YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – If by February 19, 2020, Nigerian teen, Leah Sharibu doesn’t regain her freedom, she will have spent exactly two years in Boko Haram captivity.
The 16-year old was abducted, along with 109 others, by the Boko Haram faction ISIS-WA. The students were attending class at the Government Girls Science and Technical School in Dapchi, Yobe State, Nigeria. Five of the girls died in the abduction. 105 were taken, including Leah.
In March, the abductors returned 104 abductees. Sharibu was not among them. The terrorists held her back because she wouldn’t renounce her Christian faith to adopt Islam.
Her continuing captivity has provoked worldwide condemnation and calls for her releasee, and her stubborn refusal to renounce her faith has earned her plaudits from Christians all over the world.
In an interview with Crux, Edward Clancy, Director of Outreach for Aid to the Church in Need USA described Leah as “a living martyr” whose resolve should inspire other Christians to cling to their faith, even in the face of extreme challenges.
Crux: The Nigerian teenager, Leah has spent nearly two years in Boko Haram captivity. The terrorist organization won’t release her because she refused their demands to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. What does her resolve tell you about the power of faith?
Clancy: Leah’s faith in Christ is amazing. She is a martyr of the faith! We forget that the word martyr is Greek for witness and that one who witnesses like Leah is a living martyr. Her faith will inspire conversions and deepening of faith. We must pray for her safe return from captivity and advocate that more is done to free her.
Would you advise every other Christian in a similar situation to react the same way?
I would hope that Christians never get called to a witness like Leah has but would suggest that each of us who faces suffering for our Christian faith will do so knowing the example of Leah. I would advise them to seek the inner strength to remain true and focused on Jesus who came to offer salvation to all.
Hers isn’t an isolated case. Across Africa, Christians are being forced to deny their faith. How serious is the Christian faith threatened in Africa in comparison to other parts of the world?
Christianity is under constant attack in Africa. Other than Nigeria, the countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo have all witnessed violent attacks against Christian faithful. There is a concerted effort by groups in the Persian Gulf states to export and finance radical Islamism. Similar to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, roads are financed, and mosques are built where there are no Muslims. Then radical imams feed off of local poverty and lack of education to radicalize youth and young men.
If you told someone that in the middle of ISIS’s reign of terror, it was Nigeria where there were the most terror attacks against Christians, you would probably get a look of disbelief, but it is true.
Do you think the Nigerian government has been doing enough to get Leah out of captivity?
I don’t think enough has been done by Nigeria or other countries that should be helping. The terrorists exist in and amongst several countries. Mali’s troubles become Burkina Faso’s troubles. Nigeria’s problems spill over into Cameroon. And the 2012 collapse of Libya has gone to feed terrorism in multiple countries.
If you were to meet with Leah’s captors, what would you tell them?
I am reminded of Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive them because they know not what they do.” They know what they are doing is wrong and would not want to experience it themselves, but they are afraid to allow any dissent. I would ask them why they are so afraid of a young woman who believes differently than they do.
What do you think is responsible for the high incidence of Christian persecution in Africa?
Africa has too many countries that are fertile fields for radical Islam and militant Marxism. Poverty, government ineffectiveness, corruption and lack of education all build a toxic environment where groups like Boko Haram can grow. In fact, the violent extremist groups will work to continue the environment by upsetting order and destabilizing governments.
What has Aid to the Church in Need been doing to bring respite to the continent’s persecuted Christians?
In the place where Boko Haram was born – Maiduguri, Nigeria – Aid to the Church in Need has sent over $230,000 to fund programs to help communities and victims to recover from Boko Haram. In 2018, there was a brief respite, but now unfortunately, because of the attacks of the Fulani herdsmen, we have renewed this help in the Diocese of Bauchi.
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