While the latest reports circulating about Leah Sharibu (20) – who was taken from her school in 2018 by Boko Haram militants – cannot be verified, Leah’s parents are renewing their calls for Leah to be rescued, and for the church around the world to continue in prayer.
“My request morning and night is that you keep praying for Leah, as you have been doing in the past," asks her mother, Rebecca
It’s now five and a half years since Leah Sharibu was taken from her school by Boko Haram militants, and held in captivity because she refused to renounce her faith (more information in the original article, below). Her parents continue to pray for her release night and day, and many of you also continue to pray faithfully for Leah and her family – thank you. Amid new reports circulating, they have renewed their calls that Leah be rescued.
The reports – unaccredited and unverified - claim that Leah has remarried another commander from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and now has two children. Some allege that according to so-called ‘local security sources’ Leah divorced her first husband. Others suggest that he was killed in clashes.
“Our family remains grief-stricken by our daughter’s capture and ongoing imprisonment” Nathan and Rebecca Sharibu
According to one Nigerian lawyer, the reports could well be propaganda by jihadists designed to distress the Christian community and only serve as a distraction from what Nigerian Christians want: for the country’s new administration to reassure Christians that they are working towards Leah’s release from captivity.
A statement issued by the Leah Foundation on behalf of Nathan and Rebecca Sharibu says: “Why should we believe these local security sources? If they have intelligence on Leah’s whereabouts and any information, then where are the Nigerian armed forces? Why isn’t the government involved in securing her release?”
The statement from a spokesperson for Leah’s parents continues: “Our family remains grief-stricken by our daughter’s capture and ongoing imprisonment. We demand the rescue of Leah Sharibu and all others who are in captivity in the hands of terrorists.”
Jabez Musa* is a Nigerian Christian barrister. “Leah’s parents want to hear what the Nigerian government is doing to rescue her,” he says. “Updates on her marital situation are extremely demoralising. We don’t know if these reports are credible - they could well be no more than propaganda issued by the jihadists to discourage Nigerian Christians.
“However, if they are true, then the Nigerian government should have seized the moment – before Leah was married off again – to free her from captivity. Now Nigerian Christians believe that the government might have lost the moment.”
“The previous government under Buhari promised to secure Leah’s release,” he continues. “Hopes were dashed when those promises came to nothing. The current government under Tinubu has not yet come out to address Leah’s situation at all – nor have they addressed the wider security situation in Nigeria.”
Abductions of students from schools in northern Nigeria are common and have become a source of concern since 2014, when Islamic extremists kidnapped almost 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno state.
Just over a week ago, gunmen abducted at least 20 mostly female students from Zamfara state’s Bungudu district in northwestern Nigeria. The country is number six on the World Watch List, with violence and abductions among the ways in which Christians are targeted.
“We don’t know if these reports are credible - they could well be no more than propaganda issued by the jihadists” Jabez Musa, Nigerian Christian barrister
Commenting on the update, Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, says, “Leah wasn’t released when all her classmates were because she held strong in her faith and refused to convert to Islam. She is a symbol of how faithful Nigerian Christians can be when faced with extreme violence and adversity.
“Reports that she has renounced her Christian faith or has the freedom to ‘divorce’ a man she was forcefully married to only serve to discourage Nigerian Christians. We are urging Nigeria’s new President Bola Tinubu to liberate the hostages held by Boko Haram, including young Christian girls such as Leah Sharibu and the Chibok girls who are still held captive.”
You can read more about Leah’s story below. Please keep her and her family in your prayers.
*Name changed for security reasons
12 May 2023
Shortly after being kidnapped by Islamic militants from their school in February 2018, more than 100 girls were gathered by their captors and asked, “Who is a Christian?”
One girl courageously put up her hand. Her name is Leah Sharibu.
“We rebuked her and said that we are all Muslims,” reported the girls afterwards. “But she refused. She raised her hand and said she is a Christian. They [the militant group Islamic State West African Province, or ISWAP] said, since she is a Christian, she must denounce Christ and accept Islam before she could enter the van. She refused and said she is a Christian and she would not accept Islam.”
It was an extraordinarily brave thing to do, because whilst all other girls were released a month after being taken, Leah remained held – as she has ever since.
When she was first taken from the Government Girls Science Technical College in the town of Dapchi in northern Nigeria’s Yobe State, Leah was 14 years old. Her birthday is 14 May and this year she turns 20. She becomes an adult having had most of her teenage years cruelly robbed from her.
"She refused and said she is a Christian and she would not accept Islam" Leah Sharibu
For Leah’s mother and father, Rebecca and Nathan, the heartache continues each day. Leah’s story is no longer in the headlines, though many Open Doors supporters are faithfully praying for Leah and her family. Earlier this year, Open Doors local partners visited Rebecca and Nathan in Dapchi to encourage them and pray with the family, and to let them know that Open Doors supporters worldwide continue to pray for them.
For Rebecca, the moment she heard that her daughter was not among those released is etched into her memory. “When all the parents ran to the school to see their daughters, I was told Leah is not among them. Leah was not returned. I asked the girls that came back, ‘How come Leah is not back?’”
It was then that Rebecca and Nathan were told of their daughter’s courageous faith – and what it had cost her.
“Since you will not accept Islam, you will be left here [as a prisoner],” the militants said to Leah, to which she defiantly replied: “I will not accept Islam because I am not a Muslim. I will remain here.” The girls told Rebecca that, after her declaration of faith, Leah was crying. “We were all crying as they put us in the van and left,” said one of Leah’s classmates.
Two months later, ISWAP released a video in which Leah begged for the government’s help and asked the public to ‘help my mother, father, my younger brother and relatives’. Two weeks later, the militant group warned that they would kill Leah, 15 at the time, if their demands were not met. After the deadline, ISWAP released another video saying that Leah would be their ‘slave for life’.
While there are frequent rumours about Leah’s whereabouts, and reports that Leah has been married off to one of the commanders and given birth to two children, her parents have yet to see or hear from her daughter.
“Only the video released some days after their abduction, that was the first and last time I saw her face and heard her voice,” says Rebecca.
Rebecca is so proud of ‘her Leah’, even while knowing that her daughter would be with her now if she had renounced her faith. “I am thankful to Leah for the decision she took,” she continues. “She refused to become a Muslim. Her strong faith makes me feel very happy.”
It’s a joy that sits alongside grief and agonising uncertainty. “Honestly, we are not happy,” admits Rebecca. “We are just managing our lives here.” But they don’t live in despair, helped by their unwavering faith. “God has been our source of strength in everything we are doing. Looking at my walk with God, I can say this is the time I became closer to Him.”
Like many persecuted believers navigating the absence of a family member, Rebecca turns to her community and the Bible for support: “Joining the women’s fellowship church, I have been really encouraged and strengthened,” she shares. “Staying alone at home will not strengthen or encourage me… Anytime I am worried, I read and recite Psalm 23.”
"Looking at my walk with God, I can say this is the time I became closer to Him" Rebecca Sharibu
Such faith not only gives Rebecca and her husband strength for each day but hope for tomorrow. “We are praying for Leah; nothing is too big for God to do. I know one day she will come back,” she says.
Leah’s mother also has a message for her global family who continue to uphold her family in prayer. “I want to say a big thank you to Open Doors who have been praying with us, may God bless you all. Our thanksgiving is the only thing I can give. I lack how best to say thank you,” she says. “My request morning and night is that you keep praying for Leah, as you have been doing in the past. I know that one day God will answer and rescue my daughter.”
Thank you also to the hundreds of you who have written a message of encouragement to Rebecca and Nathan. These have now been sent to the couple and they will be a tremendous source of encouragement to them.
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