When I first met Abigale I remember being struck by both the strength and the softness in her brown face, which bore scars of her story. Framing her right ear, she wore a hearing aid—a constant reminder of the trauma she endured.
Abigale grew up in an African country where, to suppress people into fear, homes were raided and women that she knew and loved were beaten, stripped of their dignity and raped. Not by out-of-control gangs, but by the very government officials who were supposed to protect the people.
Abigale’s hunger for justice welled up within her as she saw this horror again and again. After obtaining a law degree, her passion led her to make her life mission exposing government officials’ rape of civilians, helping these women to speak out with their stories, and publishing them publicly through a nonprofit she started. Needless to say, the government was not fond of her work. Death threats became commonplace. Abigale continued her work…until that terrible day.
Walking home from work Abigale was stopped by a gang of government vans filled with masked, armed soldiers. While beating her repeatedly in the head with the butts of a gun, causing permanent partial hearing loss, they shouted at her that she must never speak against the government. On the side of a dusty African road, they gang raped her. They left her there mangled and nearly dead.
After a year in recovery, she picked up her justice advocacy work again with new vigor. I will never be able to fathom that sort of bravery. A few months later she received a note stating, “We know where you are, and what you are doing. This time we will not leave you alive.”
Visions of her last encounter terrified her. She knew she had to run. She had to get out of the country if she wanted to live. Abigale first fled to a nearby country. There she received word that the government was still tracking her. She moved to another country, went into hiding, gathered money for a plane ticket, obtained a visitor visa to America and escaped from the grip of the men who were hunting her.
Once in Texas, with the help of the Human Rights Initiative, Abigale filed for asylum, asking the U.S. government for protected status. She believed that surely in America there would be ample help for women like her who fought against such human rights abuses. She was wrong.
Though “Asylum” is a legal status, it does not give adult asylum seekers resources like food stamps, government housing, free legal representation, or any other benefits available to other refugees and citizens. And asylum seekers cannot obtain a work permit in order to earn their own money and pay for these things themselves. For her first two years in America, Abigale slept on various couches and was left on the verge of homelessness. After searching and finding no resources for people with her immigration status, Abigale was forced to beg for a place to stay and for food from anyone she met.
Human Rights Initiative sent Abigale to DASH and we enrolled her into the program. She asked me, “Where have you been the last two years when I cried myself to sleep so many nights? If it was not for God, I would not have survived.”
Once in the DASH program, Abigale spent months being housed and cared for by a family from The City Church. City Church members helped her with English. When she finally received her work permit, church members helped her find a job at Walmart. They drove her to work, taught her to drive and helped her find a vehicle of her own. After a few months of saving money, Abigale was ready to launch. City Church members donated everything necessary to fully furnish her apartment. On the day she moved in, Abigale expressed her overwhelming gratitude and exclaimed with laughter, “I am home!”
Today, over a year later, Abigale obtained permanent status, she married a kind, well-established man, opened her own hair braiding shop, and tells everyone about how God got her through all of her trials. She called a few weeks ago just to say thank you for our friendship and for DASH for giving her the help that she needed to start her life over in America.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9 says:
“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Through her living example, Abigale has taught me the truth of these words. Though we may go through horrible afflictions in this life, if we depend on God, we will not be crushed. Though we may be struck down, God will not allow those who call on him to be destroyed. No matter how far you have fallen or how dark today may look, with God, there is always hope for tomorrow.
Written by Ashley Freeman
***Names changed to protect privacy.