After spending time with the parents of the girls an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria abducted from the Chibok State Secondary School last year, an Open Doors worker sheds light on the current circumstances of the girls and their families.
That dreadful day unfolded when the teen girls reported on Sunday, April 13, 2014 to the school to take an exam scheduled for the following Tuesday morning. an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria militants stormed the Chibok School at about 11 p.m. that Sunday night, breaking through to the school area. Upon entering the dormitory the rebels told the girls that Chibok town was under attack and that they were soldiers who had come to protect them. The attackers were dressed as soldiers, so the girls followed their orders to go outside and enter the vehicles. Before they left, the insurgents burned down most of the buildings in the compound. They then drove the girls deep into the Sambisa forest. While many questions remain about the girls’ fate, parents of the girls have helped clarify some of the confusion.
Is there clarity now about the number of girls that remain in captivity?
There is fluctuation in the figures, but the parents were told that 275 had reported to the school before the attack. In total, 47 of the girls managed to escape either shortly before the abduction, on the road to the hideout, or from the first location where they were kept. As far as we know, none of the remaining 228 girls have been released or been able to escape. Recent news reports that one girl escaped and was found by The Fulani are a large ethnic group in West Africa. A third of all Fulani people are pastoralists, making them the largest nomadic community in the world. tribesmen have been dismissed as unreliable.
Has there been any news about the girls?
There has been no concrete news about the girls’ whereabouts. Though the multination task force of soldiers from Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Chad has had some success against the insurgents and many hostages have been freed, so far none of the groups have included any of the Chibok girls. Some of the freed hostages freed claimed to have seen the girls.
The parents have heard rumors that their daughters have been divided into three groups and have been taken across the border. There are even rumors that they have been taken to Niger and forced into marriages. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, President Buhari said, “We have an idea where the girls are. Our main problem is that we want to rescue them alive.” He also said that some an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria leaders have expressed willingness to enter into discussions with them. “We want to make sure; they have to prove to us that they are alive, that they are well, and then we can promise them and negotiate with them.”
Has the security situation in the northeast and in Chibok in particular improved?
Yes, the situation has improved somewhat. The fathers we met with recently told us that many have returned to the area and are trying to rebuild their lives. Some are trying to cultivate crops to sustain their families. However, insecurity remains a major concern that continues to disrupt the lives of the people in the Chibok area.
People cannot go to outlying farms because BH is still an active presence in the area. The week before our visit, BH rebels attacked a village near Chibok, killing an unknown number of people and abducting around 30 children under the age of ten. All markets remain closed, forcing locals to travel long distances to buy and sell. Parents are particularly concerned that none of the area schools have reopened. Their children have now missed one and a half years of school. Many teenage boys and young men have also fled the area, fearing abduction and forced induction into BH ranks, and seeking open schools at which to continue their education. The parents are very worried about this situation.
Do the parents have more trust in the new president to bring back their girls?
Many were deeply disappointed that at the end of the former president’s term in office, they had seen no tangible results from his promise to bring back the girls alive. Despite initial hope for improvements under the new government, the fathers expressed disappointment that insecurity has continued since the new president has taken office. They do not feel that they are enjoying adequate protection. A major concern is that some parts of the local government area are under the protection of army bases too far away to offer real help when BH strikes. Usually the insurgents have left by the time the army arrives.
How are the parents doing?
The traumatized parents remain under a lot of strain. The fathers expressed concern over the emotional state of their wives and children, as well as the negative effect on their health. At least 18 of the parents have died of stress related disease since the abduction.
What has been the effect on their faith?
The effect has been mixed. Some of the fathers reported that there are many who remain steadfast in the faith. Some have even returned to church after being absent for a while. But there are also many who have gone back to traditional practices, consulting medicine men to try and bring the girls back through witchcraft. They do not take it for granted that Christians will remain strong and emphasize the need for more prayer from the worldwide Body of Christ that believers will not be tempted to give up.
However, the fathers we spent time with said they do not see the persecution they are facing as something extraordinary, but as a natural part of being a Christian and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. They expressed hope that they will yet see the faces of their daughters in this life, and, if not in this life, then in paradise. They also expressed trust that the Lord will use this suffering for their good and desire for this suffering to result in His glory.
The spontaneous reference of all of the fathers to a desire to forgive was deeply moving. They are all fighting the enemy image they have of the insurgents, and instead to love and forgive them in accordance with the commands of the Lord. They have a sincere desire to see them come to Christ and share in the hope of spending eternity with Him.
How has OD been supporting these families?
OD continues to contact the parents as often as possible to keep encouraging them and reminding them that we have not forgotten their plight. We have supplied material support, provided medicine and food, and reached out to them with a trauma care seminar.
In 2016, Open Doors will also be setting up a trauma care center to offer long-term, more specialized trauma care to severe cases of violent persecution and pastors prone to burnout. Our involvement and the involvement of other believers have served as a constant encouragement to these parents.
We come before you today, Father, to stand alongside the Chibok girls and their families, interceding on their behalf when their faith grows weak and hopelessness overtakes them, which surely it must at times. Thank You for the testimony of their faith. With these parents, we turn to you and not to earthly authorities, as we pray the girls. We are reminded as we enter this Christmas season that Christ not only lived and died on our behalf, but He suffered here in ways we will never know, in ways that give us confidence that You understand our own suffering, even that of these girls and their parents. So in this time we set aside here to celebrate the birth of Jesus, God incarnate, we pray that You will encompass them with Your peace, that You will strengthen their faith and guard against turning away in hopelessness, that You will keep them from seeking help from charms and spells, and that You will strengthen them with Your Word to continue to live lives of forgiveness and hope. In the Name of Jesus, our one true and living hope, Amen.