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07 September 2016

Deborah Shettima has lived in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, throughout the insurgency that has gained momentum from 2009. It is a miracle that she has survived the constant battles, suicide bombings and targeted attacks. But an even bigger miracle is that this woman has survived spiritually after losing all of her family members.

On the afternoon of 25 April 2012, a group of Boko Haram militants stormed Deborah Shettima's house. They shot her husband dead in front of her eyes and then abducted her two daughters, Tabitha (who was 7) and Sarah (who was 9). Deborah begged them to leave her daughters, but the only response she got was a blow to the face that left her near-paralysed on the floor.

Three months later, another group of Boko Haram followers were back. This time they killed Deborah's only son. These events left Deborah deeply traumatised, and everyone wondered how her faith could possibly survive.

Deborah had converted to Christianity from Islam and married her husband against the wishes of her family. She expected no help from them. In fact, it was no big surprise when they tried to use her vulnerability to persuade her to return to Islam. Her Muslim neighbours also threatened her.

She did not give in to them but decided to move away instead. She vacated the house her husband built and rented an apartment elsewhere.

"I have been living a difficult life," she stated during a previous visit from Open Doors. But there was no sign that she was giving up on her faith. "I have decided to accept Christ. I will, for as long as I live, remain a Christian. It doesn't matter the threat," she said.

"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."

There was no notion of self-reliance in her demeanor. In fact, she marveled at her own survival and it all only made sense when she heard about the prayers of many around the world.


When Open Doors visited battle-weary Maiduguri at the end of August this year, we went to see Deborah. She was so excited to see the team, but for them it wasn't an easy meeting. Deborah looked tired and run down and she has lost a lot of weight.

Deborah said, "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."

There are other challenges too. Her lease has expired and the landlord has doubled the rent. He is threatening to evict her. "Where would I get the money? I just 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 is helping her pay the rent and we will keep a close eye on this development.

But astonishingly, it did not look like her spiritual knees were buckling under the constant pressure. It seems the love we had shown over the years is still contributing to her survival. The Open Doors workers were pleasantly surprised to see cards we delivered earlier pasted on to her walls.

"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 many believers around the world are praying for me and my children. 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 that even if I may not see them again in this life we will meet at the feet of Jesus."

"I can wholeheartedly say that Open Doors 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. Open Doors has been a Godsend to me personally."

We thank you for the love you have shown this sister in the Lord. Please continue to pray for Deborah and her daughters, Tabitha and Sarah.