Originally published in The Gospel Herald
A Nigerian Christian woman has refused to turn her back on her faith — even after Boko Haram militants murdered her husband and kidnapped her three children.
According to a report from persecution watchdog Open Doors USA, Deborah Shettima converted to Christianity from Islam and married her husband against the wishes of her family. Despite enduring threats and persecution at the hands of her neighbors and family members, Deborah refused to return to Islam.
Several years later, Boko Haram militants stormed her house, and shot and killed Deborah’s husband before kidnapping her two young daughters. When Deborah begged the fighters to leave her daughter, they simply shoved her to the floor, nearly paralyzing her. Three months later, the Islamic extremists reappeared, and this time killed Deborah’s only son.
Instead of helping her, Deborah’s family attempted to convince her to return to Islam. Refusing to give into their demands, she moved away from her home, physically and mentally traumatized. However, the one thing that remained firm was her faith in Christ: “I have been living a difficult life,” she told Open Doors. “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 added, “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.”
Established in 2002, Boko Haram initially focused on opposing Western-style education. However, the terrorist group eventually became more radical, carried out more killings and swore allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. Today, Boko Haram refers to itself as IS’ “West African province”.
Over the past seven years, the group has killed more than 20 000 people and drove more than 2.2 million from their homes, and still stages suicide bombings in northeast Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
Boko Haram has expressed a desire to wipe out those who don’t adhere to its particular brand of Islam, and recently announced it will focus on attacking Christian humanitarian groups that “exploit the condition of those who are displaced under the raging war, providing them with food and shelter and then Christianizing their children.”
Earlier this year, Open Doors once again visited Deborah, and revealed the Christian woman looked tired and worn out, and had 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.
Deborah continues to face challenges, as her lease has expired and the landlord has doubled the rent and 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 noted it is helping her pay the rent now.
Despite her bleak circumstances, Deborah displayed a staunch faith in Christ and a belief that one day, she will be reunited with her family. She shared how the cards hundreds of Christians have sent her from around the world have carried her in her lowest moments.
“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,” she said.
“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.”