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Nigeria: Open Doors ministry to traumatised mums

As the UK prepares to celebrate Mothers’ Day this weekend, Christian charity Open Doors is working in the midst of a humanitarian disaster to support mothers in Nigeria through aid and trauma counselling.

The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has created a humanitarian disaster. It is estimated that Boko Haram have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced about 2.6 million others. Women in particular are struggling; many have been abducted or widowed by Boko Haram, so they have no income and no home. Open Doors is providing them with aid and counselling and by showing mothers that God sees and loves them no matter what they have suffered.

Charity was abducted by Boko Haram when they attacked her village. Her husband managed to run away but Charity was held captive by Boko Haram for three years. As an ‘infidel’, she was forcibly married. She fell pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl, called Rahila. After being freed by the military and returning home, her husband beat her and rejected baby Rahila. Charity now lives in an IDP (‘internally displaced persons’) camp.

Charity continues to face discrimination in the camp. “People in the camp despise me,” she said. “They keep mocking me saying, why didn't I run together with my husband, why did I allow my husband to run away? And now, see, I have come back with a child that is not of my husband, and they keep making fun of me.”

Charity is dependent on aid while she is displaced. “Life is really difficult because there is no water to drink and no food to eat. We struggle to get food,” Charity said. “Even clothes to wear, I don't have them.”

Charity attended a trauma healing workshop run by Open Doors where she drew her self-portrait and studied the Bible with other women. She also learnt techniques to help her deal with and process the trauma she experienced: “I want to say thank you for everybody who has been praying for me and for those who have sent support to help us. Thank you.

“There's a change in my husband. He has started liking my daughter and has even carried her.”

Rebecca, an Open Doors partner, works with widows and orphans in IDP camps, some of whom have been held captive by Boko Haram. She explained: “Everywhere people are displaced, they have left their villages. They are now living in very congested areas. Eight or 10 people living in one room. This is what displaced people are suffering in the camps.

“In times of crisis, people take care of themselves first. Life becomes so difficult that it’s very hard to help others. It is almost impossible for widows to feed themselves and their children.

“Nobody is assisting them. They don’t have husbands. They have never been to school, they are not educated, they cannot read or write so there is nothing they can do.”

Open Doors is supporting Rebecca as she provides practical aid, prayer and counselling to women in the IDP camps: “We provide food, like maize, and sometimes we give them clothes and detergent. We try to help them financially but spiritually we pray for them and sometimes we counsel them.”

Rebecca supports women who have escaped Boko Haram captivity: “When they came out with their babies it is not an easy thing. Even for me to help them. They came out with dirty clothes, no food, nothing. We invited them to where I work in the church. First of all we pray with them. We show them love and that we are not going to hurt them. We become close with them.”

There is stigma associated with being abducted by Boko Haram and Charity’s situation is all too normal. Rebecca works with the wider community to break the stigma of being abducted: “We are also teaching people how to love them. A person should not hate them.”

According to research by Open Doors, Christian women are doubly vulnerable to persecution, targeted for both their faith and gender. Through the campaign ‘See. Change.’ Open Doors is ensuring women are treated with care and dignity, seen when isolated, empowered to read, enabled to earn to provide and confident that God sees and loves them no matter what they have suffered.

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland, said: “This Mothers’ Day we are asking everyone to pray for and support persecuted women who are doubly vulnerable, to help restore their hope, dignity and identity. It costs just £42 to provide food and housing for a woman and child for two months, as well as education for that child.”

Nigeria is number 12 on the Open Doors World Watch List.

The majority of Christians live in the south of the country, and their religious freedom is respected. In the north of Nigeria and the ‘Middle Belt’, where Christians are in the minority, they face horrific levels of persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists.

The militant group Boko Haram abduct and kill those who refuse to conform to their extremist brand of Islam. Attacks by armed groups of Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians. Twelve of the northern states are under Sharia (Islamic law), and Christians in these states face particular discrimination.

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