"I feel at peace whenever I pronounce a word of forgiveness upon the people who destroyed my peace by killing my beloved husband and taking away my children," says Deborah Shettima.
On April 25, 2013, a group of armed Boko Haram insurgents stormed the Shettima family compound in Maiduguri, Borno State in Northern Nigeria. They shot Deborah's husband in front of her, and abducted her two young daughters, Tabitha (7) and Sarah (9). Three months later, on the same day that Muslims announced a dedicatory celebration in honor of the deceased Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, they broke into the devastated widow's home again, and fatally shot her remaining 20-year-old son.
When Open Doors (OD) visited Deborah again recently to offer encouragement, she was clearly still struggling to come to terms with her tragic loss. She remains in a state of trauma due to the ongoing fear of further Boko Haram attacks in this volatile region, and she suffers from isolation. Deborah has few people with whom to share her burden as the continuing onslaught on the church has rendered it completely overburdened in assisting the ever-growing number of widows in the state.
"I am living a difficult life," Deborah said humbly. "I have been asking God to please show me if my daughters are still alive so that I could at least have a minute to smile again."
Even as she battles with the grief of losing her husband and son, and the uncertainty of her daughters' welfare, Deborah must also face her Muslim family members who are pressuring her to return to Islam. Having converted to Christianity and married her husband against the wishes of her parents, Deborah now finds that in her vulnerable and isolated state, her family is using these difficult circumstances to compel her to return. Threats from neighbors have already forced her out of the house that her husband built, and into a rented apartment near a military barracks.
Deborah confesses that it is a constant struggle to make ends meet. When we visited Deborah, her lease had expired, and the landlord was insisting that she renew her lease or vacate. Open Doors is helping her cover her rent.
Despite all the threats and pain, Deborah's faith remains rock solid. "I have decided to accept Christ. I will, for as long as I live, remain a Christian. It doesn't matter the threat," she bravely declared. "I am willing to die for my faith in Christ."
"Life might not be very easy, 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."
"Life in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, is very difficult for Christians. Every minute of their lives is a miraculous provision of God," explains Open Doors worker, Isaac.
Many of you have sent letters to encourage Deborah. While security issues have made it impossible for Open Doors (OD) to deliver the huge box of letters to her yet, an OD representative told Deborah, "that there are many Christians around the world that have been faithfully praying for her, and that she has received about 44 lbs. of letters, which we will do our best to bring to her soon."
Knowing that her global church family is interceding on her behalf overwhelms Deborah's humble heart, and gives her the strength to go on. "I am not worthy for people to care for me this much," she says. "Their prayers are giving me peace. I couldn't understand the source of this peace before, but now I do. It is true that God hears His people. I now am aware that people are praying for me, and I do not feel alone. I am so glad to know that people care about me. This love alone will keep me going and strengthened to live for Christ. The Lord will bless everyone who prayed for me."