Ayuba was only 20 when his father was murdered by Islamic extremists in a vicious attack on his village. Here's his extraordinary story, from seeking vengeance to choosing to forgive. And here's how you can help believers like Ayuba stand up to violent persecution.
Ayuba* vividly remembers the day that Boko Haram came to his village. Where he lives in the north east of Nigeria, this is a danger that everyone knows could happen: violent attacks by Islamic militant groups are increasing and there is the constant threat of attack. But nothing could truly prepare him for the day it became a reality. He was only 20 years old.
“Around 6pm, word spread that Boko Haram were approaching our village,” he remembers. “My dad told me to remain at home.” It wasn’t long before the situation escalated. “By 10pm, people had started running for their lives, because Boko Haram had arrived in our community.”
Thousands of communities in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing violent crises like this. Last year, more than 5,000 Christians were killed for their faith in Nigeria – that’s 14 people a day, and about 90% of all the Christians murdered for their faith across the world. Thousands more were abducted or forced to leave their homes. And yet much of the world doesn’t seem to notice.
14 Nigerian Christians are killed every day for their faith
That’s why the church in sub-Saharan Africa is calling for support – and the Arise Africa campaign aims to wake up the global church to the persecution and suffering taking place on such an extraordinary scale, and to unite with them in standing up to violent persecution. That means raising prayer, awareness and vital support for Christians, like Ayuba, directly affected by the violence.
With Boko Haram torching buildings nearby, Ayuba knew he couldn’t wait anymore. He and his younger brothers and sisters fled the village, hiding some distance away overnight. “I started crying, but someone with us cheered me up and asked me to pray rather than cry. I did, and I told others to stop crying – and to pray, instead. When we finished praying, we slept there by the riverbank until morning.”
Ayuba’s father had initially been hiding at his sister-in-law’s house, where he was the only Christian. When Boko Haram burst into the house, they singled him out. It’s not only Christians who are affected by attacks in the region – but, in this attack, they were targeted. Ayuba tells the story based on what he heard later from his relatives.
“They grabbed our father and took him with them. He kept asking what his offence was, but they did not reply. They brought him outside and put him on his knees.”
The militants demanded that Ayuba’s father read a passage from the Qu’ran, as a test to see if he was a Muslim. But he didn’t try to hide his faith in Jesus. When they asked him if he was a Muslim or a Christian, he replied ‘Christian’. That reply was all the militants needed to hear to kill him. They beheaded Ayuba’s father on the spot.
In the morning, not yet knowing what had happened, Ayuba and the others made their way back to the village. “Everywhere was silent,” remembers Ayuba. “When we approached our house, I could see three bodies on the ground. I recognised my father by his clothing. I dropped to my knees by his side and prayed.”
"God, I am grateful – You have given and You have taken." Ayuba
Even in that moment of grief, Ayuba was able to give thanks to God. He said, “God, I am grateful – You have given and You have taken. May my father rest together with You.” His words echo Job’s in Job 1:21: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Nine Christians were killed in the attack.
Ayuba vowed to take revenge. He even started carrying a knife. A man in the village had helped Boko Haram identify their targets, and Ayuba was determined to kill him. “It was all I could think about,” he says.
But then he heard that the Islamic militants were planning to return. He says: “A few weeks after the attack, Boko Haram sent a list to our village – a list of people they are coming to kill. And my name was on it.”
Ayuba was reluctant to leave, but was eventually persuaded to move his siblings to another village. From there, a local pastor was able to arrange for them to move further south, about eight hours’ drive away.
It was here that Ayuba was able to get trauma care at a centre run by Open Doors partners. Our partners have been supporting persecuted believers in sub-Saharan Africa for many years, and so their networks are expertly equipped and experienced to support people like Ayuba. When his father was murdered, Ayuba was at an age when persecution can have a particularly damaging impact on a young believer’s faith. Being a young Christian in his community, he took on a lot of responsibility – his life looks radically different from that of other people his age. And now, he is the breadwinner for his family.
This sort of persecution can determine the path a young Christian chooses to follow. As well as making it much harder to pay fees for schooling, the young person might decide that following Jesus is too hard where they live, and opt for an ‘easier’ path. Trauma care is a powerful way to ensure this doesn’t happen – instead, it can help a young person to heal and to understand the love and sovereignty of God, even in the face of persecution.
Ayuba found the trauma care transformative. When asked about the biggest lesson he learned at the trauma care centre, he says, “Forgiveness.” Before the counselling, he was determined to murder the man who’d betrayed his father – but, at the trauma centre, he handed over the knife he’d been carrying. “Before coming here, I had decided never to forgive, and to avenge my father’s death,” Ayuba says, “I have no problem with this man now. If we meet, we would greet each other.
"I decided to let go of my anger and have peace. God brought me here to heal me." Ayuba
“I thought to myself, what would I gain going around with a knife seeking for revenge, and my mind is never at peace? So I decided to let go of my anger and have peace. God brought me here to heal me. Honestly, if I had not come, I don’t know how I would have ended up.”
Boko Haram wanted to destroy Ayuba’s faith – but, as Joseph says in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” The opposite of Boko Haram’s plans happened: Ayuba’s faith was strengthened by the trauma care.
Ayuba has a message for Open Doors supporters: “I thank you so much; it is because of you that I have peace in my mind now. I said I would never forgive, and I wanted to take my revenge, but now I have forgiven totally. I have learned to leave everything at the feet of Jesus.”
Without this trauma care, he would be another young person lost to their traumatic circumstances. Instead, he is also able to help others facing similar trauma to him. “Firstly, I would tell them to pray, because without prayer nothing will work. I wouldn’t be here if not for prayers,” he says. “Other people going through the same things – I would like them to come to this programme. Because whatever has happened to you, you will find others who have the same issues, and more.”
God has used a particular psalm to encourage Ayuba too. “In Psalm 91, there is a portion which talks about how a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Honestly, this verse has encouraged me a lot because it helps me pray more often,” he says.
As the breadwinner for his family at such a young age, Ayuba needs ongoing practical support and prayers from his global church family. With your help, he can continue to get financial help from Open Doors partners, so he can continue his education and support his siblings.
Ayuba’s story is just one of thousands of stories in Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa. Today, you can join the courageous African church in standing against escalating violence. You can help ensure that other believers experience the same extraordinary transformation that Ayuba was able to receive – from revenge and despair to forgiveness and hope.
Today, you can answer the call of the courageous local church and join with them in standing up to violent persecution. The future of the church in sub-Saharan Africa is at risk. But, together, we can help ensure they are able to persevere, grow and share the gospel – now and for years to come. And it starts today with your prayers and your support. Thank you.
You can send a message of encouragement to Christians at the trauma care centre – it would mean so much to the people receiving counselling, as well as those providing vital support.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.