WASHINGTON — A Christian teenager from Nigeria who was denied a visa to the United States ‘multiple times’ is sharing her story of strength in the midst of persecution after her father was murdered by the Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram for refusing to deny his faith in Christ.
Deborah Peters, 15, spoke on Tuesday during a panel discussion hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., outlining that she chose to tell her story following the kidnapping of nearly 300 school girls in her hometown of Chibok.
“I hope if people hear my story, I think they will understand,” she said, “and they will know more and more of what God said and they will understand what it means to stand strong and have courage.”
Peters explained that the Islamist group Boko Haram had targeted her father, a pastor, because of his Christian faith, and ultimately took his life in December 2011.
“In November, they burned his church, but still, he didn’t give up and built the church again,” she outlined. “So they said okay, they’re gonna kill him.”
On December 22, 2011, members of Boko Haram came to Peters’ home with the intent to murder her father.
“Three men knocked on our door, and then my brother opened the door for them,” she recalled. “And they asked him, ‘Where is your dad?’ And he told them, ‘My dad is in the bathroom taking a shower.’”
The men then dragged Peters’ father out of the shower and demanded that he deny his Christian faith.
“He told them that he should rather die than go to hellfire,” she said. “So, he then told them that [Jesus] said anyone that denied Him, He’s gonna deny them in the presence of His Dad in heaven. So my dad refused to deny his faith and they [shot] him three times in his chest.”
The men then likewise shot Peter’s 14-year-old brother three times as well, and then tied up Peters and laid her between her now-deceased father and brother. She laid there for nearly 24 hours until the Nigerian Army found her the following day and took her to the hospital.
Another area pastor soon helped Peters leave town, but he too was killed by Boko Haram.
Human rights attorney Emmanuel Ogebe with Jubilee Campaign USA joined Peters during the panel discussion, explaining that he had filed visa requests “multiple times” for Peters to come to America, but was denied.
“The reason she was denied a visa was they said to her—and you can’t make this stuff up—they said to her, you don’t have family ties,” he explained.
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, said that part of the reason may also be because the U.S. State Department did not designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group until last year. The U.S. had been insistent that Boko Haram’s actions were driven by poverty and not malice against Christianity.
“One of the problems is that the State Department has been reluctant to even talk about this in terms of religious persecution,” she said. “Maybe this incident and the Chibok girls will change that.”