The thin, 13-year-old girl shifted painfully in the dark, trying to remember how long she had been locked up. Although she wasn’t exactly sure, she knew it had been months. Her stomach rumbled with hunger, and she hoped that her brother might soon slip another roasted banana under the door. Her father hadn’t fed her since locking her in the cramped space.
Soon after Susan Ithungu came to know Christ in 2009, her Muslim father began to beat her, once even threatening to kill her with a knife. After trying for months to persuade Susan to deny Christ, he finally locked her in a small space in their mud shanty. Six months passed before neighbours realised what was happening to Susan and notified the police, who rescued her and took her to a hospital.
A pastor who visited her immediately after her rescue said she was extremely thin and unable to walk or talk. “Her hair had turned yellow, she had long fingernails and sunken eyes, and she looked very slim, less than 21 kilograms,” he said.
Abused and rejected
Sadly, Susan’s story is not unique in Uganda. While 85% of the country’s population is Christian, those who convert from Islam to Christianity face persecution and physical abuse from family members.
Susan suffered from untreated malaria while locked away in the small room, and the months of calcium deficiency affected her growing bones. After two major operations on her left femur, she can now walk with crutches.
VOM paid Susan’s medical bills and provided funds that enabled her to travel to a hospital in Kenya. We also provided living expenses for her and her Christian caregiver, Dreda.
She and Dreda relocated to another village, where Susan is protected from her father.
Through all of her difficulties, Susan has held onto her faith. “I feel very well,” she said with a smile, “because I’m now with Christ.”
A VOM worker who visited Susan said she remains faithful but is experiencing some new challenges with her bones. She is scheduled to return to Kenya for a review of her condition and additional care.
“This girl has gone through a tough time,” the VOM worker said. “She has, however, stood firm no matter what she had to go through, including rejection by her father and subjection to walking with crutches. She has pulled through and is growing stronger in the Lord every moment.”
I am still strong
Those who have cared for Susan have helped her realise that God will never leave her in her time of need. Thanks to VOM supporters, she is finishing Year 7 at a school equipped to handle her special physical needs and getting her life back on track. Susan shares her story in churches around the country and encourages other believers to continue to pray for persecuted Christians. She hopes to someday be able to share the Gospel with her father and others who hurt her.
“I am happy with life now,” she said.
“I did not know that I will be back to school. Whenever I was taken to hospital, I knew my life would be even harder, but God is great. I am still strong. Thank you so much for looking after my life. Your money and prayers are so good to me. Please continue praying for me. I want to study hard and get to university so that I can also help other people who are like me. May God bless you so much.”
Dreda, Susan’s caregiver, said that she, too, is grateful for the help VOM has given Susan.
“Since VOM came in to support her, we have been so fine,” she said. “We have been to the hospital many times because of Susan’s health, but God is faithful because the support we receive has been sufficient to cover us. Thank you for the love, and may God be with you always.”
VOM continues to help children like Susan, who are abused or abandoned by their parents after coming to faith in Christ.