Yakubu Bulus Bakfwash (as told to Shelli Little)
There is a child, only ten years old, who is married and giving birth. Inconceivable! But I have seen her. Her youth should dance with playing dolls, catching butterflies, twirling in her dress, and galloping on a stick horse. Her eyes should glisten with thoughts of being carried away in Cinderella’s fairy-tale ending. Her heart should only know the love she witnesses between her mommy and her daddy. This, however, is painstakingly not so for young girls, particularly Muslim girls from lower-class societies in Nigeria— my homeland.
There is a child whose youth and purity have been stolen—a child giving birth to a child before her precious body is prepared. Instead of dancing on her daddy’s toes, she limps as she walks, leaking human waste. Girls like this suffer with vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), a condition caused when girls give birth at a tender age, often in labor for days, resulting in a permanent limp and a chronic leakage of human waste. Tragic!
Because of Islamic purdah (seclusion, where the woman has to remain at home and is prevented from being seen by men), even in ill health, a woman must seek her husband’s permission before she is taken to the hospital. By the time the husband consents, too many days of labor have passed and too much stress has been placed on her body and on the body of the baby. As a result, babies often die—and the young girls die to society. Because of their condition and the accompanying odor, girls such as these are forced to divorce their husbands, and thus become social outcasts, confined to live in small huts outside the community. Heartbreaking!
My wife, Diana, and I work with the Evangelical Church of West Africa’s (ECWA) mission hospital in Nigeria—a hospital that reaches out to these young girls. I serve as senior pastor of the church and head chaplain for this hospital; my wife serves as matron. In 2001, it was estimated that the number of unrepaired VVFs in Nigeria alone was between 800,000 and 1,000,000. The hospital ministers to these children and to women who have lived with this condition for some 20 to 30 years. The hospital’s mission is to enable them to regain their mental and physical health in order to undergo a surgery that will restore them to health. As bodies are healed, so are hearts, and many of these young girls and women (70 - 90 yearly) receive Christ as their Savior—new birth into a living hope.
Because there is a child—so greatly loved, and many more outcasts like her—my wife and I felt led to sell everything we ever possessed to purchase a one-way airline ticket for ourselves and our three daughters to come to the United States to study at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In Nigeria, I have taught courses on Islam and related mission subjects at Jos ECWA Theological Seminary. But, desiring to make a greater impact for Christ in the hearts of Nigerian Muslims, I have come to the States to pursue study in theology and missions, with an emphasis in Islamic studies.
Diana is working toward a degree in Humanities with a concentration in “homemaking.” What she is learning will aid her in work at the hospital’s rehabilitation center where such skills are taught to enable girls and women to survive and thrive. She and other staff teach sewing, knitting, soap and bead making, Kampala, Batik, tie & dye, pomade-making, baking, and more. The rehabilitation center lovingly houses the women for up to three months for proper mentoring, disciplining them to grow into maturity, before returning to their families.
There is a child—Salamatu, changed by the love and care received at the center, who declared, “Rayuwu ba tare da Isa ba, ban’zane, na gan Isa, na taba shi, nakuma zama da shi” which translates … “Life without Jesus is a miserable life. I have seen Him, been touched by Him, and even leave here now with your Jesus.” Salamatu now reads, writes, has learned basic sewing and hand-craft skills, owns her own sewing machine, and is empowered economically. She is also physically healed, and above all, has “Isa”—Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. She has received a new life!
Love for Africa has our family eagerly awaiting our return to our homeland—to a fulfilled life, putting into practice the knowledge we have obtained in the United States. But wherever we are is always home. We are on a voyage with Jesus; He knows the direction better than we do. We do not have control of the flight. We desire to return, but again we are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The ministry in Nigeria is God’s program—not ours. And the world is God’s parish; so for now, we only wait to receive God’s direction when the time comes.
God has taught us many things on this journey: for me, gratitude for my Christian heritage in the heart of the ancient Islamic city of Kano State, Nigeria, and for all our family, to hold earthly things loosely and eternal things tightly. We are willing to become poor so that the abused girls and women in our homeland might become physically and spiritually healed. We offer a challenge to people with a heart for missions to think twice, get involved, and partner with us to do God’s work in northern Nigeria. We covet prayers for our studies’ success, good health, our sick parents’ health needs back home, the resources needed to make a yearly visit back to the mission hospital, and for the ministry’s growth in our absence.
Each year the mission hospital hosts a celebration reunion of more than 1,000 former patients who return fora spiritual growth check-up which emphasizes the heavenly reunion that awaits each of them because ofGod’s faithful, inconceivable love. At that reunion there will be no more sorrow, no more tears, no more pain, and no more shame. Each child of God will experience that Cinderella fairytale ending and will be a beautiful bride prepared for her Groom just as intended—untainted, spotless, in renewed youth and innocence. She will dance on her Heavenly Father’s toes. And He will bestow on her a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:3, NIV)–– an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade.