Written by Jared Vander Meulen
Leah Sharibu was 14 the day that her life was uprooted.
It was a normal day at her school, Government Girls Science Technical College in Dapchi, Nigeria. Life was full of optimism.
But on the evening of February 18, 2018, that optimism was shattered. The school was attacked by militants from the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), a branch of the extremist group Boko Haram and more than one hundred girls were taken into captivity.
Thankfully, due to negotiations with the terrorists, most of the students were released within a month.
“When all the parents ran to the school to see their daughters, I was told Leah is not among them,” says Rebecca Sharibu, Leah’s mother. “I asked the girls that came back, ‘How come Leah is not back?’” The girls informed Rebecca that ISWAP knew Leah was a Christian. When they told her to recant, she refused. It cost her freedom.
Two months later, ISWAP released a proof of life video of Leah. They announced that Leah would not be killed, but that she would be kept as their “slave for life.”
That was over five years ago. Leah is now 20 years old.
A Nigerian church leader in 2021 was able to confirm that Leah was alive, but information remains sparse.
For her mother and father, the heartache continues each day. Nathan and Rebecca Sharibu still live in Dapchi, waiting for Leah to return. What was originally widespread support and campaigning for Leah’s release has gradually waned since 2018.
Rebecca has yet to see or hear from her daughter personally. “Only the video released some days after their abduction, that was the first and last time I saw her face and heard her voice,” she says.
Leah Sharibu is just one example of increasing extremist activity in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria. Religious minorities provide a natural target for groups like Boko Haram. In Sub-Saharan African alone, 5,170 Christians killed for their faith, 1,500 Christians were sexually violated, and 2,714 Christians were abducted in 2022, according to Open Doors, an international organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide.
These brothers and sisters are part of the over 360 million Christians who experience high to extreme levels of persecution because they choose to follow Jesus.
That can be hard for us in Canada to grasp. In a country that freely publishes Christian magazines, where there are innumerable churches to choose from, and where federal leaders identify with a multiplicity of faith traditions—hearing persecution statistics like those above can feel divorced from reality.
And yet for millions of our brothers and sisters around the globe, this is the cost of following Jesus.
I’m reminded of two passages of Scripture. One is 1 Corinthians 12, where we are reminded that we are the body of Christ; and when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer with it. The other is Acts 12, when the apostle Peter was imprisoned by Herod. Acts 12:5 says that while he slept in his jail cell, believers gathered together and earnestly prayed to God for him. That night, he was miraculously released.
Leah Sharibu and her parents are our family. They are part of the body of Christ, and their suffering should drive us to action. Imagine if the church across Canada did what the believers did when Peter was imprisoned—earnestly prayed to God on Leah’s behalf?
Rebecca desires just that. “I am pleading with everyone around the world. I know people have been praying, I am still pleading that we should keep praying. That God will help and rescue her one day from her captors.”
Will you commit to praying? Ask the Lord for strength and peace for Rebecca and Nathan. Pray that Leah will be reminded of God’s presence with her. Finally, pray that she might be freed—her, and the thousands of other captives who faithfully follow Jesus even when doing so costs them their freedom and safety.