one morning in 2008 when Muslim extremists struck.
Agnes was awakened from a sound sleep by the sounds of Islamic war cries, “Alahu Akubar! Alahu Akubar!” (Allah is greater) “When you hear that, you know that something [terrible] is going to happen,” Agnes explained. Muslims surrounded the predominantly Christian neighborhood. The couple joined others in an attempt to flee, but they found themselves deep in the heart of a predominantly Muslim area of the town.
A Muslim man forced Agnes and the younger children into a building, while John and their two eldest sons remained outside. As she was forced into the building, Agnes saw John and one of her sons being brutally stabbed to death. “I closed my eyes and called on Jesus.” Agnes’ ten-year-old son, Adonai, rushed over to where his father lay and clutched the lifeless body, his father’s blood drenching his clothes.
For three days, the Muslim man who had killed John held Agnes and the children captive. They killed her husband, yet gave the family a roof over their heads and food to eat. During this time, Agnes carefully observed the interaction between this man, his three wives and many children. Every day, the sons go out and come back with machetes stained with the blood of Christians they had hunted down.
“I kept on crying to God. One night, I told God, ‘Suppose these people come and slaughter my children… what will I do?’” Unable to sit idly by anymore, she decided to try and buy her freedom. To her amazement, the man agreed and even instructed his children to escort her to a safe place from where she could contact a family friend.
In the home of her friend, she struggled to deal with her loss and grief, feeling completely abandoned by God. “Initially I said, ‘God, take away my life. I can’t bear this. Where do I start [to deal with] all this suffering?’”
One day, her mother visited and told her, “Look at me, I am old. I cannot [care for] these children.” Then she encouraged her in the faith. “You can do it. I know you are going to suffer, but you have to bear the cross.” All Agnes could reply was, “Why me?”
Her children encouraged her in her faith, too, with wisdom beyond their years. “Mommy’, why [do] you question God? God knows why everything happens. Have you not said you are a child of God and that you will carry the cross of Jesus? Remember, he [her husband] was a Christian. He had to carry the cross of Jesus… Mommy, why are you crying? Be strong, be strong, be strong.”
“In those days, I prayed and cried and prayed and cried. I needed a heart of forgiveness,” Agnes shared.
God had not forsaken Agnes, however, He made a way for her to attend an Open Doors healing seminar. “Until that day,” she said, “I had hardness in my heart and I could never forgive the men who killed my husband and son.”
Participants were encouraged to nail their burdens to the cross to symbolize the step of faith they were taking. This is when the breakthrough came. “I said, ‘Yes, Lord, you are good. I need a heart of forgiveness.’ And that very day when I nailed the paper on the cross was the day I forgave what they had done to me.” It was the start of a new beginning.
Today, Agnes is able to interact with Muslims in the marketplace without always having the murder of her husband and son in the back of her mind. God’s peace is apparent through her life. “People look at me and ask, ‘Ha, these people killed your husband and you can even associate with them?’ I look at them and say, ‘He that is in me is greater than that. You don’t understand.’”
But she still had a large family to care for on her own. One day, on her way home from church, Agnes poured her heart out to God about their needs. “God, I rededicate my children into Your hands. The enemy has strength, but I know You will not let me and my children perish. The enemy will come and say, ‘Aha, you say you serve the living God, but has He saved you?’” She laid before Him their school fees, daily food and even her own heart. “My earthly husband has gone, but you are the greatest husband I have. Show Yourself, that people will come and say, ‘Ah, I want to know your God.’”
God has used OD’s vocational training for widows to help her receive an income-generating loan. Open Doors is also paying the school fees for her youngest child. Whenever her children need anything, she tells them to speak to their Father about it. And they have never lacked anything; the Lord has never once disappointed Agnes. “I have no husband other than Jesus and my children have no father other than Jesus.”
Father, we lift up Agnes and the many others like her in Nigeria who have suffered unthinkable trauma at the hands of Muslim extremists. We, too, commit their care to You who are sufficient for all their needs. In the midst of their pain and suffering grow their faith. Replace their despair with hope. We pray for their enemies that You might soften their hardened hearts to turn to You in faith, to lay down their guns and machetes and take up the mantle of peace. And may the work of Your Holy Spirit shine like a beacon in this dark land that all may know that You have done it. In the Name of Jesus, whose light we reflect to a world in need, Amen.