— Robyn Dixon (@latimesdixon) July 8, 2014
Last month, I highlighted the New York Times' must-read profile of a Christian convert on the run in Afghanistan.
Now, I write again to recommend an indispensable story on a persecuted Christian — this one by the Los Angeles Times.
LATimes Johannesburg correspondent Robyn Dixon provides a chilling account of the plight of Nigerian church members:
When Boko Haram invaded her village last year, the Islamist extremists burned the churches, destroyed Bibles and photographs and forced Hamatu Juwanda to renounce Christianity.
"They said we should never go back to church because they had brought a new religion," the 50-year-old said. "We were going to be converted to Islam."
The head of the village, a Muslim, presented her with a thick nylon hijab to cover her head and renamed her Aisha.
She submitted, smarting with rage. Women who didn't wear the hijab were beaten.
"When I went to the market, I wore the veil," she said. "But at home, I took it off and prayed."
The gunmen returned time after time to the village of Barawa, shooting people, burning houses and wearing down the resistance of the villagers.
Like the best journalism is apt to do, Dixon's story puts a real human face on this tragedy.
The LATimes report does so while placing Juwanda's experience into a larger context:
Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed 12,000 people and shattered the northern economy. Schools have been shut down because of attacks that have seen hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped and schoolboys burned alive in their dormitories.
The crisis encapsulates Nigeria’s myriad problems: its poor governance, its corruption, its abject neglect of the mostly Muslim north, which for years has been the poorest region of the country.
But it's the individual story — told in simple, vivid language — that makes this piece so moving.
Undoubtedly, the ending will stick with you:
When she finally fled the village in May, she was so petrified that she forgot to take the only photo of her brother, her last surviving sibling. It was hidden under a mattress so the militants wouldn't see it.
She crossed the border into Cameroon. As soon as she reached safety, she tore off her black-and-white-checked hijab, felt cool air on her throat and breathed free.
She was safe.
"I was very happy," said Juwanda, who later made her way to Abuja. "I felt the good, fresh air as if I'd come to a marvelous place I could hardly imagine."
Juwanda is relieved to have escaped Barawa. But she remembers the things she lost: her husband, her small plot of farmland, her house, her Bible, all her clothes, a beaded cross she used to wear before she was forced to take it off.
And the photograph of her brother.
Kudos to Dixon and the LATimes for reporting this important story.
Be sure to read it all.