It isn’t often that you hear of a bride not showing up for her own wedding. Sure—on television it’s like the most overused cliff-hanger in the history of cable TV. But in real life, happy endings and “I do’s” are far more typical than a missing bride.
So when Terry Gobanga—then Terry Apudo—didn’t show up for her wedding in Nairobi, Kenya, it shocked everyone. But nobody could have imagined what had actually happened to her—that she had been abducted, gang-raped and left for dead on the side of the road.
Today, by the grace of God, Terry is alive and able to tell her story.
A pastor at a church, Terry’s wedding to her fiancé, Harry, was going to be a big one. There were plenty of family and church members ready to witness the beautiful union, and Terry couldn’t have been more excited to wear her wedding dress.
But the night before her wedding, Terry realized she had some things that Harry would need for the big day—some clothes and his necktie.
She arranged to have a girlfriend bring them to him in the morning. The two women walked together to the bus station, where Terry left her friend with Harry’s clothes.
As she walked home to prepare for the most exciting day of her life, Terry passed a man sitting on the hood of his car. He quickly grabbed her from behind, and shoved her into the backseat with two other men inside. Within seconds, they sped off.
“A piece of cloth was stuffed in my mouth. I was kicking and hitting out and trying to scream. When I managed to push the gag out, I screamed: ‘It’s my wedding day!’ That was when I got the first blow. One of the men told me to ‘cooperate or you will die.’”
After speeding off, each of the men took turns raping her.
“I felt sure I was going to die,” Terry says.
She fought for her life, biting the men where she could, and being beaten in return. Six hours after she’d been abducted, she was tossed from the car and left for dead.
“A child saw me being thrown out and called her grandmother. People came running. When the police came they tried to get a pulse, but no-one could. Thinking I was dead, they wrapped me in a blanket and started to take me to the mortuary.”
But on the way there, Terry came to. She choked on the blanket that was covering her and coughed. Shocked at the fact that she was alive, police rushed her to “the biggest government hospital in Kenya.”
Upon arriving to the hospital, Terry was incoherent and shaking in shock.
“I was half-naked and covered in blood, and my face was swollen from being punched.”
But something led one of the nurses to believe the young woman was a bride. They decided to call around to the nearby churches to see if they were missing a bride. To their surprise, the first one they called was All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi—the church where Terry was supposed to marry Harry at 10 a.m.
Once her family was contacted, they rushed to the hospital—Harry with her wedding dress in hand, grateful to have found his missing bride.
Doctors tended to Terry’s wounds—one that went so deep into her womb, she was told she’d never be able to carry children.
Beyond the devastating news, and the shock of the day’s events, Terry was given the morning-after pill and drugs to protect her from HIV and Aids.
“My mind shut down, it refused to accept what had happened.”
“Harry kept saying he still wanted to marry me. ‘I want to take care of her and make sure she comes back to good health in my arms, in our house,’ he said. Truth be told, I wasn’t in a position to say Yes or No because my mind was so jammed with the faces of the three men, and with everything that had happened.”
In the weeks and months that followed, Terry was blamed by many for what had happened to her. The victim of unthinkable brutality—criticized for her decision to leave the house. But Harry and her family stood by her, and the two began planning their wedding for the second time.
Three months after the attack, Terry was told she had tested negative for HIV—meaning she was moving forward in healing from the incident.
In July 2005—seven months after the day of her attack and their first wedding, Terry and Harry finally married and went on a honeymoon.
Just 29 days later, the unthinkable happened.
After eating dinner one night, Harry lit a charcoal burner and brought it into the bedroom. Before going to sleep, he removed it because the room had warmed up. But just before climbing into bed, Harry said he was feeling dizzy, and both husband and wife were having trouble sleeping from being so cold.
“I suggested getting another duvet. But Harry said he couldn’t get it as he didn’t have enough strength. Strangely, I couldn’t stand up either. We realized something was very wrong. He passed out. I passed out. I remember coming to. I would call him. At times he would respond, at other times he wouldn’t. I pushed myself out of bed and threw up, which gave me some strength. I started crawling to the phone. I called my neighbour and said: ‘Something is wrong, Harry is not responding.'”
Terry was going in and out of consciousness as the neighbor arrived with a swarm of people. They rushed the couple to the hospital where Harry unfortunately passed away.
“Going back to church for the funeral was terrible. Just a month earlier I had been there in my white dress, with Harry standing at the front looking handsome in his suit. Now, I was in black and he was being wheeled in, in a casket.”
The charcoal burner had filled their bedroom with carbon monoxide, and ultimately poisoned Harry to death.
Terry says it was in the days and months that followed Harry’s death when she felt completely let down by God. She broke down.
“One day I was sitting on the balcony looking at the birds chirping away and I said: ‘God, how can you take care of the birds and not me?’ In that instant I remembered there are 24 hours a day—sitting in depression with your curtains closed, no-one’s going to give you back those 24 hours. Before you know, it’s a week, a month, a year wasted away. That was a tough reality.”
Terry promised herself she would never get married again after enduring the unbearable loss of Harry. But through her grief, there was one man who God was using to heal her heart—Tonny Gobanga.
“He would encourage me to talk about my husband and think about the good times. One time he didn’t call for three days and I was so angry. That’s when it hit me that I had fallen for him.”
Before long, Tonny proposed to Terry, but still she had reservations as to whether or not he could love all of her—even through her brokenness and inability to have children.
Tony squashed those doubts without a second thought:
“Children are a gift from God,” he said. “If we get them, Amen. If not, I will have more time to love you.”
Three years after her “second wedding” to Harry, Terry found herself at the altar again—this time flooded with emotion and fears—praying that God wouldn’t let Tonny die too.
One year into their marriage, Terry became ill. To her surprise, it wasn’t a sickness you could heal with medicine, but rather a sickness caused by pregnancy. She was expecting a child—the one doctors warned her she’d never be able to have!
After a careful pregnancy, Terry gave birth to a baby girl, Tehille. And four years later to another little girl, Towdah.
Terry has since written a book called Crawling Out of Darkness, and she hopes that her experience would inspire other survivors of rape in knowing that they are not alone. Their story is not over, and God has far greater plans than the depression and shame that you feel in this time.
“I have forgiven my attackers. It wasn’t easy but I realized I was getting a raw deal by being upset with people who probably don’t care. My faith also encourages me to forgive and not repay evil with evil but with good.”
Terry says life doesn’t stop just because unthinkable circumstances happen. It’s our job to keep moving toward the incredible blessings God has waiting for us. “Crawl if you have to,” but no matter what, just keep moving forward.