The Nature of Love

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| This is the 303rd story of Our Life Logs |


If loving him sends me to hell, so be it.

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I was born into a conservative Christian family in Nigeria in 1991 as the fifth born of six kids. Our days were happy, but strict. My father was (and still is) on the church payroll as a pastor in one of the famous churches in Nigeria. He’s known in the province as a man of command, dedication, passion, and diligence—an exemplary godly life.

Although my father was a born into Christianity, my mother didn’t become Christian until she was 20. She was raised Muslim and her father was an Imam. This would have been an issue for my father as he was vehemently opposed to any other faith, especially Islam. However, my mother had a bad experience with her faith and shared my father’s belief that Muslims were evil. She became Christian, and the two were married.

Growing up, I didn’t see a problem with my father’s opinions of Islam because I was bred in the Christian religion—I mean literally bred. Our last name, Okikijesu, in Yoruba language even means, “the fame of Jesus.” I was active in my church and preached against any other religion, using the same words and phrases that I had learned from my father.

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My elder sister, me (age 15), and my parents.

I pursued higher education and graduated from university in 2015. After school, all students are required by the government in Nigeria to take a one-year program of service, and I was posted to Kano, Nigeria for my National Youth Service.

Truly speaking, I was exceptionally ready to be on my own for the first time…until I realized that the majority of Kano’s residents were Muslim. In fact, only about 5% of the students at Kano State identified as Christian, so I would be severely out of my comfort zone. I’d never been around non-Christians before. Despite mine and my parents’ concerns, there was nothing we could do.

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I served in a remote village where there was no clinic, no electricity, and no good roads. There were only government schools and a fluctuating mobile network. It was very difficult to contact the main city. Still, I enjoyed it.

While I was diligently going about my service year as a school teacher, I met a handsome, intelligent, caring, elegant guy named Yusuf. I was immediately captivated. He had just finished his yearlong service as a math teacher when we met.

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Attending one of the local camps with Yusuf.

It was in getting to know Yusuf that I truly understood how exciting life can be. We clicked and soon discovered all that we had in common—we even had the same birthday! My heart had never felt empty before, but suddenly, my spirit felt so full around him. He was perfect…except for one thing…

Yusuf was a devoted Muslim who had memorized the Quran even before he finished his university education. Now that his service year was over, he was set to replace his father as a cleric.

What was I to do? Well, despite my blatant attraction, I kept my distance and struggled to nurse the aching in my heart.

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Life continued normally until I fell ill. For an entire week, my weak limbs and feverish skin lay in bed. Based on the number of mosquitos in the village, I knew that I was suffering from malaria and needed to get medicine in the main city. I crawled out of bed and went to the school to get help.

When I got to the school and asked around, only one person offered to help. And who was that? Yusuf, of course! My father’s warnings rang in my ears and bid me to stay cautious. Despite Yusuf’s gentle offer, I declined. I told myself that I could hold on for another day.

Then, around 5 pm, a child came to my door with a small white nylon full of anti-malaria drugs, blood tonic, energy booster drinks, and money.

“Who is this from?”

The child shrugged. “Some driver asked me to drop it off to you.”

Dumbfounded by this gesture, I thanked the boy, used the drugs, and went to sleep with relief for the first time in a week. The next morning, I made some calls about the drugs, but no one would take responsibility.

Finally, I got a text message from a number I didn’t recognize: How are you feeling today? Did the drugs help?  I called the number but got no answer. And then, when I was able to return to school, a basket of fruit sat in front of my door. I got sick of the mystery and reported the cell number to my principal. Guess what? It was Yusuf.

Could this be true? I thought. My father had said they were all bad people because their Quran teaches them to kill, yet this man broke all his stereotypes.

We arranged to meet in the village a few days later. When we met, I asked him what compelled him to be that compassionate toward me, a girl he barely knew. I was brought up thinking only Christians acted selflessly.

He smiled. “It’s not about religion. It’s about nature.”

As we talked more, I learned that he had stayed in the village to counsel a rebellious boy who wanted to drop out of school. It was as if his kindness knew no boundaries. I realized then that I had been believing lies about Muslims my entire life.

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Of course, I fell in love with Yusuf. How could I not? He was unlike any other man I knew. He was so smart, yet he wouldn’t shove his opinions down your throat. His laugh was contagious and honest. Life became so much sweeter.

As we fell deeper in love, I felt guilt creep into my mind. I had been keeping my love a secret from my parents. I was afraid. Finally, I told my mother who was not happy at first with news, but eventually came around when she saw how happy Yusuf made me. Still, she would not tell my father, I had to be the one to do it.

By June 2016, Yusuf had proposed and I said yes! However, a looming dread hung over me, knowing that now I’d have no choice but to tell my father. I couldn’t eat the day I invited Yusuf over because I was so nervous. I’ll never forget the day I brought Yusuf home. It was worse than I had imagined.

My father was sitting in the living room when Yusuf followed me in. I could read fright all over him. My mother was restless nearby. And me? I was walking around like a robot powered by Love. So, for Yusuf, I looked directly into my father’s eyes and choked out the words, “Father, meet Yusuf—my fiancé.”

There a brief silence before my father said, “Yusuf! Did you just say Yusuf!?”

I started to stammer, “Y-yes,yes, Dad. His name is Yusuf.”

“Is he a convert?” Not waiting for me to answer, he faced Yusuf himself. “Ehm! Young man, good morning. You are welcome into this house in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for the mankind. Tell me about yourself.”

Yusuf stammered his name and tribe.

“Let’s start back at your name,” my father barked. “Are you a Muslim by religion? “

“Yes,” Yusuf replied.

“Are you aware that Racheal Mosebolatan Okikijesu (rolling out my full name) is a Christian by religion?”

“Yes!”

“Sorry, what did you say is the relationship between you and my daughter?”

“She’s my fiancée, my wife to be Insha Allah!”

After he said that, my father, with fierce anger written on his face, asked Yusuf to leave his house. “If you don’t get out of here, the sound of my gun will send you back to your maker.”

At that, I ran to my room, covered my mouth with my pillow, and wept like a child. I yelled through the walls, “I will never marry anyone if I can’t marry Yusuf!” My father ignored my threats and tried to convince me that I needed to find a Christian man.

I was so devastated by father’s outburst that I refused to eat or drink for three days after. I didn’t talk to anyone, not even my Yusuf who kept calling and texting me. On the third day, my mother pleaded with me for the hundredth time to open my door for her. Pitying her cries of anguish, I let her in. She set a cup of water on the bedside table and started talking at me. Not a single word entered my ears. I tried to reach the cup, but I was so weak that I fainted.

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I woke up to find a card on the table beside me. It read,

Wake up, Dear. Get well soon so we can start planning our wedding.

-Yusuf

Suddenly, my mother walked in the room. Her face lit up, “How are you feel—“

I interrupted her. “What happened? Is Yusuf okay?”

My mother explained everything. I’d been in a coma for 15 days. My parents and siblings were hysterical. I found out that my little sister sobbed at my bedside for the first few days, then walked out into the scorching sun for three days in protest of our father’s judgment. She refused to come inside until he saw reason. Terrified for me and my sister, my mother threatened my father. She told him that if I died, she would publish a story telling the world that a pastor killed his own daughter because of religion.

Meanwhile, Yusuf and his family tried to soften my father’s hardened heart. Yusuf came every day to check on me and never lost hope that I would wake up. He also promised my father that our future children would be free to become Christians if they wished.

I’m not sure what softened my father’s heart, but if I had to guess, then I think what changed his mind was his own prayer being answered. My mother told me that while I was in my coma, she overheard my father praying to God that if I woke up, he would allow me to marry Yusuf.

And so, Yusuf and I got married on August 20, 2018, and it was the happiest day of my life.

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As a Muslim man and a Christian woman, we seem like an unlikely pair in the eyes of our country. But like Yusuf said to me years ago, “It’s not about religion. It’s about nature.” And it was in our nature to fall in love.

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Our traditional wedding picture.

 

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This is the story of Usman Yusuf Rachael

Mrs. Usman Yusuf Racheal was born and raised in a Christian family. As an adult, she fell in love with a Muslim, whom her father, a pastor, considered a terrible thing because he had a biased generalization of all Muslims. When the couple announced their engagement, her father refused to accept them. It wasn’t until she went into a coma for 15 days that her father’s heart softened to the idea.

Rachael’s father passed away soon after the wedding in October 2018. He is dearly missed.

Today, Rachael is legally Mrs. Usman. She lives happily with her husband in Kano Nigeria, and she is pregnant with their first child. She works an English teacher in a foremost school in Kano. Her husband works with a microfinance bank. Racheal still attends church and her husband still worships God as a Muslim.

 

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on March 11, 2019.

| Writers: Andrew Lator; Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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