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In June 2014, Boko Haram Islamic terrorists attacked the village of Attagara, Nigeria. They massacred nearly all of the men, only sparing the very elderly. The attack was extreme retribution for tit-for-tat killings between local Muslims and Christians.

All of the women, their children and the elderly, fled into the Mandara mountains, scrambling over the rocks on foot.

The survivors were on a terrible trek through the mountains. They had no food and their only drinking water came from puddles. They trudged over rugged terrain covered in dense forest or rough scrub along the Cameroon border, avoiding roads or even tracks that the Islamist’s four wheel drive vehicles might negotiate. They were well out of mobile phone range.

Mrs Lawal was one of the unofficial leaders, strong enough to help the weak and old enough to have the wisdom to avoid neighbouring settlements. The group lost three babies and two elderly people in the 10 days it took them to reach Gwoza, arriving in terrible condition.

Mrs Lawal’s eldest son, Abua was 800kms away, a student at a VOM supported Bible school in Jos, when he heard of the attack.

Abua tried to phone his mother again and again in panic. Abua and the five other men from Attagara attending Bible school with him were distraught, all desperately trying to contact their families. They wept bitterly, desperate for knowledge of their parents, wives and children.

Abua was finally able to contact his mother once the survivors reached Gwoza and learned the full extent of what had happened in Attagara.

When strong enough Mrs Lawal, two younger sisters and brother, and three cousins, (the smallest not quite seven) made it to Maiduguri, to a Christian camp for the internally displaced, where Abua met them, and brought them to Jos. As the only surviving adult male in his extended family, Abua became responsible for them all. The children joined a VOM supported children’s crisis care home, where they were able to restart school, after almost two years without. Mrs Lawal went to be with her older married daughter in Taraba State. Her children wanted her to rest after all she had been through.

But resting is not something Mrs Lawal is good at. At her daughter’s home in Jalingo city there was little for her to do, and within a month she visited the children in Jos on her way back to Maiduguri. At an internally displaced persons’ camp for Christians in a church compound on the edge of the city, she learned that she could lease farmland close by to bring in an income and wait until the military had cleared Attagara and she could go home.

She is still waiting, and still farming rented land near Maiduguri, nearly six years later. Her daughter Idara and son Damola finished school at the children’s crisis care home and have joined her, farming and selling produce in the city. Idara dreams of starting university, and Damola is learning mechanics. Their younger sibling, Abike, and her younger cousins are still in school at the children’s crisis care home.

Abua is now a pastor, one of the team training and pastoring new Muslim background believers at a VOM funded discipleship training centre near Jos, and his mother is proud of him.

Attagara remains deserted, too easily attacked from Boko Haram’s mountain hideouts to be resettled while the Boko Haram are still at large, targeting Christians and Muslims who won’t support them.

Mrs Lawal remains a pillar of strength for her children and nephews, still living near the camp, farming, selling her produce and waiting for the day she can return home.

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