Open Doors (OD) recently visited parents of some of the approximately 200 Chibok girls who remain missing six weeks after their abduction by an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria in mid-April. The visit was intended to encourage the parents and to deliver close to half of the nearly 2,000 prayer messages we have received for them from Christians around the world.
“The atmosphere remains tense in Chibok and its surrounding areas. In one of the villages, the local chief, upon seeing us, went into his house and came out with a gun. He wanted to shoot us. He thought we were members of an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria because we came by car.”
After the team had convinced the chief that they were Christians coming to encourage and pray for the parents, he put away his gun and joined them in visiting the other villages.
“We tried to visit as many of the parents as we could. However, some of the women have gone to Abuja and others have gone to their farms away from town. Rain has also made some of the roads impassable and prevented us from getting to some of the more remote villages.”
Our colleague shared that he was deeply touched to see the effects of the pain on the parents. “What they are going through is unimaginable. Many we met were simply too broken to say much at all. They just cried. Clearly the pressure is taking its toll.”
Local media reported on May 22 that one father of eight children, whose two daughters are among the missing girls, died of a heart attack recently. It is not clear if Mutai Hona was a Christian. He is the second Chibok parent to have died under the pressure of the situation. Mary Lalai died of a heart attack shortly after hearing that her daughter had been abducted.
One heartbroken father, Ishaya, told OD in tears that the shock of his daughter’s abduction was so great that it has left him paralyzed. “I feel so bad…I cannot even get out of bed. I leave everything to God.”
The Christians of Chibok are neither highly educated or rich in the things of this world. They live simple lives in sincere dependence on God for things most of us around the world take for granted. Even in the midst of this crisis, many we spoke to responded with the optimistic and bold faith we have come to know and love about the northern Nigerian Christians. They cling firmly to hope that they will yet see their daughters unharmed. Where there is life, there is hope.
Ayuba and his wife, Rifkatu, said, “We are worried and sad, but we hope in God.”
Another parent, Tabitha, expressed confidence in her daughter’s resilience. “For as long as she lives, she will look for ways to get back home. By the grace of God, she will return to me.”
Meanwhile, the search for the abducted girls continues with the support of the US, the UK and France. On Wednesday, May 21st, President Barack Obama said 80 military personnel had been deployed to neighboring Chad to help search for the missing Chibok girls. In a letter to Congress, President Obama said, “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area.” Local media also quoted military personnel as saying the girls have been sighted in camps near Lake Chad.
From conversations with the parents and some of the girls who managed to escape, we were able to confirm that on Sunday, April 13th, 275 schoolgirls reported to the Chibok Government Secondary School to take an exam on Tuesday morning April 15th. At about 11pm that Sunday night, armed an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria insurgents arrived and broke into the school area. They burned the administration block and classroom blocks.
The schoolgirls were in a state of panic and confusion. Under the cover of darkness, some of them jumped over the fence of the school and ran away to safety.
Forcing their way into the dormitory, the rebels told the girls that Chibok town was under attack and that they were there to protect them. Since the attackers were dressed in uniforms, the girls, believing that they were soldiers, followed their orders to go outside and enter the vehicles.
While they traveled between the Chibok and the village of Gaglung, sixteen of the girls realized what was happening and managed to jump from the vehicles to run away. Once the abducted girls and their captors reached the hideout, another four girls escaped with the assistance of one of the terrorists. In total, 47 of the 275 students present at the school during the attack managed to escape either shortly before the abduction, on the road or at the hideout.
Although most of the parents seem too dazed and overwhelmed to really note the immense support they are receiving from the family of Christ around the world, a few, including Yakubu, one of the fathers, expressed their thanks. “We feel bad, but are thankful to God for the global concern the kidnapping is receiving.”
“Even if they do not fully understand it now, we pray that as the parents page through the many messages they are receiving, they would see the support from brothers and sisters around the world and be encouraged. We know that each of the messages we receive comes with a sincere plea to God to sustain the girls and the parents, to fulfil His purposes in their lives and to bring them back together again in His time. Please don’t stop praying,” commented an Open Doors Africa team member.
Father, we want to do something earthly and tangible to rescue these girls, to calm their hearts, to bring peace to their parents-but we are powerless. We take heart knowing that You are mighty to act in all our circumstances and You have promised not to let even one of Your children be lost to the evil one. And as we turn our worries and concerns to You in prayer, You have promised to grant us Your peace. And so today, we come alongside our fellow Christians in northern Nigeria who are suffering so much, beseeching You to grant protection and peace. We pray that Your lavish grace would strengthen them in all of their tragic and fearful circumstances. We pray that Your Spirit would fill these girls with indescribable peace, and that You will use the testimony of Your presence in them to draw those who do not know You, whether they are captured ones or the captors, into saving faith. We pray that You will continue to use the letters of encouragement we have written to them to grant them peace, words that are powerless in themselves, but filled with might when Your Spirit applies them to the hearts of those who hear them. And we plead on behalf of these girls; that You would return them to their homes, safe and ready for Your Spirit to heal any fearful places in their hearts. In the name of Jesus, our mighty rock and fortress, Amen.