Nigeria's Lost Daughter

February 20, 2020

She would be 16 now. That's how long it's been since 14-year-old Leah Sharibu was last seen, being loaded into a truck while classmates screamed her name. The terrorists took dozens of other girls on that horrible day in 2018 and killed five others. But Leah is the only one who hasn't come home.

"We were sitting down, about ready to eat [when we] heard gunshots." For the students at Nigeria's Dapchi school, there wasn't a lot of time. Bullets started falling in front of the hostel where the girls were. For the Christian students, the threat was very real. "We knew we would be the target," Affodia Andrawus said soberly.

Leah's dorm was in front of the gate, so the girls ran that way, calling for her. "But she was caring for a sick roommate," Affodia explained, "and refused to leave her." Leah tried to carry her while they ran, but she kept falling. When her friend finally got to safety, Leah ran for the gates -- not knowing that's where the Boko Haram truck was parked. "We kept shouting her name," Affodia remembers. But there was no escaping.

Wednesday, the anniversary of Leah's capture, was a difficult one for her parents. Over the last several months, it's been a roller coaster of emotions for the Sharibu family. First, it was reported that Leah was alive, then killed in captivity, and now, more recently, that she is the mother of a little boy -- the product, almost certainly, of a forced Islamic marriage. And while Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari continues to say the right things, plenty of people wonder if he's doing enough to act on them. "We say, as the government for and of all Nigerians, that no person has the right to force another to change their faith against their will and that all life is sacred," Buhari insisted on the anniversary.

Nathan Sharibu, Leah's dad, gave another emotional appeal on Tuesday. "I'm pleading with [the U.K.] government and with our Nigerian government, with President Buhari ... to fulfill his promises that he has made to me personally, that he is going to rescue Leah and ensure that she is released, and not just Leah, all the others in captivity." As her mother said, "We don't know where Leah is. We don't know the condition or the situation that [she's in]."

What they do know, almost certainly, is that Leah refuses to renounce her faith -- one of the reasons many of us believe she's still missing. Unfortunately, Boko Haram takes great pleasure in torturing, kidnapping, beating, and oppressing Christians for their faith. The Trump administration takes that threat seriously -- and so should all of we.

Nigeria ranks the 12th worst in the world for Christian persecution. The situation is so bad that several religious liberty advocates -- including FRC -- have asked the president to appoint a special envoy to the region to stop the abduction of so many innocents and the bloodbath that continues to affect so many people of faith.

For now, there's a lot we can learn from Leah, a young girl who has the courage to stand for her faith -- even in the face of death. Miles away in America, where we spend every day in relative ease, may we never forget the blessing of freedom -- and resolve to fight even harder for that freedom so that captives like Leah might also enjoy it.