A series of tragedies led to her bold proclamation, ‘I will never again pray to this God.’ The pain was too severe for words. She was saved, so why was her life so difficult?
Pastor Francisca Wairimu was raised in a Catholic home and was the first of eight children. It was a busy household living in tight quarters.
“I grew up in a slum called Soweto in Nairobi,” Francisca told The Weight She Carries. “My mom was very young. She gave birth to me when she was only 12. My father was around 20.”
Despite living in poverty, young Francisca dreamt of becoming a doctor or an engineer one day. The slum was a dangerous place to live, and the only way to escape it was through education.
When she was 8, her parents separated. Her mother left the home, taking all her children except Francisca.
“I was a daddy’s girl, so I stayed with him,” she said. “I continued with school until Grade 7. Then I stopped going to school because my dad went deep into alcoholism.”
One day, on her way home from visiting a friend, a large man grabbed Francisca by the hand and ordered her to go with him.
“I feared him, everyone did, because I knew he was a gangster. I was trying to break free from him, but I couldn’t. Everyone around was just looking. He took me to a bush where sewage water passed and raped me. I was 13 years old. Afterwards, he told me to go home. ‘You have become a woman,’ he said. I’ve never forgotten those words.”
Nobody said a word as she left the place she had been violated in. Not one person offered to help her as she struggled to walk. She didn’t go home. Instead, she went to her aunt’s home, where she was instructed to spend the night. Assuming it would be okay, she agreed.
The next morning, Francisca went home to a livid father.
“I received a really bad beating,” she said. “My father was very tough, and he was a disciplinarian. I did not want to say anything. He asked me where I had slept, and I kept quiet. Up to today, he has never known what happened.”
“I did not have anyone I could have confided in. My mother was not there, and I could not talk to my dad, so I just kept it to myself. The rape traumatized me. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. I felt like no one loved me.”
A woman Francisca knew approached her with an opportunity to go upcountry and work as a maid. It seemed to be the only option that made sense to her at the time, so off she went. She spent her days taking care of her boss’s baby and working on their farm, fetching water from the river, feeding chickens and cleaning the house. The work proved to be too foreign for the now 14-year-old Francisca.
“I was crying every day,” she said. “I didn’t know how to get to the bus station or where the main road was. My parents didn’t even know where I was. Nobody knew.”
After working there for a while, Francisca asked to be taken back to Nairobi, where she found work as a helper making the equivalent of $50 per month. She was overwhelmed with the amount of work she was required to complete.
“Going home was not an option. By this time, my father had remarried, and his wife did not like me, so I had to survive on my own. There was also something keeping me from going back to my mother. No matter how much trouble I was in, I couldn’t even think of going to her for help,” she said.
Francisca continued to work as a maid until she was 17.
While working for a particular woman, a young man Francisca befriended betrayed her trust and sexually assaulted her one day.
“I took myself to the police station, but I was told I could not go alone. They said my parents should be the ones to report the boy. I did not know what to do, so I went back to my boss’s home and kept quiet. I continued working.”
A few months later, her boss noticed that Francisca was pregnant and confronted her about it. Francisca couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth about the father of her child. After all, her boss was friends with his mother.
“She told me I could continue to stay with her until I gave birth,” Francisca said. “She was very kind to me.”
Francisca wrestled with the thought of giving birth to a child conceived through rape and attempted to terminate the pregnancy. It didn’t work. Her son was born, and instantly, she was in love. She lived with her boss for another three months before deciding to go to her mother’s home.
“My mother did not welcome me in her house because she was angry that I named my child after my father,” she said.
Shunned by her mother, Francisca stayed with a relative briefly but ultimately was forced to find her own place. She found a one-roomed house to rent and began brewing a concoction to make ends meet. Then, out of the blue, a stranger approached her with a proposition.
“A man I didn’t know asked me if I would be willing to live with him. He said we could help each other out by living under one roof. I don’t know what happened to me because I said yes. Imagine such a thing!”
The next day, Francisca and her son moved to their new home. It was more spacious than her previous home. There were no formalities, no further discussion as to what this arrangement really meant. And somehow, they stumbled into a marriage. For a moment, it looked like they had moved on up.
Francisca conceived, but early during her pregnancy, the couple had a disagreement, and her husband kicked her in the stomach, she said.
“The next day, I started bleeding and was taken by my friends to the hospital. That’s when I found out that I was pregnant and having a miscarriage.”
Two months later, she fell pregnant again. By this time, her husband was violent and disappearing most nights. Stressed by his behaviour, Francisca went away for two weeks with her son to clear her head. When she returned, her husband had moved all his belongings out of their home. And now the vacant house was being used to brew illegal concoctions.
Francisca was homeless again. This time with a 3-year-old and another on the way. She hustled and was able to find some stability before the birth of her second child.
Soon, her estranged husband returned, begging for forgiveness. This time would be different, he promised. Francisca forgave him, but his new leaf was short-lived. He left again.
Devastated, Francisca relied on her friends to help her though the disappointment. During the process, she became saved.
“I give myself to Christ. I became close to the leaders in the church and told them everything about my husband,” she said. “They were adamant that we live together as husband and wife, so they went and found him and brought him back to my house. That was the beginning of my psychological torture.”
“The church I joined discouraged contraceptives. I become pregnant again. He wasn’t working, and just before my third child was born, he disappeared again. He took everything that he had bought in that house and went away.”
Francisca went into labour alone. She had no money to go to the hospital and no one to look after her other two children.
“I felt so discouraged,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell anyone because now my neighbours who were not saved were mocking me, telling me that since I got saved, my life had become hard. So I just locked myself in the house.”
As the pain intensified, there was a knock on the door. It was a woman who was a leader in the church Francisca attended. She had never come to her house before.
“God spoke to her and told her to come and check on me. She did not even know the way to my house, but God directed her. When I heard the knock on my door, I said, ‘Thank you, God. You have sent me help.’”
The woman arrived just in time to help deliver the baby. She had never done so before, but there was no time to get to the hospital. Once mother and baby were stable, the woman went to inform other church members who came to the house with food and supplies.
“God came through for me. I had a beautiful baby girl and enough food to provide for my children,” she said.
Two months later, her estranged husband returned without explanation or remorse.
The constant back and forth was exhausting emotionally, and his presence in the home took a toll on Francisca in every way imaginable.
“All the church was telling me to accept him back because he is my husband, and the Bible says no man should put asunder what God has joined. So I accepted him back.”
As before, her husband refused to work, and Francisca was forced to go out each day, with her newborn baby on her back, looking for cash jobs to support him and their children. After some time, she became pregnant with baby number four.
This time, her husband stayed throughout the pregnancy.
“The problem was that the children needed to go to school, but he was not willing to pay their school fees,” she said.
Then, another pregnancy…
Three months into her pregnancy with her fifth child, her husband left again. Francisca did yard work to earn money and sold mangoes to students during break and lunchtime. She also bought charcoal and sold it to neighbours.
“That’s how I survived. God helped me save even enough money to give birth to baby number five in the hospital, she said.”
The cycle continued, and her husband returned.
“I was in bondage because the church kept telling me that I am saved, so I had no option but to take my husband back each time. I now tell people not to mix their private life with their church life. The Holy Spirit works differently with people, and the decision should have been mine. They really messed my life,” she said. “That’s how I see it. I was very young. At the age of 26, I had five children. Although I’m thankful for my children now, my life was harder than it should have been because I listened to the wrong advice.”
A kind woman from Sweden who was returning to her country after living in Kenya for many years offered to help Francisca pay for her children to go to school. The woman also gave her some money to start a business. Francisca began cooking and selling meat stew and rented a place to serve meals.
Francisca’s fourth child, a girl named Faith, was diagnosed with cancer and required treatment and extensive hospital stays. Since her husband refused to care of their children, Francisca pulled back from her business to look after her children and take Faith to the hospital. She needed a business she could run from home, so she started selling second-hand clothes. Then, as Faith’s health continued to decline, she was forced to abandon that venture altogether.
Francisca spent her days and nights in hospital, pleading with God to heal her child. With their mother staying at the hospital and their father unwilling to tend to them, Francisca’s older children were left to fend for themselves and ultimately ran away from home. Then the worst happened – Faith passed away.
“It was so traumatizing because I have just buried a child, and now two have run away from home. My second-born ended up living in an orphanage. He was 9. So out of five children, I only had two with me at home. I could not pray. I was the head of evangelism in my church. I was the head of intercessors and home churches, but now I told them I would never pray to this God again.”
Her marriage continued to deteriorate, and the abuse escalated.
“The day he insulted me and told me I am like a dirty sack that people wipe their feet on and that nobody would ever love me, that was the day I decided to leave.”
Francisca borrowed money from a friend, found a one-roomed house to rent and hired a few young men to help her move.
“I started life all over again. He did not look for us. He told my sister he would never look for us, and he kept his word. I have not seen or heard from his since. That was 20 years ago.”
Francisca reconnected with God and was ordained as a pastor three years later.
She received some resistance from the church because they still wanted her to go back to her husband. They questioned how she could minister effectively, and how would the congregants feel if they had a woman pastor without a husband? But Francisca dug in her heels. There was no way she was going back to her marriage.
“I told them I would rather die than go back.”
Eventually, the church leaders agreed.
“Some people despise me because they see a single woman and think I am trying to take their husbands, but with God, all things are possible. He gave me sufficient grace to persevere and continue serving Him.”
To women going through a painful season, Francisca says God is the answer.
“At the time, it is very hard to hear that God is good, that God loves you. I was hurting too, so I know what it feels like. But accept that situation you’re going through, and allow God to start the process of healing you because when you hold on to that pain, that is when now you open the door for the devil to come and start tormenting you. The mind is the battlefield of the enemy. Hold on to God.”
Women who’ve gone through a failed marriage often feel ashamed and don’t know how they will ever get past the pain and disappointment. But all is not lost, Francisca said.
“Go deeper in the Word of God, and make the Holy Spirit your personal friend because God will always comfort you. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you, and do not give up hope. Have faith in God. Do not suffer in that situation alone. Find someone you can confide in. We know that women who are married are respected in society, but there is life after a failed marriage.”
Vimbai E. is a writer, journalist, ghostwriter and the founder of The Weight She Carries. With hundreds of articles publishing online, in print and for broadcast, her love of language and storytelling shines through every piece of writing that bears her name.