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Boko Haram survivor exhorts Christians to ‘stand strong’

WASHINGTON (BP) — A teenage Christian survivor of Boko Haram terrorism in 2011 talked openly Tuesday (May 13) for the first time about her ordeal, expressing hope that her story would encourage Christians to persevere in persecution.

Deborah Peters, 15, said in a panel discussion hosted by Hudson Institute in Washington that Boko Haram murdered her Christian father and brother and bound her between the corpses at her home near Chibok, the same town where the Islamic terror group kidnapped nearly 300 school girls in April.

“I hope if people hear my story, I think they will understand,” Peters said, “and they will know more and more of what God said and they will understand what it means to stand strong and have courage.”

Peters was joined on the panel by Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer with the U.S. Nigeria Law Group and expert in U.S.-Nigerian relations, who helped Peters come to the U.S. through a program established after Sept. 11, 2001, to aid victims of terrorism.

While Peters’ father was Christian, her mother was Muslim and fled to safety a month before the murders after Boko Haram destroyed the church Peters’ father pastored.

“In November, they burned his church, but still, he didn’t give up and built the church again,” Peters said. “So they said OK, they’re gonna kill him. And they came to our house and killed him.”

On the night of Dec. 22, 2011, three Boko Haram militants entered the Peters home after knocking on the door. They pulled her father from the shower, demanded he renounce his faith and killed him when he refused, Peters recounted. Her father referenced Matthew 10:33 in holding fast to Christianity.

“He told them that he should rather die than go to hellfire,” Peters said of her father. “So, he then told them that [Jesus] said anyone that denied Him, He’s gonna deny them in the presence of his Dad in heaven. So my dad refused to deny his faith and they [shot] him three times in his chest.”

Surmising that her brother might become a Christian pastor if allowed to live, Peters said, the men shot him twice in the chest and, after his body convulsed, once in the mouth.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know what was happening,” Peters said. “So they put me in the middle of my dad and my brother. The next day the army came … and [took] me to hospital.”

While Boko Haram in 2011 portrayed themselves as “gentlemen terrorists” and fostered a reputation of only killing men, Ogebe said, they have escalated in number and callousness.

“The point is Boko Haram says we don’t kill the elderly, we don’t kill the young and we don’t kill women. Those are the three exceptions they had. The Christians, the Jews, the Muslim apostates, they don’t count. We’ll kill them. And so her story from a couple of years ago is classic,” Ogebe said. “They came in. They killed the pastor and then they made a calculation that the son, who was an exception to the targets, should be killed because he might grow up and become a pastor. This was an example of Boko Haram shifting the goalpost of those it would not kill.

“The Christian response to this genocide was they would move the men out and leave the women behind … because Boko Haram said we don’t kill women,” Ogebe said. “That changed last month. Boko Haram realized, you know, we’ve killed all the men or we’ve run them out of town….

“And the next thing we have almost 300 young women abducted, taken to this camp, and they’ve become slave brides.”

Ogebe returned to the U.S. May 9 after spending three weeks in northeast Nigeria interviewing Boko Haram victims. Boko Haram is becoming tactically superior to Nigerian security forces, with more sophisticated weaponry than the Nigerian government, Ogebe said.

“What is most disturbing is that last week while we were in Cameroon, Boko Haram struck a village, killed close to 300 people, and then there was a population displacement and 3,000 people fled, again, across the borders,” Ogebe said. “We have this going on almost consistently for a year, and you began to wonder, ‘Where is the humanitarian response to this crisis?'”

Both military and humanitarian responses to the crisis have been ineffective, Ogebe noted.

“We’re at a point where the international community needs to respond effectively to what is going on in Nigeria,” he said.

Panel moderator Nina Shea, Hudson Institute senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom, pointed out the U.S. State Department’s two-year delay before designating Boko Haram an official terrorist organization in November 2013.

“Before that, the State Department had been saying that the Boko Haram had nothing to do with religion,” Shea said. “I remember I was dumbfounded.”

To watch the entire panel discussion, click here.
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).