Imagine more than 200 female, mostly Christian teenagers in an all-girls school getting kidnapped by an al-Qaeda-linked terror group whose name means “Western education is a sin.” Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. This nightmare scenario is Nigeria’s grim reality right now.
One night in mid-April, presumed members of the Boko Haram terrorist group invaded the school, which is situated in the Christian enclave of Chibok in northeastern Borno State. They took approximately 300 girls, aged 16 to 18, captive, and disappeared into the forest. While several dozen girls escaped from the open trucks of their kidnappers, the rest have not been heard from.
“I’m so sad now because when I’m at home I think about all my school friends who are there in the bush,” an 18-year-old escapee told the BBC from her home in Chibok. “I hope they are set free. We are all praying for God to release them so they come back home.”
Within hours, an explosion ripped through part of Abuja, the national capital, killing at least 70 people and wounding 120 more. Boko Haram was quick to claim responsibility for the blast.
According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram attacks have killed 1,500 people so far this year (half of them civilians), aside from the unknown fate of the missing girls. In February, the Nigerian military blamed Boko Haram for killing at least 29 students in an attack on a federal college in nearby Yobe state. Another report said Boko Haram murdered 59 students in February. Last July, 20 students and a teacher were shot dead in Yobe.
Kidnapping began as a strategy of the group about a year ago. Those kidnapped are made into servants, Boko Haram says. However, some observers fear that the females could be made into sex slaves. One report says relatives have been told that some of the missing girls have been taken as brides. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“In November,” CNN reports, “the militant group abducted dozens of Christian women, most of whom were later rescued by the military deep in a forest in Maiduguri. At the time of their rescue, some were pregnant or had children, and others had been forcibly converted to Islam and married off to their kidnappers.”
Boko Haram, along with other militant Muslim groups, seeks a pure Islamic state in Nigeria, a country of 158 million people. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is roughly evenly split between Christians, who predominate in the south, and Muslims, who control the north with an increasingly repressive form of Islam. Most of these terror groups agitate for Islamic law in the country’s north, though violence is spreading southward.
On Easter Sunday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in which he boasted, “I am the Shekau that does not like Christians, and I don't like Muslims that relate with Christians. We have been commanded by Allah not to associate with infidels because they cannot be trusted until they accept your religion. So you cannot say you are a believer and then go and follow democracy; we cannot allow you to ridicule the religion of God; never!”
“The scale of persecution of Christians by Muslims has accelerated in Nigeria’s northern states and as far south as the central plateau,” reports Operation World. “It has caused the death of thousands, including pastors, and the destruction of hundreds, even thousands, of churches. It has united Christians and driven them to the Lord in prayer.”
Following the Boko Haram abductions last month, the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the largest umbrella group for Christians in the West African nation, announced three days of prayer and fasting for the captives’ release. Christian and Muslim groups have joined in prayer over the situation. Even the national government has called for prayer—while President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, has faced withering criticism for not doing enough to find the girls and bring their captors to justice.
But where is the international outcry? Outside observers say that other events around the globe, such as the South Korean ferry disaster, have diverted the world’s attention from the kidnapped girls. The story of the ferry is from a more accessible part of the world, from the news media’s perspective—complete with pictures. The Boko Haram story, by contrast, is more complex, comes from a region of little interest to most Westerners, and offers few photos. Might there also be a whiff of racial prejudice also, as the Chibok captives are all black?
In any event, these girls remain missing, and their parents and loved ones are grief-stricken. Will we pray for them?
Image courtesy of RELEVANT.
Stan Guthrie is author of A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know, All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, and Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com.