06 July 2015
Martina Paul, a 32-year-old mother of five, remembers the night she was taken by Boko Haram militants: "The insurgents came to our village at night. I was in the room with my husband and the kids. We said our prayers, went to bed, and woke up to the sound of explosions and gunshots all over the village. We heard cries of other people in the village, shouting the name of Jesus.
"The insurgents broke down our doors and entered. We were also shouting, calling on the name of Jesus. They told us to stop calling on Jesus, but we persisted. My husband embraced me and the kids, all the while calling on the name of Jesus. The attackers drew him away and shot him in front of us and then set the house on fire and went away with us to the forest. I was pregnant and pleaded with them to spare us, but they took me and the children captive."
She gave birth after five months in a Boko Haram camp, but the militants killed her child because she praised the name of Jesus after he was born.
Martina is just one of an estimated 2,000 women and girls who have been abducted by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, including the over 200 girls who were taken from a school in Chibok in April 2014.
But Martina is one of the lucky ones; in May she was rescued when the army made major breakthroughs in the Sambisa forest, and ten Boko Haram camps were cleared from this stronghold, freeing hundreds of women and children.
"To God be the glory. We have been rescued by God himself," Martina says.
STARVATION, CONVERSION, AND FORCED MARRIAGE
An Open Doors researcher for Nigeria, Isaac, was able to meet with Martina and some of the other rescued women and children who had been taken to Yola, Adamawa State. A total of 276 women had been brought to this particular camp; while they are now safe, they are clearly traumatised from their horrific ordeal.
When Isaac visited, four of the women were pregnant, and 30 were critically ill. Many were also sick and malnourished. The women and children were fed just once a day in the Boko Haram camp - corn flour porridge and soup. Those who missed this 'meal' for any reason had to wait until the next day. "The small children are in a pathetic state as a result of starvation by their captors," Isaac says.
About 34 of the women and children in the camp were Christians. Elizabeth (20) told Isaac of how they were forced to convert to Islam. She says: "When we arrived in the camp, some of the girls who were captured with us refused to be Islamised. They stood firm in Christ. I saw them being stoned to death as they called on Jesus. I was terrified and agreed to become a Muslim to spare my life."
Their names were changed to Muslim names, and calls to prayer had to be observed by all.
Isaac also learned that the abducted women were forced to marry. Those who protested were publically punished as an example to others; this punishment could be 80 lashes, death by shooting, or having their throats slit. Death threats and rape were a daily reality.
Elizabeth told Isaac, "I was given a husband, but I was lucky because the day I was to be taken to his tent, they went to attack some villages and he never returned, possibly because he was killed by the military during the attack."
'I CLUNG TO GOD WHO KNOWS ME'
These women thank God for sparing their lives. In the midst of their harrowing tales, they testify that the Lord has heard our prayers for them — not only in their rescue, but in His sustaining grace to them as they faced each day in the camp.
Elizabeth says: "I was very close to God in secret prayer. I could feel God's presence. He assured me that I will be reunited with my people one day. This is the day."
Another, Waliya Samiyu (25) says: "God never disowns his people. He never let me down. My friends lost their lives in my presence. I went through hardship. I was raped. I saw hell. But I clung to God who knows me. I cried to Him day and night.
"At night, when everyone was dealing with their trauma, I gazed at the stars in heaven and constantly reminded God of His promises in times like these. He kept his promises. I survived it. Now I am free. To God be the glory."
Isaac held an impromptu prayer meeting with the Christians in the camp, and was able to deliver some practical support to them in the form of powdered milk, cloth, soap, and some financial gifts. Knowing that these gifts represented the love and prayers of Christian brothers and sisters from around the world was a real source of encouragement, and helped to show these traumatised believers that they hadn't been forgotten.
Racheal John (25) says: "I wish my eyes could see the people who sent this support to me. I don't know what to say. One thing I will never forget is that I have brothers and sisters who care for me and who prayed for my rescue. The Lord will shower his blessings on every single one that contributed to this support."
Vilita John (15) says: "I will remember this gift for as long as I live. The items might be spent, but the words that accompanied the gifts will remain forever in me. To God be the glory."
Isaac says: "The rescued believers were encouraged by our presence at a time when they felt the world had abandoned them. Hearing that the larger body of Christ has been praying for them and has been concerned for them restored a measure of confidence, hope, and acceptance."
'HE HAS SOMETHING FOR ME IN THIS LIFE'
While we praise God that these women and children are now free, we know that they will continue to need our support and prayers for the hard road ahead. Dr. Fatima Akilu, who is in charge of Nigeria's counter-violence and extremism program and is caring for around 300 of the recently rescued women and children, told the BBC: "Recovery is going to be slow, it's going to be long... It's going to be bumpy."
The rescued women and children have been moved to military barracks to avoid attack from the insurgents, but it is unclear how long they will remain there.
The future is also uncertain for orphaned children; Isaac met with one 10-year-old girl called Alisa who saw Boko Haram kill both her parents, and was then in a Boko Haram camp for seven months. But she hasn't given up hope. Alisa says: "I don't know what to do. I have no one to help me. But I am sure that if God allowed my parents to be killed, He will take care of me. I look up to Him. The way He rescued me shows that He has something for me in this life."