Rev. Gideon, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. What is your relationship with Nathan and Rebecca and how did it come about?
When we received the news on the 21st of March 2018, that Leah was not released with all the other girls, many Christians were heartbroken. On the evening news I saw Rebecca Sharibu slumped amongst the other parents that were rejoicing. The grief that her daughter was still with those men was too much to bear and Rebecca basically fainted. I took a good look at her and I felt the Lord telling me, “Gideon, you have to stand up for this family. Stand up for Leah Sharibu.”
From there, I made contact. Now, I provide pastoral care and support for the family, not necessarily as their local church pastor, but as a Christian brother who is concerned for the persecuted Church in Nigeria.
After we first spoke to Leah’s parents, I began thinking of the best practical support my wife and I could give the family. After a big traumatic event, a person can easily feel isolated. We decided to invite them to stay with us. We can’t just pray for them from a distance, they need us to walk beside them so that they know they are not alone.
So, we have built a supportive community around the family. I try to talk to them as often as possible and pray with them. When we talk over the phone, I use the opportunity to pray for them and Leah, to encourage and remind them that people have not forgotten about their daughter. They need reassurance that the world, and God, have not forgotten about their family’s plight, because it is true, people from all over the world are praying for them and for Leah to be returned.
I am also thankful for Dr. Gloria Samdi-Puldu from the Leah Foundation, who has, with my wife, been a great support for Rebecca. The support of women is important. There are times when only another woman, and mother, can understand what Rebecca is going through.
Nathan calls me almost weekly and I can hear the expectation in his voice. He wants me to give them good news about Leah, about when she will be reunited with them. This is the difficult part for me, not being able to give them the news they so eagerly want. I pray that I can give them good news soon.
Can you tell us how Leah’s parents, Rebecca and Nathan, are doing?
Leah’s mother is doing okay under the circumstances. But if we’re being honest, can you really be okay, knowing that your daughter is still with her kidnappers after nearly two years? We don’t know for sure where she is and exactly what has happened to Leah—and that uncertainty is difficult.
Sometimes Rebecca has this distant look in her eyes, and you immediately know that physically she is here, but her mind and spirit are with Leah. Nathan is a supportive husband and father, but how much can one family endure?
The incessant media requests they receive are also tiring. You can imagine how many phone calls they receive. Journalists from all over Nigeria and the world call them, wanting some kind of quote or update. It is a difficult situation and maybe too much for Rebecca at the moment.
Recently, news circulated that Leah is married off and has given birth. Can you comment on that?
I’ll say that we view the news more as rumors. Yes, the stories are circulating, but it has not been confirmed through video or photos. Truthfully, this is not the first time these rumors have surfaced, and we need to be careful and mindful of sharing such information. It can easily demoralize the Sharibu family who have already been traumatized. But whatever the truth is, we will keep encouraging Leah’s family.
When I heard the stories, it was a difficult decision whether or not to share it with Nathan and Rebecca. If it is true, then surely, they would be heartbroken for their daughter who is still a teenager. And if the news was false, it would unnecessarily cause them further trauma. We decided to only address it once it was reported by mainstream media.
When I spoke to Nathan, he accepted the news in good faith, but we knew it would be difficult for Rebecca.
Are there any developments in the situation?
So, just before Leah had her first birthday in captivity (May 19, 2018), Rebecca came to visit us in Jos. This gave us the opportunity to arrange a press conference so Rebecca could speak on behalf of her family and make an appeal for Leah’s return.
We are thankful that the press conference grabbed the attention of President Buhari. He saw Rebecca speaking, how she broke down in tears in her appeal to him to do everything in his power to bring Leah home. This then led President Buhari to place a phone call to Rebecca on October 3, promising to bring her daughter home. This was the first time, to my knowledge, that the president has personally spoken to the family of a kidnapped victim in Nigeria.
The media coverage not only got the attention of President Buhari, but also of Boko Haram—in August, six months after the kidnapping of the Dapchi girls, Boko Haram released an audio recording of Leah pleading with the president to facilitate her release.
The stories of Leah having a baby came amidst ongoing negotiations. And, of course, the news that the aid workers were released earlier this year, gives us hope. But the situation remains sensitive, and we don’t want to say or do anything to jeopardize the negotiations.