Originally published in Open Doors USA
We recently heard from our team in Africa who visited with the family of Leah Sharibu — the only girl who wasn’t freed from Islamic extremist group Boko Haram after they kidnapped more than 100 girls from a secondary school in the town of Dapchi in Nigeria. Leah refused to deny Christ and convert to Islam. In this conversation with her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, and one of her classmates, we learn more about the night of the attack and the painful days that followed — and gain greater insight into Leah’s character and the maturity of her unwavering faith.
“Monday, February 19, is a date I will never forget in my life.”
For 19-year-old Affodia Andrawus, a Christian classmate of Leah Sharibu, the night evokes feelings of fear and horror. In her own words, Affodia recounts the events leading up to the attack on the Government Girls School in Dapchi where she and more than 100 girls, including Leah, were living and studying.
“After our evening prep (study time), we were sitting down about to eat. Suddenly, we heard gunshots. We were trying to get ourselves coordinated when we heard more gunshots, and this time a bullet fell in front of the hostel where we were. The gunshots increased a lot, so we (Christians) decided to hold hands and run away. We knew we would be the target.
“Our teachers saw us running and tried to (reassure us), but the gunshots grew stronger. We continued to run. Leah’s hostel is in front of the gate, so we ran that way, calling for her. But she was caring for a sick roommate, Liyatu, and refused to leave her. Leah tried to carry Liyatu while we ran toward the fence. But Leah couldn’t run fast and kept falling with Liyatu. Liyatu eventually managed to run to the staff quarters. Leah and some of the other students ran towards the gate where, unfortunately, the Boko Haram truck was parked. We kept shouting her name, but she was put on the truck.
“The rest of us jumped the fence and kept running. We ran to a thick bush behind our school and hid there that night.”
That afternoon, teachers from the school found the girls and led them back to the school. There, they saw their parents and other students who had returned.
“There were tears of joy as parents saw their children,” Affodia says. “Then those whose children were still missing began to weep and wail.”
After the school chaplain took roll call, Leah Sharibu was the only Christian missing.
Abduction of the Dapchi girls
Rebecca Sharibu also remembers the night of February 19 as a night of terror. That evening, she and her family learned that Boko Haram fighters had entered their town of Dapchi. While many residents ran for their lives, the Sharibus stayed. Soon, Rebecca’s sister called to tell her that Boko Haram had entered Leah’s school and had abducted some of the girls.
“The night was so long, and my heart kept skipping a beat,” Rebecca remembers. “All I could think of was my Leah.”
Early the next morning, eager to check on her daughter, Rebecca Sharibu rose at 5.30 am. She brought her torch for light as she walked to the school in darkness, praying for her daughter.
“When I got there, I saw some parents crying and hugging their daughters, but I didn’t see my Leah,” Rebecca says.
The crowd continued to grow and eventually, school officials asked families to go outside and wait for more information. Sitting at the school gate, Rebecca waited 11 hours until 4.30 pm, hoping and praying to see her daughter’s face. But Leah did not return. Fearing the worst, she spent the night at the school gate, still waiting.
The next day, government officials told parents the girls had been found and were undergoing hospital treatment. They said that two girls had died in the crossfire between the military and Boko Haram.
“I was so sure my Leah was amongst those in the hospital,” Rebecca says. “My heart was at rest hearing this.”
Then the mixed messages started coming. Officials returned, now saying they weren’t sure where the girls were.
“There is nothing that can be done. Please go home,” they said.
“At that point, many parents broke down and collapsed,” Rebecca says, “but I was just there, feeling blank.”
The kidnapped girls returned
A month later on March 21, Rebecca answered an early morning phone call. Boko Haram had returned with the kidnapped girls, school officials reported. Parents could meet their daughters at a local park.
Rebecca remembers running to the park, so overcome with anticipation that several times she fell over her feet. When she got there, she saw no one but heard that the girls had been taken to the school, instead. She was weak from running, and the school wasn’t close. A good Samaritan offered to take her there.
“We first went to the palace, but no Leah. Then we went to the hospital and saw many girls receiving treatment.”
Still, Leah wasn’t there.
At the hospital, Rebecca saw one of Leah’s classmates.
“Where is my Leah?” she asked.
The friend’s report would bring Rebecca Sharibu to her knees. The young girl told her what had happened as they got on the truck to be taken home.
“Leah was told to say some Islamic incantations before she would be allowed onto the truck. But she refused. She said, ‘I will never say it because I am not a Muslim.’ They became angry and told her if she wouldn’t denounce Christ, she would remain with them. Still, Leah refused. We watched Leah being left alone with the other members. We kept crying and waving at her ’til the truck vanished.”
Hearing that her daughter was still in captivity, Rebecca fainted and was rushed to the hospital for treatment.
An unwavering faith
Leah’s resolve and unwavering faith are sources of great pride for the mother who each morning has been faithful to lead devotions and study God’s Word with her teenage daughter.
“I am so proud of my Leah because she did not denounce Christ,” she says. “And because of that, I know God will never forsake her. When she went away to school, I gave her a copy of the Bible so she could have her personal devotions even when I am not there. As her mother, I know her to be an obedient daughter, respectful and someone who puts others before herself.”
Affodia agrees, adding that at school, Leah is known for her patience.
“No matter how much Leah is mistreated or insulted by other students, she will never retaliate,” Affodia shares, “Instead, Leah will look for a way to make peace with everyone.
“If anyone is sick among the Christians, Leah is always the first to go and greet and pray for that person,” Affodia said. “Her life is really an example for all to follow.”
Affodia explained that two Sundays before the Dapchi kidnapping, the school chaplain preached about standing for Christ, no matter what.
“I believe that God allowed Leah to be the only Christian that was abducted for a reason — so that through her, the world and even her abductors would come to know Christ. Leah indeed has spread the gospel to all the world!”
Rebecca Sharibu knows that throughout the world, Christian believers are praying and advocating for the release and return of her daughter.
“But for now, I haven’t seen my Leah. I want to plead that Christians not grow tired of praying for her — ’til she returns.
“My heart is heavy but joyful in this trial because my Leah refused to denounce Christ, just as our church says, ‘being joyful in suffering.’ My encouragement is this: I know that even if Leah is dead, she is with the Lord.
She has encouraging words for anyone tackling pain and grief: “For those who are going through situations and trials, just be hopeful and hold on to God.”