Leah Sharibu’s face has become a symbol of Christian courage in the darkest of circumstances. The Nigerian teenager has now been held captive for four years. Here we have the latest, including how her story mirrors so many awful stories across Nigeria. You will also find out how you can let Leah’s parents know that you are praying for them.
Leah's parents, Nathan and Rebecca, and her grandmother
On 19 February 2018, 14-year-old Leah Sharibu was among 110 students kidnapped from their school in Yobe State, Nigeria, by Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). Tragically, one girl died in captivity. The others were released within a month, but Leah was kept because she refused to deny Jesus.
Leah turns 19 this year. Despite government assurances that she will be freed, the agonising wait goes on for her and her parents, Rebecca and Nathan.
In January 2022, General Lucky Irabor, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, reassured Leah’s parents in an interview on Nigerian television that ‘concrete plans are being put in place to secure the release of not only Leah, but all those being held captive by terrorists’.
“With the privileged position that I hold, I am aware of plans and, of course, processes that are in place to ensure that not just Leah Sharibu but every other person held captive is released,” he added.
“There have been several such promises before,” explains Jo Newhouse*, Open Doors spokesperson for work in Africa. “One would therefore not blame Leah’s parents for curbing their excitement over such statements.”
In 2018, during a visit to the USA, President Buhari pledged to secure Leah’s freedom. Further assurances from the government emerged in 2019, around which time they also issued a denial that Leah had been killed. In December 2020, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, the Nigerian Defence Headquarters’ Director of Information, said he was unaware of any negotiation for the release of Leah, but said discussions could be being held at a higher level.
Given the global coverage around Leah Sharibu, it may seem that her story is unique. Sadly, the reality is that there are thousands of ‘Leahs’ whose names we may never know.
Kidnapping has been an issue in Nigeria for many years, and is increasing. It makes for a horribly bleak picture as far as Christian women and young girls are concerned, particularly in northern Nigeria but also increasingly in the south. Christian communities have been terrorised by Boko Haram, Fulani militants and ISWAP, as well as armed bandits, which has included women and girls being raped, forced into sexual slavery, killed for ransom, and even killed.
Christian men and boys are also targeted by such groups. Husbands, fathers and sons are killed with the aim of destroying livelihoods and depopulating Christian communities. Young boys are at risk of being recruited as child soldiers, while church leaders and church members are vulnerable to abduction for ransom.
We’ve previously reported that more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. The same applies to faith-based kidnapping, with the country accounting for two-thirds of cases worldwide. In total, the number of Christians abducted in Nigeria last year was 2,510 – an increase of more than 150% on the previous year. Nigeria is number seven on the Open Doors World Watch List 2022.
“I have not lost hope because God is in control and people are praying,” said Rebecca Sharibu in an interview last year. “I have the hope that one day, I will see my daughter again.”
"I have not lost hope because God is in control and people are praying" Rebecca Sharibu, Leah's mother
Thank you for faithfully standing with Rebecca and Nathan in prayer for their daughter. In Luke 18, Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow ‘to show them that they should always pray and not give up’ (Luke 18:1). Leah’s parents still have hope, and so should we – not just for Leah but all ‘Leahs’. Please let this drive your prayers for our precious brothers and sisters in Nigeria whose love for Jesus has come at tremendous cost.
Would you like to tell Leah’s parents that you are praying for them? You can do just that sending a postcard to let them know that they are in your hearts and prayers – see below to find out how.
*Name changed for security reasons
Leah’s parents need your prayers – and you can tell them that you are doing just that. We have a pre-designed postcard for you to fill in and return to us, and we will ensure this reaches Rebecca and Nathan, reminding them that Christians globally are praying for them and their daughter.
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