What is it that would cause two young Nigerian women to set out—to leave family, home, country, friends, and way of life—and head north, to Europe? Why, at the dawn of adulthood, at the moment that they should be settling down, marrying, forging a living, starting a family, would two vulnerable women leave all they know to embark on a journey of only unknowns?
For Phoebe it was the economic promise made in an advertisement for a domestic helper. But it culminated in forced prostitution. For Bea it was a run for her life. But the first run morphed into a second and a third and she has since disappeared.
These are the true tales of two different women from Nigeria who each gave themselves over to the European migrant crises in hopes of finding better lives.
Phoebe answered an advertisement for a family seeking domestic help in southern Europe. Once she arrived, she was greeted, whisked away, and her passport taken from her. She was taken to a brothel and forced to give herself away for the financial gain of her traffickers. She was threatened, beaten, intimidated and told that if she tried to contact the authorities her mother back in Nigeria would be murdered. Her traffickers were her fellow countrymen—a ring setup in Nigeria and carried out in Europe, preying on the desires of young women in pursuit of a better life.
One day while Phoebe was lingering outside the brothel, Christian missionaries approached her. Well-aware of the ways of local violent trafficking rings—they suspected Phoebe was being held captive. They shared the gospel of grace with her, the story of eternal freedom. Promising protection, they invited her to walk away from the brothel. And just like Peter, she fixed her eyes on Jesus, and walked out in faith (Matthew 14:22-33).
The missionaries had connections with safe houses across the region. They were able to send Phoebe across the country, into hiding in a new city. She’s there now, still protected, and has received legal documentation. She’s learning to be a cook, finally arriving at the livelihood she set out for.
Phoebe’s parents, though, have not heard from her since she set out from home. She cannot contact them. Through the experience and expertise of the anti-trafficking workers, Phoebe knows that her traffickers are closely monitoring her parents, ready to hurt them if they suspect they have knowledge of her whereabouts. To keep herself and her parents alive, Phoebe must pursue her new life, her new identity, in secret and alone, completely disconnected from her loved ones.
Bea watched animist Muslim relatives murder her father for his Christian faith. They turned on her mother and then came after Bea. She fled, went to her boyfriend, and they immediately set out for the safety promised in southern Europe. When they reached Libya on the migration route out of Africa, they were captured and imprisoned by a rogue, opportunist militia.
Pregnant, starving, and dying of thirst, Bea was separated from her boyfriend in the Libyan compound. She passed out and was taken for dead. She was buried in a shallow grave with her fellow prisoners who had indeed succumbed to their conditions. A Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) who noticed her barely living body while passing by the mass grave, dug her out and took her to safety. She was put on a boat and crossed the sea to southern Europe (recent statistics say that one in five migrants who fled Libya by boat drowned or disappeared during the migrant crisis).
Bea’s harrowing tale did not relent once she reached the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Instead, she had to keep moving, pushing ever upward and onward into Europe and out of the grasp of immigration law enforcement. Bea walked—still pregnant and malnourished and very much alone—through the mountains of southern Europe, crossing national borders in hopes of finding a friendly country in which to declare her need for asylum.
She again passed out, this time on a mountainside, too weak and dehydrated to continue. Another Good Samaritan found her body and rescued her from the elements. She awoke in a hospital, registered with the government, and returned to the same hospital to give birth to her baby. Miraculously, she was reunited with her boyfriend and they were married.
With a new husband and new baby and new peace and safety, Bea settled into life in her new home country. She met the same group of Christian missionaries who found Phoebe. The missionaries helped her to begin learning her new language, to navigate her new government, and to get the help she needed in her new community.
But when Bea returned to the appropriate immigration office to apply for legal residency, her request was denied. They did not believe her story. Incredulous, they were sure Bea was a prostitute—like Phoebe was—but protecting her captors. They believed that if they could only get Bea to tell the truth about her alleged trafficking ring, they would be able to punish the right people.
Bea pled with the authorities to believe her harrowing tale. To them, it was too good to be true. When pressed and asked how it could possibly be true, Bea told them, “I’m a Christian. It’s a miracle.” Ultimately, they refused to believe her and denied her residency.
And so, preferring her illegal status and safety in Europe to imminent death at the hands of her family in Nigeria, she disappeared. The missionaries who initially helped her, hear from her every few months, when she calls to check-in or to ask for help with something. But the reality is, Bea can’t tell them much. She doesn’t want to be discovered. She’s now on her own, even separated from her husband.
What Can Be Done?
What can you and I do for Phoebe and Bea? How can we, who live an ocean away, help these two women and the thousands of other vulnerable migrants who are like them?
Pray: Right away we can pray for their protection, supernatural wisdom, sensitivity to the Lord’s leading as they seek housing and a living, a community of Christians who will encourage them, and resources from God’s hand to nourish them.
Give: We can also give to organizations who are serving refugees in a holistic way—missionaries and Christian ministries that are proclaiming Christ, seeking to alleviate suffering, and equipping refugees with skills and tools needed in their new lives. Because the European migration crisis is over and we no longer see their faces on the evening news, they are easily forgotten. May they not be out of sight and out of mind. Their plight today is no less perilous than it was in 2014 and 2015.
Go: And finally, we can go. But not just anyone. The missionaries who are already serving people like Phoebe and Bea say they need more Christian teammates who are trained in trauma, who can work in emotionally difficult settings, and who can take a long view with an eye on holistic healing for refugee communities. They don’t need well-intentioned, short-term workers who want to pass out water in the refugee camps—in fact, they say, those opportunities no longer exist. They need men and women who are willing to be trained and to persevere for the long-haul to bring healing from the inside-out in the lives of refugees in Jesus’s name.
Join Pioneers in Europe and pray to the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38) that he will send the right people to the right places for the good of the refugees and for his own glory.
Photo Credit: Operation Triton: Irish Naval Service personnel from the LÉ Eithne rescuing migrants, 15 June 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_migrant_crisis