Charity, a single mother of three from Nigeria, lives in fear. At any time, her village Guyaku in the north of the country could be attacked and she could be separated from her children. It is something that happens to many Christian mums in the region and it happened to her recently.
The night of the attack
"Put out the light! Put out the light!" Charity's brother shouted in hushed tones as he ran towards their mudbrick home one evening.
"That was the moment we found out Boko Haram was attacking our village," Charity shares her story with the Christian charity Open Doors.
In Guyaku, being a Christian comes with significant risk. Violent attacks by Boko Haram and other Islamic extremist groups are common in the country's north and Middle Belt and are becoming more common farther south. In these attacks, Christians are often murdered or have their property and means of livelihood destroyed.
"I was scared," Charity's eldest son, Theophilus, says. "I thought that we wouldn't survive. So, I grabbed my sister's hand, and we ran."
Charity grabbed her youngest daughter and quickly placed her on her back in a wrap. "It was at that time that we ran away towards the mountains," she says.
"All of us were heading in the same direction when a motorbike came toward us. That was how I got separated from my children. I went with my little girl, and my son ran in a different direction with his sister."
The agony of waiting
Charity ran towards the mouth of a cave and darted inside for shelter with others from the village. In the darkness, she whispered her children's names. No answer. She whispered again and again. Silence. Sitting in the darkness, she thought her children had been killed.
The night in the cave was long. Finally, in the morning everyone cautiously shuffled out of the cave and started to walk back to the village. On her way back, Charity heard that Boko Haram had killed some of her family members in the attack.
"When I arrived home, I didn't see my children," Charity says. "I couldn't even eat food or drink water throughout the day and I was thinking: 'If I drink this water and eat this food and my children are dead, of what use is the food to me?'"
Weeks went by with no news, and fear overtook the village. There was no cellphone service, and roads were deemed too dangerous to travel.
Tears of joy
One day, Charity was in her mother's house, when she heard Theophilus calling out her name. She then saw her son and daughter walking towards her.
"I was so shocked and excited as I shouted their names!" Charity says. "Seeing my children felt like a new dawn—everything changed because my lost children were back."
"We shed many tears of joy," Theophilus says.
However, the struggle for Charity and her children was not over. In many ways, it was just the beginning. They, as many others in their village, needed to rebuild their homes, find food, restore their churches from the ashes, replant crops that had been destroyed and deal with the ongoing anxiety that Boko Haram were still out there.
After the attack, Open Doors' regional partners met Charity and other Christians in Guyaku and provided emergency aid, food relief, support to rebuild their houses.
There are still many memories that can stir up fear within the hearts of Charity and her children. The darkness, loud noises, even dogs barking can bring a shudder of fear after the sun sets on the village.
It's daytime. The afternoon sun is intense in Guyaku. Sitting in the shade outside her house surrounded by the three children and shucking corn for lunch, Charity admits that despite all the damage the attack caused, she is the happiest of mums with her children next to her, within arm's reach.
Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. Open Doors provides practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources.