“Now, when I look back,
I know without the grace of God
I would not have survived.”
We all have a story. Everyone who comes through the doors of CCO has a story. Some stories are exceptional and I believe Arike’s is. It is exceptional because of the courageous changes she was able to make and the beliefs she has chosen to cling to.
The day I met Arike I was struck by her smile and explosive laughter. Sometimes, in the middle of our conversations I would find myself suddenly hugged. She was, and remains, a genuinely warm person. She had come to CCO with Vanessa, her alert and energetic baby girl.
As our conversations lengthened and I began to get to know Arike better I was struck by her openness and honesty. Over her stay at CCO, Arike and I worked together to secure housing, childcare and many of the foundations for life. Over this time, an astonishing story began to unfold.
“Coming to the shelter was difficult, but I knew I was safe. My trust in people had been broken so I felt jumpy and vigilant for myself and my daughter, but as I got to know the staff they became a real blessing. I started to accept the love that was shown to me.”
Long before reaching our doors Arike’s life had taken some difficult and violent turns. I would not have imagined that the kind woman sitting with me in the CCO office showing me the scars on her back and sides had experienced so much brutality.
As a young woman newly from Nigeria, Arike did housekeeping for a local hotel in Texas. She was in a relationship with a man who had, over time, become possessive and abusive. In the midst of the violence she would often call the police, who would arrest and then immediately release her abuser. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t seem to get away from him. Arike left him after an incident that ended with broken ribs. Even with her injuries she felt she had to continue working to pay the bills, and it was at work that an unbelievable event took place.
“I had just finished cleaning a room and chatting briefly with the customer in it when I went to check room 124, just across the hall. I heard the door slam and I looked up. The abusive man I thought I had just escaped began repeatedly stabbing me. I only remember saying, ‘Oh, Jesus.’ And then everything went black. The customer in the room across the hall contacted my manager. If he hadn’t done that I may not have survived. I had been stabbed 17 times in the neck, back and chest. I was unconscious for a long period in the hospital and I was told later the doctors thought I would die.”
Miraculously, Arike did survive. With her perpetrator in prison for 15 years she chose to build a life again. Much later she began a cautious relationship with a man who would read the Bible and go to church with her. She believed he loved her, and married him. Soon after the wedding Arike began to notice money missing. At first she thought she had been misplacing it, but the problem persisted. She found out that her husband was addicted to cocaine and that all of her hard-earned money was going towards his addiction.
“His sister told me he was a cocaine addict. I had never heard of cocaine. She had to explain to me what it was. When I confronted him he began to physically abuse me.” The situation quickly worsened. Pregnant and beaten, Arike found herself once again in the hospital.
Stress and high blood pressure brought on early labor, and Arike gave birth to a tiny baby girl. Vanessa was less than three pounds. Cradling her newborn in the intensive care unit Arike began to wonder, “Why have I had such awful relationships? Does God hate me just like those other men did?” She began to face the anger rising up in her over all the pain she had experienced.
A therapist at the hospital offered Arike intensive counseling for her domestic- violence problems. “I had never heard of counseling. I had never heard the words ‘domestic violence’ but I had lived it.”
“The events of my life began to materialize before me. I knew the truth went all the way back to Nigeria. I remember being 6 years old and carrying sugar cane on my head from the fields. If I couldn’t sell enough of it I would be beaten. Work and abuse, it had been my life for so long. I had to look hard at this pain in order to begin to free myself from its grip, not only for myself but also for my daughter.”
“Before counseling I thought I was the only one suffering. Then I met other women, Asian, Hispanic, African American and white. Parts of our lives were so similar. I was not alone.”
“I realize that God did not create me for the purpose of suffering, but through it He was there. He was right there with me. I will understand it better one day when we are face-to-face. I trust Him. There was never a time when He hated me. I believe that now. I believe nothing can stop His great love. My favorite verse is, ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning: great is His faithfulness.’”
With a new understanding and courage, Arike and Vanessa boarded a bus for Chicago. And we are glad CCO became an important stepping stone in securing her safe future.
A relationship that began years ago with CCO and its staff has continued and we are happy to have Arike and Vanessa as part of our extended family. Today, Vanessa is attending college and Arike is housed and continues to be a blessing to everyone around her.
-Arike Burke, as told to Beth Nicholls