The four gospels in the New Testament provide abundant examples of Jesus teaching his followers the cost of discipleship. Persecution by the world is part of what it means to be a Christian.
On some occasions, the stark reality of Jesus’s teachings come into such sharp focus that human experience seems to be nothing less than a dramatic interpretation of biblical texts. Recently, I came across such an instance.
The story below concerns a teenage girl named Debbie. Debbie is from an area of Nigeria particularly hard-hit by the terrorist activities of the Islamic group Boko Haram. Debbie recently agreed to cooperate with theHudson Institute and the Jubilee Campaign to work on behalf of the hundreds of girls who have been kidnapped in Nigeria.
Debbie’s story is a dramatic interpretation of the reality of Christ’s words to his followers in Matthew 10:32-33.
At 7:30pm, three men knocked on the door. Debbie’s brother opened it because the leader was a Muslim acquaintance from a nearby village. However, this was no social call. Boko Haram had arrived. The men asked the children where their father was. Upon hearing that he was in the shower, the men dragged Pastor Peter from the bathroom into the main room. The three men demanded that he deny his faith and convert to Islam. Pastor Peter refused, stating that “Jesus said whoever acknowledges Him in front of man, He will acknowledge in front of God; and whoever denies Him in front of man, He will deny in front of God.” The men threatened to kill him but Pastor Peter still refused to deny his faith. The men then shot him dead. Debbie’s brother hysterically started demanding, “What did he do to you?” “Why did you kill him?” Boko Haram then discussed whether they should kill Debbie’s brother. One man said he was too young because Boko Haram’s rules of engagement forbid killing children. However, the leader decided that they should make an exception in this case because a pastor’s son will only grow up to be a pastor evangelizing about Jesus. So the men brutally shot and killed the boy.
Debbie grew emotional as she described, in graphic detail, how Boko Haram slaughtered her brother. After composing herself, she continued her story. “I was in shock; I didn’t know what was happening,” she recounted, “so they put me in the middle of my dad and brother.” The men threatened her, telling her to be quiet or be killed, and then left Debbie tied between the corpses of her dad and brother. It took the army a day to gain courage to enter the area, find Debbie, and take her to the hospital.
After Debbie finished her story, moderator Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom, asked her why she had not told her story to the world before now. “I want to help the other kids,” Debbie stated, “I hope if people hear my story, they will understand and they will know more and more of what God said, and understand what it means to stand strong and courageous.” Debbie explained that Chibok, where her parents originated, is a mostly Christian community. The Chibok people, both Christian and Muslim, lived peacefully with one another as friends before Boko Haram invaded the area. Debbie’s mom graduated from the Chibok school where the girls were kidnapped. In fact, Debbie even knows some of the kidnapped girls and had played with them as a child.
She finished her statement by standing in solidarity with her sisters against Boko Haram violence, holding up a sign stating “Bring Back My Sisters.”
Emmanuel Ogebe, Nigerian special counsel for Jubilee Campaign which rescued Debbie, followed up Debbie’s story with a plea to end the violence. He disclosed how Debbie came to America-through a 9/11 foundation for child victims of terrorism and then through a school for needy children. Emmanuel explained why Jubilee Campaign had kept Debbie hidden for so long-because Boko Haram later decided that they should have also killed her, as the daughter of an apostate Muslim mother who converted to Christianity. For two years, Debbie remained hidden, protected from further violence by radical terrorists. “That changed a couple of weeks ago,” Emmanuel pointed out, “when the terrorists went to Debbie’s village and abducted hundreds of girls. We asked Debbie, do you want to speak up and put a face to this tragedy?” Debbie agreed to bring awareness to this issue shortly after her 15th birthday.