“No! I will NOT be that man’s wife!” protested Rebecca to her older brother, Abraham. She had no interest in becoming someone’s bride—she was just 11 years old.
Rebecca’s father had been killed years prior during the 30-year civil war in Sudan, so according to the custom of her people, the Nuer tribe, the oldest son became head of the family. That task fell to Abraham, who was now responsible for caring for his aging mother and arranging the marriages of his three sisters, beginning with Rebecca, the oldest—even if she was still a child. Opposing him would offend the culture of the Nuer people.
For Abraham, perhaps it was a sensible decision—his sister may not get many offers, after all. Or perhaps his primary motivation was a selfish one—with Rebecca gone he would have one less mouth to feed. And then there was the dowry to consider. All this was irrelevant to Rebecca, however; she only cared that she was not given a choice.
Abraham had been living in the capital city of Juba, South Sudan, with his new wife and baby daughter when a suitor had requested his sister’s hand. She and her two younger sisters were at that time living with their mother on land their family had owned for generations, but was now forced to come to Juba to marry a stranger.
Time was running out for Rebecca. Abraham had already accepted a cow, the common dowry in rural Sudan, from her would-be husband. Rebecca’s refusal infuriated her brother—not only because of her audacious disobedience, but also because Abraham stood to lose face before the man with whom he’d already sealed the deal.
Emboldened by her mother, who insisted 11 years of age was too young to marry, Rebecca remained resolute. Frustrated, Abraham threatened to beat Rebecca each day until she complied with his wishes.
But an unlikely hero suddenly came to Rebecca’s rescue. The civil war in Sudan, which would result in the formation of a new nation, South Sudan, had erupted afresh. Abraham relocated his family to the UN refugee camp in Juba for safety, then joined the rebels to fight against government forces. That was in 2011. Abraham has not been heard from since.
Rebecca and her sisters stayed in the UN camp only a few days, then were taken to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. An older woman, also fleeing the war, watched over the sisters. But she had ulterior motives. The two younger girls could attend the camp’s school, she said, if Rebecca stayed back to cook and do other chores for her. This saddened Rebecca, because she wanted to learn to read and write.
But Rebecca’s cry was heard. She soon learned her mother’s cousin Mary had moved to Naivasha, nearby, and was living at a Christian school for refugee girls that was supported by Heaven’s Family. Jumping at the opportunity, Rebecca quickly contacted Mary, who then invited Rebecca to join her. A few weeks later all three sisters were reunited and attending the same school.
The Lord had answered her prayers! Now she and her sisters attend school each day, learning more about God and being discipled in His Word. Rebecca spills over with thankfulness for what God has done for her. She knows how close she came to becoming a child bride, and a very young mother, too, no doubt—or a casualty of war.
Living in a safe, loving environment, Rebecca now has hope and can begin dreaming for her future. That dream is to open a school for orphaned girls in South Sudan after the war has ended—a place they can feel safe, get an education, and learn about the God who truly loves and cares about them. And she wants to help save other young girls from becoming child brides, too.