Woman Who Survived 5 Weeks in Boko Haram Camp Speaks for First Time
Mercy, a 22 year-old woman from Borno State in northeast Nigeria, was abducted in June 2014 when Boko Haram overran the small town of Gwoza where she lived. For the first time, she shares about her five weeks in captivity, during which she was forced into a marriage, made to watch multiple killings and felt compelled to submit to her captors’ demands to follow Islam.
Mercy’s town of Gwoza sits at the foot of the Mandara mountain range on Nigeria’s eastern border with Cameroon. In 2009, Boko Haram moved into the area and set up camp in hills next to the village. In June 2014, members of Boko Haram overran Gwoza and declared it an Islamic caliphate. At least 100 people were killed in the initial attack. Hundreds more have been killed in the attacks and all of the churches in Gwoza have been destroyed.
The insurgents arrived in Mercy’s neighborhood in the middle of the night while she and her father (her mother had died 10 years before) were at home by themselves.
“Everyone in the town ran to save themselves. My dad and I were separated. I don’t know what happened to him. I think he died the same way many others died, because they refused to deny Christ,” she said. The attackers burned down Mercy’s house before marching her and four other women into the hills, where a vehicle was waiting to take them to the nearby town of Mubi, which had already fallen to the insurgents.
“All the way there, they kept threatening us. They told us if we did not obey every command once we got to the camp, we would be beaten severely.” Overwhelmed by the trauma and terrified by the threats, none of the women moved or spoke a word, Mercy said.
“When we got to the place, there were about 50 other women. I recognized many other Christians, who had now become Muslims and were forced to undergo Islamic teaching.”
“My first day was like hell. I cried all day and all night. I prayed like never before and asked God to give me courage.” The next morning, Mercy and the others were taken for questioning. They were given orders to convert to Islam and to marry Boko Haram members.
“The four other girls were very scared and immediately agreed. I pleaded that they allow me to remain a Christian, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. They beat me and told me to never mention Christianity in the camp again. Then they told me that they would arrange a husband for me.”
From that day onward, Mercy was forced to attend Islamic teaching along with the others. “We were forced to attend prayers at 5 a.m. After that, we were sent to a madrassa [Islamic school]. They constantly told us to work hard for the advancement of Boko Haram. In the afternoon, we were dispersed to do our chores, such as washing the men’s clothes.”
“I also received a husband a few weeks later,” says Mercy. “Every single day came with tears and fears for the unknown.”
The cruelty she was forced to watch haunts Mercy’s memories. “I witnessed constantly how Boko Haram members killed innocent people. Christian men who were captured and brought to the camp were killed for refusing to deny their faith. But others, including me, could not endure the torture and gave in to their demands.”
After Mercy had spent five weeks in captivity, and five days after she was forced into marriage, the government stepped up its campaign to retake Mubi with a fierce three-day engagement with the insurgents. During the campaign, a bomb dropped by a military fighter jet landed on the house where Mercy was kept. She was the only survivor.
After the insurgents fled, government soldiers combed through the ruins of Mubi and found Mercy in the bombed compound with a broken leg. She was in terrible pain and crying for help. The soldiers took her to a medical clinic where she received emergency care. When Mercy’s condition had stabilized, she was taken to a displaced people’s camp in Yola, a city about 200 miles from Gwoza.
A church worker found Mercy during a visit to the camp and took her to a local clinic to get additional medical care for her broken leg. The church members paid for as much of the treatment as they could, before returning her to the camp. “I thank God for rescuing me. Many lost their lives after being forced into Islam, but I am alive today.”
Source: World Watch Monitor
Abba Father, full of compassion and mercy, you heard Mercy’s cry for help and rescued her. There is nothing in our experience to help us fully comprehend the horror she endured. But Christ, who has gone before us in suffering, understands. Continue, Father, to pour out Your grace and mercy on her. Apply Your healing balm to the terrors she must surely continue to endure. Fill her with courage to face each day and bring into her life those who can walk beside her in prayer and in the study of Your Word. And as You heal her wounds, make her an instrument of Your mercy in the lives of others, that Your church in Nigeria might grow and prevail even in the midst of persecution. In the Name of Jesus, who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, Amen.