A Candle for Leah Sharibu

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By Obadiah Mailafia

THE whole world now knows about her. Leah Sharibu, the freckled teenage schoolgirl from Dapchi who refuses to renounce her faith — even on pain of death.

On the night of Monday 19 February this year, the agents of the dreaded Boko Haram Leviathan raided a girls’ boarding secondary school in the sleepy town of Dapchi; carting away 110 out of 906 on the school’s official roster.

This daredevilry was a repeat of their 2014 kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok Secondary School in Borno State. Following secret negotiations with the government, the Dapchi girls were released, with the exception of the four that died and Leah Sharibu. She was offered freedom by her abductors on condition that she renounced her faith. She has staunchly refused to budge.

Leah Sharibu

This young woman has shown herself to be uncommonly brave. During the early days of their captivity, she and two other girls, Amira and Maryam, did manage to escape but were captured and brought back after three days wandering in the primeval jungle.

During the Holy Lenten Season leading up to Easter, Christians throughout the country have been praying for her release.

On Good Friday last week my family and I lit a candle for Leah Sharibu. An organisation known as the Arewa Christians and Pastors’ Association, ACIPA, based in Jos has appealed to her abductors to set her free. They described Leah Sharibu as an “Ambassador for Jesus Christ”.

During his Easter Sunday message in far-way Omu-Aran in Kwara State, the Spiritual Father of the Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Worldwide, Most Reverend Samuel Abidoye, counselled Nigerians to emulate the courage and spiritual devotion of Leah Sharibu: “That little girl called Leah has challenged every one of us by refusing to denounce her faith while in the Lions’ den.

If that girl with her little faith in her can dare the consequences, then what about followers or leaders who are selling off their lives to the devil due to simple life difficulties that require us to only hold unto God?”

In our federal capital of Abuja, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, called upon President Muhammadu Buhari to expedite action towards freeing of Leah Sharibu. In the words of the Secretary-General of the CSN, Reverend Fr. Ralph Madu: “The story of Leah Sharibu is indeed a mixed story of faith, as well as a sad commentary on how religion has often been used as a tool of division by many for their own selfish purposes…At the long run, everyone in Nigeria, both Christians and Muslims alike, have much to learn from a deeply courageous 15 year old Christian girl from Dapchi about what it means to be loyal to one’s faith and to be faithful to one’s God even in the face of adversity.”

In August 2016, Boko Haram under its new leader, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, vowed not to attack mosques, Muslims or markets frequented by ordinary Muslims anymore, unlike what Abubakar Shekau used to do; rather, they will attack churches and Christians.  The refusal to release Leah might be in line with the new party line of this evil empire.

There are those who, even with the Christian fold, feel she could have just feigned conversion to Islam, regain her freedom and go back to her true love. One thing for sure is that her parents are proud of her act of courage in the face of a well-armed enemy. Christians are not to yearn for martyrdom or to wallow in death-wish. But if martyrdom should come, we are not to run away from it either. The resplendent vineyards of the church are awash with the blood of holy martyrs.

Martin Luther King Jr famously declared that a man has not begun to live until he has found a life-purpose big enough to die for.   In August 1941 a Polish priest, Maximilian Maria Kolbe, voluntarily took the place of a frightened Jew who was being led to death in a Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

In Westminster Abbey London, there is a memorial to ten famous martyrs of the twentieth century, among them Maximilian Kolbe of Poland; Manche Masemola of South Africa; Janani Luwum of Uganda; Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia; Martin Luther King Jr. of America; Oscar Romero of El Salvador; Lucian Tapiedi of Papua New Guinea; Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany; Wang Zhiming of China; and Qamar Zia (Esther John) of Pakistan. In the inimitable language of Paul the Apostle, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

In July 2009 Boko Haram beheaded three pastors – Sabo Yakubu, Sylvester Akpan and George Orji – because they refused to renounce their faith. George Orji was allowed to speak to his wife on phone before he fell under the sword. His last words could be summarised as follows: “My dear wife, I love you. Take care of the children. Tell the brethren that I did not betray our Lord.” In 2009, a special memorial was held for George Orji and his colleagues at the Interdenominational Chapel in Abuja.

I have never been able to control my tears each time I remember Pastor Orji and his fellow holy martyrs of Borno.

Dear Leah, continue to remain brave, courageous and strong in the Lord. They have swords, rocket-launchers and AK47s; you have nothing save your faith and your prayers. But remember that they of the invisible flaming swords are with you.

The Lord will lift you above your enemies. You will never know what you mean in the long history of the church. You represent hope in a time of peril; light in an age of darkness. Do not fear those who can kill only the flesh; rather, fear He who is able to kill both the flesh and the spirit. And please, love and forgive them that hate, persecute and spitefully use you. Yours is the kingdom.

On Good Friday, our Lord was hanged on the Cross with two armed robbers; the height of humiliation in the Palestine of that age. They put a crown of thorns on Him. They mocked and spat at him. A Roman soldier pierced his side with a sword. The sun became dark. His brethren ran away. Only his mother and the women stood by, wailing. Oh the loneliness of the Cross!

But Good Friday was not the end of the story. A new dawn began on Easter Monday. The women discovered an empty tomb. An angel told them that the Lord had risen. Some vagabonds have continued to peddle the lies that he did not die and that his followers were bribed to replace his body with that of another; implying that Apostles Peter, Matthew, Bartholomew, James, John, Mark, Philip, Simon, Thomas, Jude, and Thaddeus were 419.

The truth is that the venerable apostles could not by any stretch of the imagination have staked their entire lives in defence of a lie. Even Josephus, a pagan Roman historian, confirmed that many had seen the Risen Lord.

O Daughter of Zion, may the power of the Resurrected Christ quicken your release from captivity! It is our earnest prayer that you will come back to the warm embrace of your parents very soon. But if martyrdom it shall be, let your young virgin blood renew the church and bring revival to our benighted nation.

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