Deborah’s Story From Nigeria
Deborah Shettima* has lived in Maiduguri, the birthplace of an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria, throughout the insurgency that has gained momentum since 2009. It is a miracle that she has survived the constant battles, suicide bombings and targeted attacks. It is an even bigger miracle that this woman has survived spiritually after losing all of her family members in Boko Haram attacks.
On the afternoon of April 25, 2012, a group of Boko Haram attackers stormed Deborah Shettima’s house. They shot and killed her husband in front of her eyes and then abducted her two daughters, Tabitah (7) and Sarah (9). Deborah begged them to leave her daughters, but the only response she received was a blow to the face that left her nearly paralyzed on the floor.
Three months later, another group of Boko Haram followers broke into her home. This time they killed Deborah’s only son. These devastating events left Deborah deeply traumatized, and everyone wondered how her faith could possibly survive.
Deborah had converted to Christianity from Islam and married her husband against the wishes of her family. She expected no help from them, and was not surprised when they tried to use her vulnerability to get her to return to Islam. Her Muslim neighbors also threatened her.
Instead of giving in to their demands, she decided to move away. She left behind the house her husband had built, which was now overflowing with painful memories, and rented an apartment elsewhere.
“I have been living a difficult life,” she stated during a previous visit from Open Doors. But she showed no signs of giving up her faith. “I have decided to accept Christ. I will, for as long as I live, remain a Christian. It doesn’t matter the threat,” she bravely declared.
She displayed a mature outlook on her suffering when she declared, “Life might not be very easy with me, but the grace of the Lord will keep me going. My situation doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about me. He does. Therefore, I will praise Him even in this situation. Who knows? He may change my situation for the better. He loves me and I will never let Him down.”
There was no suggestion of self-reliance in her demeanor; rather, she marveled at her own survival and it all only made sense when she heard about the many believers praying for her around the world.
When Open Doors (OD) visited battle-weary Maiduguri at the end of August, the team went to visit Deborah. She was so excited to see the team, but for the visitors it was upsetting, in a sense, to see her.
The past four years have taken a heavy toll on Deborah. She looked tired and worn out, and she lost a troubling amount of weight.
“I have been crying anytime the thought of my girls comes up. I have cried my eyes out. My heart is aching and every night my eyes remain widely open, waiting expectantly for God to come to my rescue, to show me His mercy over the situation, to connect me in this life with my daughters again. This has been my expectation and plea to my loving heavenly Father,” she confessed.
An additional challenge is now facing her: her lease has expired and the landlord has doubled the rent. He is threatening to evict her. “Where would I get the money? I can’t go back to the house my husband built. There are just too many painful memories. I feel stranded and confused,” she sobbed. Open Doors is helping her pay the rent now, and we will keep a close eye on this development.
Astonishingly, her spiritual knees did not appear to be buckling under the constant pressure. It seems the love OD and believers around the world had shown over the years is still contributing to her survival. The team was pleasantly surprised to see cards they had delivered earlier pasted on her walls.
“Though I have a lot of fear about the fate of my children who are in the hands of Boko Haram, these messages have kept telling me that millions of believers around the world are praying for me and my children. I might not know where they are or what their circumstances are, but I believe your prayers may reveal where they are and even cause us to be reunited. But I also take comfort in knowing even if I may not see them again in this life we will meet at the feet of Jesus.”
“I can wholeheartedly say that OD has been the best companion in my troubles. Though life has not been easy for me, your concern and prayers have kept me. Sometimes I am fed up with life, and I desire death more than life. But then I read a card and am simply reminded that people are praying—and then those feelings change. Then I look at the world differently. It is a blessing. OD has been a Godsend to me personally.”
We thank you for the love you have shown this sister in the Lord.
The Writer of the Above Article Responds
For me, an OD worker who writes about persecution in this region all the time, this report from the field caused great turmoil. I have made peace with the fact that there are things in this broken world that I will not understand as long as I am this side of heaven. But every now and again I write articles on things that threaten to undo me. The story of Deborah Shettima is one of those that causes me to cry out, “Why, Lord? What could possibly be the good that flows out of this situation?”
I realize that it is not so much Deborah holding on to Christ as Christ holding Deborah. And He is doing it, to some degree at least, through our prayers.
But that is not enough comfort for me right now. As happy as I am for Deborah, I feel unsatisfied. I still don’t understand why she has to suffer so much. It’s simply wrong, and I am tired of it. I am tired of this world with all its evil, all its hardship, all its unresolved conflicts. It is too hard to bear.
And then it dawns on me—perhaps that is exactly the point.
God does not owe me an answer about His dealings with Deborah. But the fact that I am feeling so utterly stripped of my love for this world right now is clearly part of His dealings with me. Deborah’s suffering is weaning me from this world and is causing me to long for heaven. And it’s causing me to long for the Day of the Lord when all the wrongs of this world will be set right. And that is good.
Rev 20, verse 12: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.’” And then that blessed reassurance in verse 20. “‘Surely I am coming soon.’
I can only join in saying, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus. Come soon. We—Deborah and I—are longing for The Day!”
Father of all mercy and grace, we too pray, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.” We long for that day when, robed in the righteousness of Christ, we see You face-to-face. We long for that day when righteousness reigns and every tear is wiped away. For now, we lift up Deborah before Your throne of grace, that You will offer her a taste of heaven, that You will reunite her with her children and turn her mourning into dancing. We pray the same for the many others being held by Boko Haram. Your ways are not our ways, but we know that You are good and powerful to act, that You bend Your ear to hear their cries and respond. In these times of confusion, when it is difficult to see You, strengthen our faith—Deborah’s faith and the faith of the many others like her. Give them the strength and hope to face each day with thanksgiving, looking for Your presence in the day and seeking out ways to be a blessing to others. Shine through their lives and pour out Your blessing and mercy upon them. In the name of Jesus, our anchor of hope in the storms of life. Amen.