This Easter, Hajaratu tells her heart-breaking story of child-loss* during a militant attack on her Christian village. As violent attacks on Christians increase in sub-Saharan Africa, we sense more of the pain Jesus took to the cross on Good Friday. But it doesn’t end there. You are part of God’s story of hope and comfort, your prayers and support are helping her to heal.
*Warning: Hajaratu’s story contains content that some may find distressing
The children were in bed. Hot coals glowed in the dwindling fire, so widow Hajaratu warmed her feet and drifted off to sleep. Gunshots woke her.
“I flung my little daughter on my back, strapped her on with a cloth and went to the gate,” she says. Her four older children ran to join the others fleeing the militant Fulani attack.
People ran towards the river, so Hajaratu followed, hoping to get help. But it’s hard to run fast with a baby on your back. She tripped and fell.
“I got stuck in the mud,” she says. “I left my shoes there, trying to escape. The shoes are still there today.”
She cried for help, but the others were too far ahead. Muddy and soaked, her daughter crying on her back, she finally reached the river. Hajaratu didn’t know how to swim, but the river wasn’t full. She had no choice. Gunshots cracking behind her, she stepped into the rushing water with her daughter.
Into the river
The river grew deeper. Hajaratu lost her footing. Her head went under and she fought for breath, over and over again. She says, “I began to drown. My daughter cried as I struggled to the surface.”
She pushed for the bank but the current pulled against her. As she reached the muddy shoreline, she gasped for air. Secure at last, Hajaratu turned to comfort her daughter on her back.
She was gone. The cloth had washed down the river, and her daughter with it.
As Hajaratu began to cry uncontrollably, Jesus was with her. As she staggered through the bush, hearing the shouts and shots of Fulani militants targeting her Christian village, Jesus was with her. As she sobbed, her heart broken, through the worst night of her life, Jesus was with her.
This is the gospel of Easter. God suffers with us. Whatever cruelty, whatever persecution, whatever loss, our pain is His pain. And with that knowledge comes hope. There is no depth of darkness the light of the gospel cannot reach.
The hope of the resurrection is critical as attacks on Christian villages like Hajaratu’s spread with impunity from the north of Nigeria into the Middle Belt. This is part of a wave of extremist violence across Sub-Saharan Africa, driven by an expansionist militant Islamist agenda and fuelled by pressure on resources such as land, water and food sources.
“If we do not continue our efforts, Christianity in the north may die out in the next five years,” says Timothy*, Open Doors’ team leader for Nigeria.
Yet through your prayers and support, God is working. Timothy shares that he has seen people like Hajaratu survive attacks, just to die of trauma and despair. Thanks to your support for Open Doors, Hajaratu’s is a story of hope.
Reunited with her four older children, she spent time in a camp before returning to her village months later. Your gifts and prayers meant Hajaratu could receive items like rice and corn to feed her children, financial support to rebuild her home and trauma counselling to help her through her grief.
Hajaratu says, “I was greatly encouraged through the trauma programme. I am saying a big thank-you. The wisdom that God has given you, may He increase it so that you can do more for others.”
Vision of hope
We share Hajaratu’s prayer. This is the vision: to ensure that every believer facing the trauma of persecution is cared for and encouraged. To meet every persecuted believer’s basic needs for food, water, shelter, a livelihood. To empower the persecuted church so they can remain at their heart of their community – whatever the risk.
But this isn’t possible without the support and prayers of believers like you.
Hajaratu’s story is painful, yet the hope of the gospel remains. Timothy says, “I want to ask you not to get tired. The church is living in the north today because of your prayers, because of the money you are sending. The church is not only surviving. The church is thriving.”
*Name changed for security reasons
- For Hajaratu and her family as they continue to grieve and heal from the loss of her daughter, that God would provide for them and give them peace
- For the work of Open Doors partners in Nigeria as they continue to support persecuted Christians
- That God would thwart the plans of Fulani militants and bring peace to Nigeria’s Middle Belt.
Your support this Easter will cause hope to rise for persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria – so they may survive, stay strong and be safe.
Every Php 2,350 could give a Christian family of five food for a month after they’ve fled their home.
Every Php 5,000 can help train a church goer as a counsellor who can help many persecuted Christians through their trauma.
Every Php 7,500 could give a church leader crucial discipleship training as they serve on the front line in a volatile region.