The recent increase in the use of female suicide bombers throughout Nigeria has also reinforced the widely held belief that women and girls held captive by militants are contributing to the region’s overall insecurity.
Some also believe that the children conceived with the rebels will become the next generation of fighters—carrying the violent characteristics of their biological fathers.
People perceive these victims of conflict as being partly responsible for the violence and losses the entire community suffers during the insurgency. As a result, increasing numbers of children and newborns, as well as their mothers, are ostracized from society and are at risk of even further violence.
Throughout northeastern Nigeria, camps of displaced persons are filled with former Boko Haram captives whose families and communities have rejected them and forced them out of their community, leaving them to fend for themselves and their children.
THEY CALLED MY BABY ‘BOKO’
For Esther, this next unexpected wave of persecution soon overshadowed her newfound freedom.
“They mocked me because I was pregnant,” she says. “Even my grandparents despised me and called me names. I cried many tears. I felt so lonely.
“What broke my heart, even more, was that they refused to call my daughter Rebecca. They referred to her only as ‘Boko.’”
AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
Providentially, Esther connected with Open Doors through the leaders of her church who invited her to attend an Open Doors trauma care seminar. During the training, the leaders encouraged Esther and the other participants to pour out all their pain and anguish at the foot of the cross.
They encouraged them to trust in God, knowing that the Lord is willing and able to free them from the shame and anguish they harbored as victims of sexual violence.
Understanding the importance of surrendering their lives and addressing shame, the caregiver told the participants to write the burdens of their hearts on a piece of paper. She then asked them to pin that paper to the hand-carved wooden cross in the room.
“When I pinned that piece of paper to the cross, it felt like I was handing over all of my sorrow to God,” Esther says. “When the trainer later removed all the pieces of paper from the cross and burnt them to ashes, I felt like my sorrow and shame disappeared, never to come back again.”
Esther continued to receive trauma counseling.
JOY AND LAUGHTER AMID SADNESS
A year after her return to her village, people still struggled to accept Esther and her daughter. But they also noticed a change in the young teenage mother who stands as powerful evidence of God’s unending and transformative love and mercy. Esther is able to say she has peace with herself and what happened to her.
“People have noticed a change,” she says. “Some of those people who used to mock me now ask me my secret. I tell them, ‘I forgave my enemies and now trust God to take vengeance in His time.’”
Today, she and Rebecca live with Esther’s grandparents. Open Doors has also helped provide for Esther and Rebecca’s physical needs, including food aid. The help and care she has received make her feel like family, she says.
“After hearing my story, you did not despise me but encouraged me and showed me love. Thank you so much!”
The child the young girl thought she could never love—she now loves deeply. Like her biblical namesake, God has worked miracles both in and through Esther of Gwoza and her daughter.
“Rebecca has become my joy and laughter amid sadness.”
PRAYING WITH ESTHER AND FOR NIGERIA
- Please pray with Esther as she continues to walk a difficult and often lonely road. Pray that she would continue to cast her sorrows on her Savior and that she would begin to see the plan God has for her life.
- Pray with Esther for Rebecca’s life and future as she grows up in a community that looks down on and even shuns her. Pray that God would work miracles in Rebecca’s life and unmistakably reveal Himself to her as her creator and Savior. Pray that the Lord will continue to use baby Rebecca to illustrate His love and mercy to people around her.
- Pray with all the women, girls and children who have been ostracized from their community because of their exposure to rebel fighters. Pray for their strength, protection and provision.
- Pray with the estimated 20,000 men, women and children who are still captives of Boko Haram. Pray for their protection and that they would sense God’s presence in their nightmare.
- Pray for the estimated 2.7 million conflict-affected children in Nigeria in need of psychosocial support. Pray that they would seek and find help and come to know the true Healer of their hearts and minds.
This article originally appeared here.