See. Change.

Sowing seeds of hope for the hidden victims of violence

Rikiya from Nigeria survived a brutal attack on her village. But as a widow, she then faced social exclusion, as well as poverty. Women like Rikiya are doubly vulnerable to persecution, targeted for their gender and their faith. But your support through the church is sowing seeds of hope, healing and new life.

“Houses are being set on fire in the neighboring village!” shouted Rikiya’s neighbor, bursting into her home. She ran outside. Smoke filled the air as flames consumed the next village. She didn’t have much time. Her village would be next. 

Boko Haram soldiers were coming to attack. 

Rikiya knew the danger that militant Boko Haram extremists presented to her Christian community in northern Nigeria. She knew that as a woman, she could be singled out for violence. In village raids like these, soldiers had been abducting girls, raping women, destroying livelihoods and burning homes. 

Village on fire 

Rikiya gathered her three children and ran, crossing the rocky terrain outside her home. The police station had already been burnt. So, the family hid in the village primary school. “Bullets kept flying over our heads,” she says. 

By late night, Rikiya and her children made it to the next town and found shelter. They stayed away for two months before it was safe to return. But by this time, she had lost it all. 

Only one month before the attack, Rikiya’s husband had taken ill and suddenly died. She was still grieving, wondering how she would manage to provide for her family alone. 

“I was so traumatized.”

“When I came back, it was not easy for me. I was a widow with three children. It was not easy,” she says, pinching her eyes to hold back the tears. She pauses through the pain. 

“I was so traumatized; my husband is gone, and Boko Haram had captured our village. We had nothing except the clothes on our body.” 

All she could do was pick through the rubble. She found a few larger pieces of burnt corrugated metal and made a small shelter. 

Shortly after, Open Doors workers visited the grieving community and began the long journey to restoration for Rikiya and her neighbors. 

“You came to rescue me,” she says. “First, with your trauma healing. I discovered my trauma was like a wound that needed to heal. The scar would always be there, but the wound would get better.” 

Hope and healing 

Thanks to your support, Open Doors was able to help Rikiya overcome the trauma she had suffered, rebuild her life and make a living. Because of people like you, Open Doors was able to provide a microloan to help Rikiya purchase two female goats. Each goat produces two kids every season. Every time Rikiya has a need, she sells one of the goats. Sometimes it’s for her children’s school fees; other times for food, crops or clothing.

“You are the [ones] who brought hope and healing back to me,” she says. “Since then, God has been my father, my husband, my everything. All of this has made me closer to God than I have ever been before. Honestly, if not for the loan I received to raise these goats, I don’t know what I would have done.” 

Doubly vulnerable 

Today, Christian women like Rikiya are doubly vulnerable: targeted for their gender and their faith. They are singled out for violence, then face social exclusion, leading to trauma and poverty.  

In Jesus’ day, women had low social status, as in many parts of the world today. But Jesus treated women differently, seeing beyond the judgments of his society and affording them dignity and honor. When Jesus rose from the dead, he first appeared to Mary Magdalene. John 20:18 tells us: 

“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” 

I see you 

Persecuted women are often hidden, their suffering invisible. Just as Mary Magdalene saw the Lord, so the Lord sees the suffering of women who are persecuted today. Jesus sees pain and replaces it with love. And we have the opportunity to ‘see’ our sisters who are suffering, and to sow seeds of hope in their lives. 

Rikiya has begun the long road to recovery – and many like her face this same hard journey. With your support and prayers, they won’t have to make that journey alone, without hope. 

Her name means ‘Exalted by the Lord.’ God is using the support and prayers of her worldwide family to make that promise a reality. 

“I am healed [from my trauma], and I always tell people you healed me,” Rikiya says. “Thank you.”

Will you strengthen, restore and give courage to women like Rikiya who are doubly vulnerable to persecution? 

See these women and help change their reality. Sow seeds of hope today. Here’s what you can do:

1. Pray to the God who sees the hidden suffering of persecuted women and who can restore hope and dignity.

“Please pray for us” – this is the number one request Open Doors receives from persecuted believers. Our magazine and prayer calendars, which we release every quarter, can be your guide for prayer. You can pray for your persecuted sisters during your personal time with the Lord or even set up a prayer group for persecuted women.

2. Read Open Doors’ 2020 Gender-specific Religious Persecution (GSRP) report. 

The study of gender-specific religious persecution (GSRP) focuses on the overlay between a person’s gender vulnerabilities in a given society and their vulnerabilities as a member of a religious minority. This report studies global patterns for Christian men and women across the 50 countries on the 2020 World Watch List, and again reinforces that persecution is gender specific. Even when the situation is difficult for all members of a given Christian community, the situation of women is often worse because of their additional gender-based vulnerabilities.

Open Doors’ Global Gender Persecution Specialist, Helene Fisher, says, “This year’s report highlights the lifelong impact of the persecution women and girls suffer because of their faith. When women and girls are sexually assaulted, they endure untold mental and physical abuse while also sometimes trapped in “marriages” against their will. Even if they can escape the terrors of this fate, a devastating stigma and rejection will now follow them for the rest of their life. This shame is meant to leave these women alive but with no future. Sadly, even in Christian communities, rejection is practiced out of shame and a lack of knowledge. No future for them also means they won’t be part of a future family within their religious community.”

Knowing the different areas of vulnerability and sensitivity for women and even men can help you come alongside the Church with greater understanding.

3. Invite Open Doors to your church.

In 2018, Open Doors Philippines had its first speaker tour called: By Faith. We invited Naomi* from Nigeria to share her testimony and have fellowship with groups and churches in the Philippines.

Naomi is one of the many women who became widows after the 2008 Jos crisis, where at least 129 Christians died and 45 churches were destroyed. She didn’t know how to get over the loss of her husband and raise 11 children who now don’t have a father to turn to. But God took care of her and her family. Through the prayers and gifts of people from all over the world, Open Doors was able to help her start a small shop and give her emotional and spiritual support through a trauma healing seminar. Because of God’s faithfulness, she was able to have peace and forgive those who killed her husband. She now serves other widows in her church.

Watch these videos to hear her testimony and to see her journey in the Philippines:

You can invite Open Doors to share the story of persecuted women in different parts of the world to your local church.

If you are interested in getting your church involved in strengthening persecuted believers and would like to connect with our team, please send an e-mail to philippines@od.org.

*Name changed for security reasons