One of the women that has just come into our half way house, I met in prison. She was arrested for murdering her husband. Her husband was very abusive to her, so abusive that she went to her parents house for protection. Her husband came to her parents’ house and came up behind her while she was cleaning the dishes and started to beat her. She had a pounder in her hand used for pounding yams and she swung it around to defend herself and cracked his skull resulting in his death.
In Nigeria, a woman and her children are considered property of her husband and when he dies, the children and home become property of his family. The woman rarely gets anything to possess.
When this woman, I will call her Rachel, got out of prison, she had no where to go, no way to support herself and no hope of getting her three daughters back until we took her into Grace Gardens. Now she has a safe, clean home to live in; She is no longer being abused; she is learning how to sew; and we took on the task of getting her children back.
A week ago last Friday, we drove 2 hours with a whole caravan of people out to Rachel’s brother in law’s house to ask for her kids. John and I, two other missionaries, our houseparents, and a pastor from the families’ denomination all went out to convince the family that Rachel should have her daughters with her. We found the brother in law and his wife were overwhelmed with their own 3 kids, a fourth on its way, and two of Rachel’s kids to care for. The oldest daughter was not there but living in the village. I thought for sure he would be relieved to give us the two girls.
We explained our case, ensured them that we all would work to ensure the safety and well-being of the girls as well as provide for their education. I went with the belief that it was common sense that a mother should have the right to raise her own daughters.
After all the formalities of greetings that are necessary in Nigerian culture and after a lengthy explanation of our side, we were told no. The brother in law said that even if he wanted to give us the children, his parents would have to agree and that could not happen without a lengthy family meeting in the village. I said we could all go to the village now, he refused.
I was surprised how this all affected me. I spoke up and told the man I did not understand how a woman does not have rights to her own children who came from her own womb. The man told me I could never understand because I was an American and this is Nigeria. I told him I didn’t care about American culture or Nigerian culture, but God’s culture. The God who put these children in her womb. Everyone in the room used subtle and not so subtle ways of telling me that I was speaking out of turn, but my heart would not let me stop. I broke down crying and as they continued to try to explain to me about Nigerian culture, through my tears I said, “I hear what you are saying, but as a woman, mother, and Christ follower, I cannot like or agree with what you are saying.”
The brother in law agreed to speak to the family the next day and then call us. We left for our 2 hour drive into Jos empty handed. John pulled me aside and said, “Missy, if I ever become president, you will not be my secretary of state. Head of my military yes, but not secretary of state!”
The next morning we received a call telling us that the family had decided not to give us the children! John calmly said that we need to pray for God to open a new door. Me, I went into battle mode! I started calling Nigerian lawyers, I wanted to call the media to bring attention to this story, I wanted to get women to band together to march for the rights of mothers in this little village in the middle of nowhere! For two hours I paced my house (It was election day, I couldn’t go anywhere else!) planning what my next step would be when we received a phone call from the brother in law. He said that the families’ local pastor came to the village and convinced the family that it was the right thing to give the girls to Rachel. He said we could come the day after Easter to get the girls!!!!
I am continually amazed by God! Even when I make every wrong turn, fail to depend on him and seek things in my own strength, He still manages to work in a way that reminds me that He is in control!
So, yesterday, we drove the two hours to the brother in laws house. We had to leave Rachel along the way at her uncle’s house for her own safety. Then we left for the village. It was another 2 hours from the brother in law’s house on some of the roughest roads I have seen. Then after we drove as far as we could, we got out and hiked up the hill to their little village. (I made the bad decision to wear heals yesterday!)
When we arrived, we realized that no whites have been to this village in a very long time, if ever! The whole village came out to great us. I felt like we were in a national geographic magazine. From the top of that hill, I could see not modern coveniences. It was like we stepped back in time.
Before we started this whole process, I saw this village and this family as cruel for not protecting Rachel from her husband and taking her children away, but as I stood there amongst them, all I saw was an elderly couple who lost their son and were struggling to figure out why white people wanted their grand daughters. God filled me with a love for the family.
The pastor introduced us and translated for us into their language. When he introduced me, I couldn’t understand his words, but I knew exactly what he was saying. His gestures made it clear that he was saying I was the one who cried for the girls. I sat back not sure what the response from the family would be for my culturally unsensitive outburst. The response I understood, the grandfather gave a big smile, reached out to grabbed my hand and in Hausa said, “We are thankful to God for you!” I was surprised.
We also worried that the family would want us to pay money for the children. No request was made, and instead they gave us a gift of home grown honey. The family gave us a tour of the village and then thanked us over and over again for helping the girls. As we left the village, we promised to come back often to visit with the girls so that they will keep their family bonds strong. The brother in law also promised to continue talking to the family in hopes that one day, Rachel will be allowed back to her village for visits as well. I pray that one day, there will be God-honoring reconciliation between the families.
We went back to get the other girls and Rachel and I am happy to report that when I left the girls with their mom last night at Grace Gardens, there was nothing but smiles and giggles going on in that house!!!!