Warning: this story may be upsetting for some readers.
Lucina didn’t choose to get married when she was 19.
She was studying to become a doctor, taking every opportunity she could find for extra learning. So when another girl asked if she’d like to come home to study with her, Lucina agreed and got in the car. When offered tea and cakes – a sign she was an honoured guest – she accepted. The offer turned out to be a trap. Her “friend” had drugged the cakes and when Lucina awoke she was trapped – pressured into a forced marriage to the girl’s brother, Yutas.
Several months later, when the ongoing COVID lockdown was lifted, the police staged a dramatic rescue to free her from imprisonment. She was malnourished, bruised – and pregnant. Her brother Salam says, “She was almost dead. Even we could not recognise her at first glance. All her bones could be seen. She was not even able to stand and walk properly.”
The price of faith
Lucina’s traumatic ordeal was a punishment for her faith in Christ. Sadly, her experience is part of a trend: the Open Doors 2021 Gender Specific Religious Persecution Report shows that in many parts of the world, sexual violence and forced marriage continue to be used as tools to shame Christian women and girls, to punish female converts and to restrict the growth of the church. Lucina says, “Everything happened just because my family is Christian. We love Jesus. And I paid the most for it.”
Lucina’s father, Boutros, is known as an evangelist in their South Asian community. Extremists, unable to tolerate the number of people turning to Christ because of his preaching, told him to stop. They attacked him. They threatened to kill him. But he wouldn’t give up. That’s when the extremists went one step further. To punish the family for their faith in Jesus, they targeted his daughter. They abducted Lucina and forced her to ‘marry’ Yutas. Lucina was a prisoner in the extremists’ home, forced to work like a maid – if she refused, they would beat her up. They also forced her to pray according to the village religion, saying that she had to, because of her ‘marriage’.
While imprisoned, Lucina’s family searched desperately for her. Salam explains, “We found nothing. After a couple of days of searching, the entire country went under lockdown for COVID-19. We still continued our search for her but failed to get any leads.”
When the government lifted the lockdown, the family that had held her prisoner left the house. Lucina managed to find a phone and shaking with fear called her sister. Immediately Boutros, rushed to the police station. The police found the house and rescued Lucina.
Yutas was arrested for rape and eventually imprisoned. Lucina’s abusers intended to harm her family’s reputation. Yet Boutros’ unquestioning acceptance of his ‘shamed’ daughter is testimony to the character of God. The ultimate test came when Lucina shared her pregnancy. She said, “A seed of evil is growing in me and I am waiting to see that face. What a cruel and inhumane thing this is! My future is finished, my hope is destroyed. I cannot show my face to my friends, relatives, nobody.”
Local culture demands a father reject an abused daughter, yet Boutros has welcomed Lucina and her newborn son back into their home. He has directed the ‘shame’ towards the perpetrator, pursuing justice for his daughter in the courts. The aim of the forced marriage was to end Boutros’ ministry; instead, he has shown the community a powerful witness of God’s love and acceptance.
Yet Lucina’s future remains uncertain. She says, “Pray for me. I need protection and I am trying to forget everything. Pray that everything will be okay again, though I know it is hard. I am concentrating on my studies for now.”
Open Doors’ Gender Specific Religious Persecution Report shows how, in cases like Lucina’s, persecutors exploit gender differences to create shame and to maximise the destructive impact for the church. To help prepare Christians for this gender-specific persecution, Open Doors runs the Restorations project – helping churches and communities to stand strong and bringing a biblical perspective on men and women.