August 28, 2018
Wilberforce A!ert: Where is Leah?
Leah Sharibu’s bedroom has been empty for almost 200 days. The 15-year old Nigerian student is not away at camp or studying abroad or visiting relatives. She has been held captive in an undisclosed location since members of the Boko Haram terrorist group kidnapped her and 109 of her classmates last February.
In the early evening hours of February 19, a band of armed terrorists stormed the all-girl’s school in Dapchi in northeast Nigeria and hauled the girls away, holding them for more than a month. Five of the girls died in captivity. Then, in a surprising move, the terrorists returned the remaining girls — all Muslim — to their village with the warning not to return to school. All that is, except Leah.
As a line of trucks drove into Dapchi and the girls began to disembark, parents waited anxiously and greeted their daughters with joy. Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu was not so joyful. Leah was not among the rest, and when she asked where here daughter was, the other girls said, “She refused to convert to Islam.” Devastated, Leah’s mother collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.
In May, Chika Oduah wrote an article for CNN about her heart-wrenching interview with Rebecca Sharibu, who described Leah as a quiet, hardworking girl who enjoyed going to church and singing in the choir. Rebecca said no other journalist had come to interview her, nor any official from the Nigerian government. Only Christian organizations took the time. The tragedy has taken its toll on Rebecca. Oduah described a broken woman: “Her eyes were in a daze, surrounded by drooping skin and deeply-etched lines. Her breaths came in haggard waves. She twisted the corners of her mouth downwards in a permanent frown.”
In 2014 the world watched a similar episode unfold when Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from the Chibok region. Despite a vigorous international #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign, almost half of the Chibok girls are still missing. They and Leah are among thousands of school children forcibly kidnapped by Boko Haram, who are daily enduring the agony of captivity.
Fifteen-year-old girls should not be tortured for their faith, and their mothers ought not be tortured by their absence. Those of us who are blessed to live in a nation that holds the freedom of religion dear should take a stand for others who are persecuted for their faith. It will take more than a hashtag campaign to win this battle, however. Faith groups must become activists, encouraging our government to uphold freedom of belief as a right for all people.
During this and every campaign season, take the time to learn where candidates stand on the issue of international religious freedom. Learn what other nations and organizations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide are doing to promote religious freedom. And as faith communities, when we gather for times of worship, pray intentionally for the persecuted. Pray for Leah and her mother, Rebecca, and the millions around the world who suffer for their faith.
Randel Everett, President