01 March 2016
Mercy is a 22-year-old Christian from the beautiful town of Gwoza, in Nigeria's north-eastern Borno State. Before the arrival of Boko Haram militants almost 300,000 people had lived there, the majority of whom were Christians. But, slowly, the militants began entering the area, and in June 2014 they violently took over the town and declared it an Islamic caliphate.
Mercy was alone with her father when Boko Haram came in the middle of the night - her mother died from an illness ten years ago. Mercy recounts the night she was kidnapped: "Everyone in the town ran helter-skelter to save themselves. My dad and I were separated. I do not know what happened to him. I think he died the same way many others died because they refused to deny Christ."
A group of attackers burned down their house and captured Mercy and four other women, forcing them into a vehicle. They were taken to a nearby town called Mubi, which had also fallen.
"All the way there they kept threatening us," Mercy continued. "They told us if we did not obey every command once we got to the camp, we would be beaten severely." Their intimidation worked. No one moved. No one spoke a word. All hoped God would hear their prayers.
The 'camp' the women were taken to consisted of a few houses. "When we got to the place, there were about fifty other women," Mercy explained. "I recognised many other Christians who had now all become Muslims and were forced to undergo Islamic teaching."
Mercy could only guess what was in store for her. "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."
Later, Mercy and the others were brought to a clearing for questioning. "They asked if we would agree to become Muslims and 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 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."
The women were forced to take part in a regular routine of Islamic prayers at 5am followed by Islamic studies. The afternoons were spent doing chores for the men.
"I also received a husband a few weeks later," said Mercy. She doesn't want to give details about the arranged marriage; all she says is, "Every single day came with tears and fears for the unknown."
One thing that Mercy cannot forget is the cruelty she was forced to see. "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." For Mercy, this was a heavy load to carry: "I knew God saw my heart, but still I could not sleep. I prayed and fasted like never before. I kept pleading with God to intervene." And God answered.
After five weeks of captivity, the Nigerian government stepped up their campaign to retake Mubi. One of their bombs landed on the house where Mercy was living; she was the only survivor. Government soldiers found Mercy in terrible pain as she had sustained a broken leg in the attack. The soldiers took her to a clinic, after which she was dropped off in a displaced people's camp in Yola.
At 22, most young women around the world are filled with high expectations for the future. But for Mercy, she does not know where she will go from here or what will become of her. Yet, her miraculous survival is helping her to trust God with these uncertainties.
"I thank God for rescuing me," she says. "I thank God for giving me a second chance. Many lost their lives after being forced into Islam, but I am alive today. I have seen God's mercy at work in my life. I may have no one left to care for me, but I have a bigger God who is able to change my situation. I am sure He will take care of me... God spared my life for a purpose."
Why not write to Mercy to offer her reassurance? We would love for you to encourage Mercy in all that she is going through by sending her a message, card or postcard. See the letter-writing webpage for more information.
Open Doors is providing Mercy with the funds she needs for urgent surgery to prevent further damage to her health, and to relieve the pain she is in. We are also in the process of finding trauma care for Mercy, and looking for a means for her to generate a sustainable income.
Source: Open Doors