On February 19, 2018, a beautiful fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl named Leah Sharibu was among more than 100 girls kidnapped by ISWAP-affiliated Boko Haram terrorists. Their abduction took place at 5:30 in the afternoon, when the girls were unexpectedly seized at Dapchi Girls' Science and Technical College.
During the violent incident, four or five girls died in the back of a truck as they were roughly transported to Boko Haram's encampment. Thankfully, following a month of horrific captivity, and after enduring death threats and unspeakable abuses, nearly all the surviving girls were freed by their captors on March 21.
One girl, however, was left behind -- Leah Sharibu. And Saturday, February 19, 2022 marks a grim anniversary: the 4th year of Leah's captivity.
Before long, it became clear that she had not returned home for one simple reason: the other girls were all Muslim, but Leah was Christian and had refused to renounce her faith. In August 2018, The Cable, a Nigerian news source, obtained a recording of Leah, begging President Muhammadu Buhari to rescue her and reunite her with her family: "I am Leah Sharibu, the girl that was abducted in GGSS Dapchi. I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation."
Leah's appeal resulted in absolutely no response from anyone. No acknowledgement, no recognition of the incident and no intervention took place. Later, when she heard that her classmates were being set free, Leah asked one of them to carry a note to her mother, Rebecca Sharibu. "My mother, you should not be disturbed," she wrote. "I know it is not easy missing me, but I want to assure you that I am fine where I am...I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Her mother later said, "She did an amazing thing by refusing to renounce Christ, and I'm very proud of what she has done. I'm not sure if I was even in her position at 14 years old that I would have even done what she has done."
In the summer of 2019, I was fortunate to meet Rebecca Sharibu in Washington, D.C. She had come to seek help from the United States, and her heartache was evident on her weary and sorrowful face. When I asked her what she had most recently heard about her daughter, she said (through a translator), "We don't even know where Leah is. We have not seen her. We have not heard from her. I have no idea."
Around six months later, on January 26, 2020, The Cable again reported about Leah, this time claiming that she had been "impregnated by one of the commanders of the sect, and she was delivered of a baby four days ago." It was impossible to confirm the story, although it implied that Leah was probably still alive. It has since been rumored she's given birth to another child fathered by her captors.
However, since that time there has been no further news about Leah Sharibu. Meanwhile, Nigeria's abuses of religious freedom continue to accelerate. In fact, the carnage is being described by some as a slow-motion genocide.
FRC President and USCIRF Commissioner Tony Perkins has adopted Leah as a prisoner of conscience, personally advocating for this brave hostage who refuses to renounce her faith. Meanwhile, not much has changed. Open Doors listed Nigeria among the top ten persecutors of Christians on its 2022 World Watch List. And massacres of Nigerian Christians have only increased.
As we mark this fourth year after her abduction, Leah Sharibu remains a captive. Mercifully, across the world, faithful prayers continue for her freedom. But reports about her have dwindled into silence, despite repeated pleas from international human rights groups and Christian organizations appealing for information and for her release.
As the world's attention is diverted to other crises, other violence, and ever-increasing Christian persecution elsewhere, the significance of Leah's brave devotion to her faith continues to resonate. In an eloquent opinion piece, Nigeria's Guardian summed up the significance of Leah's capture, her faithful witness at just fourteen years of age, and her continued detention by the Boko Haram insurgents:
"The story of her capture and her continued detention by the Boko Haram insurgents as a result of her defiance of compromise and refusal to renounce her faith is the stuff of legend....Leah Sharibu alone was not released because she refused to renounce her faith and convert to Islam as demanded by her captors. Still missing and in captivity till the present . . . she has since become the symbol of Nigeria's refusal to succumb to agents of darkness, hell-bent on dividing the country and appropriating a section of the nation's territory to themselves. By her principled stand, the battle for the soul of Nigeria became one between a young girl with a heart and a garrison of devils without souls."
Such powerful and moving words are a clarion call to us all -- let's agree to persistently pray for Leah. Her faithfulness and courage are remarkable. And after four years of captivity at the hands of terrorists, she needs our intercession and advocacy now more than ever.
** Help us remember Leah this weekend by checking out Arielle Del Turco's blog, "Praying for Leah Sharibu after Four Years in Captivity."