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Deborah: Christian, mother and persecuted prisoner of Boko Haram

May 16, 2024 by Chandler Peterson in Persecuted Christians in Nigeria

Deborah did.

For nearly two years, she was held captive by Boko Haram, confined within the walls of a compound in northern Nigeria. Every morning, she was required to wake early, wash, perform Muslim prayers and attend classes at the mosque. Then, she’d wash and pray again before returning to the “husband” forced upon her that week.

Boko Haram is a terrorist organization formed in the early 2000s and based in northeastern Nigeria. Its militants are responsible for thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people. Boko Haram has specifically targeted Christians in northern Nigeria as part of its campaign to establish an Islamic state, leading to numerous attacks on Christian villages, churches and individuals. These attacks often involve armed assaults, bombings, kidnappings and other forms of violence, leading to a climate of fear and persecution in the region.

At a young age, Deborah placed her faith in Jesus, as did her mother, but her father was not a Christian. He often got angry when they went to church or read their Bibles. Because of this, Deborah was given to be married when she was just 15 years old.

On September 5, Deborah gave birth to her second child, a daughter. The very next day, their whole world changed forever when the radical terrorist group invaded her home village of Chibok. At the time, Deborah was inside with her newborn when she heard gunfire.

“When I heard a gunshot, I rushed out, only to find my husband lying dead at the doorstep,” Deborah said.

She hurried back inside, but the men pounded on the door. “They told me to open the door or be killed,” Deborah said. She refused, so the men fired their guns at the door, threw it open and took Deborah and her two daughters by force. 

Deborah becomes a persecuted prisoner of Boko Haram

This moment marked the beginning of Deborah’s prolonged captivity. Over the next year and nine months, she was forced into twenty different “marriages.” After about two weeks, each marriage ended, and another began.

It was an unthinkable nightmare, but Deborah did everything she could to protect her young children—and to stay alive.

Deborah, a persecuted prisoner of Boko Haram.

Deborah, like other Christian captives, was compelled to convert to Islam. Christian prisoners were humiliated and isolated before being coerced into conversion. All prisoners were indoctrinated, made to wash, pray and read the Qur’an daily. 

“When new groups of Christians were captured, and they had not yet converted to Islam, we were told not to speak to them because they were unbelievers,” Deborah said.

Despite being forced to outwardly convert, Deborah clung to her faith in Christ throughout her imprisonment.

“Whenever I would kneel to pray, I would silently plead with God to save me from their hands,” she said. “I prayed, questioning how my life would turn out and what would become of my children.”

Deborah’s miraculous escape

One night, after nearly two years of suffering, Deborah miraculously found the door of their compound unlocked. Seizing this rare opportunity, she and her friend fled with their babies. They ran for two weeks through the harsh Nigerian bush, enduring severe sickness, infections and hunger.

More than five million Nigerian Christians have embarked on similar journeys, fleeing their homes and the terror of Boko Haram. For the last ten years, these extremist groups have dominated in eastern and northern Nigeria. Their violent attacks continue to terrorize the region at an unprecedented rate. Women like Deborah are particularly vulnerable to violence in these attacks and are often abducted, forced into marriage and assaulted.

After her escape, Deborah was moved from refugee camp to refugee camp, where she encountered GCR’s partners. Recognizing the severity of her health issues, our partners immediately provided her with food and medical care. She was given a safe place to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.

While in captivity, Deborah could never have imagined the life she leads today.

“I had lost hope of ever becoming someone significant,” she said. “I had lost hope of ever being free.”

Now, she has reasons for optimism. Deborah and her children have a home to call their own. She works as a caretaker in a school run by GCR field partners and takes pride in her community role. She can support her children and holds high hopes for their futures.

Deborah said that GCR’s partners provided everything she needed, from food and water to shelter and health care for her children.

“They have helped me so much,” she said. “All I can say is may God repay you for your generosity!”

About the author
Chandler Peterson is a staff writer and editor for Global Christian Relief where she shares stories of Christian persecution. Read the latest Christian persecution stories on our website and learn more at

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