For Christians in Nigeria, including a mother with a harrowing story of loss and survival, Jesus’ Cross gives meaning to their everyday suffering.
By Junno Arocho Esteves, OSV News
(OSV News) — For Christians, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection brings the assurance of life’s victory over death.
However, the hope of that victory can seem far off for Christians in Nigeria, like Rebecca Agidi, who are often the target of religious persecution in the country.
In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, which was shared with OSV News, Agidi recalled the tragic day in September 2022 when she went out to visit friends at a nearby camp, not realizing that it would be the last time she would see her husband, who remained at home with their youngest child, Oryiman.
“I was so happy that fateful day,” she recalled. “But a few minutes after I arrived at the Guma camp, we heard gunshots coming from my village. I started crying, but my friends in the camp consoled me, telling me that all would be well with my son and husband.”
The attack was one of many committed by Fulani herdsmen, which the Global Terrorism Index, an open-source database that tracks terrorism worldwide, has labeled as an ethnic terrorist group.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, Fulani extremists have specifically targeted Christian farmers and villages, forcing millions to become internally displaced.
“From 2017 until the beginning of May 2020, there were 654 attacks against Christian farmers,” Aid to the Church in Need stated in its annual report on Nigeria. “Fulani extremists killed 2,539 individuals, wounded over 393, kidnapped more than 253 persons, raped 16 women and girls, and destroyed 7,582 homes and 24 churches.”
However, Aid to the Church in Need also noted that it was “wrong to stigmatize an entire ethnic group as criminals or terrorists,” adding that Nigerians of Fulani origin have faced animosity as a result of the attacks by members of their community, like the one in Agidi’s village of Umela.
Racing back to her home, Agidi found dozens of dead bodies, all men, along the way to her hut where she found her husband “lying in a pool of blood.”
“He had been shot in the head, and he was lying on top of our son, who was also covered in blood. I could not control my tears. I was devastated!” she recalled. “How can you see someone one minute, and the next minute, they’re gone? I kept whispering to myself: ‘How is it possible? Are they truly dead? How can death knock on my door at this moment? Why me?'”
Agidi wandered aimlessly, unafraid of being attacked by wild animals, and prayed for death to come so that she could be reunited with her husband and son. She ultimately cried herself to sleep near a bush only to be awoken in the early morning by villagers accompanied by an unknown woman.
“The woman hugged me and whispered in my ears, ‘He is alive. Your son, Oryiman, is alive,'” Agidi said, adding that her son was found by the woman who had handed him to workers from the Foundation for Justice, Development and Peace of the Diocese of Makurdi.
Running to the hospital, Agidi was reunited with her son who told her that his father, before dying, covered him in blood in order to save his life from the attackers.
Now living in a camp for internally displaced persons with Oryiman and his two older siblings, Agidi said she was grateful for the Catholic Church who “give us food, clothes and shelter.”
“My trust in God cannot be shaken! He has shown me mercy, and I will forever remain steadfast in my faith. I believe everything will be fine. He has kept us, and I am sure he will take care of us,” Agidi said.
Featured image: Rebecca Agidi and her son, Oryiman, are pictured in an undated photo in a camp for internally displaced persons in the Diocese of Makurdi, Nigeria. In September 2022, Agidi’s husband was killed and Oryiman was injured in an attack on the family’s village by Fulani extremists. According to Aid to the Church in Need, Fulani extremists have specifically targeted Christian farmers and villages, forcing millions to become internally displaced. (OSV News photo/courtesy ACN)