After several decades of being on this planet and seeing – and even performing in – more than a few nativity productions, I might be somewhat guilty of taking the emotional aspects of the story for granted, of distancing myself from the pain and hardships faced by those at the heart of the narrative.
Our productions never usually portray those events in their starkest realities and, I daresay, as we celebrate Christmas surrounded by tinsel and turkey and piles of presents, it is quite easy for any of us to gloss over them in our hearts.
Recently, however, I was made to stop and think, as I heard the latest news of Leah Sharibu, the Nigerian schoolgirl who, along with 110 others, was abducted by Boko Haram in February 2018. The Islamic terrorist group released all the other girls, but Leah was denied release because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. At the time of writing this article, Leah was still being held, and the latest report was that Boko Haram had threatened to kill her.
With less than 95 days till Christmas (and decreasing) and 150 days since Leah’s abduction (and increasing), I also wondered what Leah’s parents were going through: how they were feeling; how they were actually coping. I cannot really begin to imagine, because I am just not in their shoes. I did, however, feel Leah’s parents must be as distressed as Mary and Joseph must have been, when they had to flee to Egypt because their Son’s life was in danger. They must be as distressed as all the other parents were, whose children Herod had actually killed, and they were no doubt marking this time in a different way than most other people, who were looking forward to Christmas.
If no one else was, surely they were closer, emotionally, to the horrors that surrounded that First Christmas.
Past media reports have spoken of the fact that Leah’s parents felt—for want of a better word—‘fantastic’ that their daughter had not denied Christ. “[It] makes me feel great,” her father was reported as saying. “I didn’t think that girl could do something like that, because she is young, small, and she doesn’t talk just like that.”
But despite that, the trauma has taken a toll on the family, with her mother reported to have collapsed since discovering her daughter was not among the released girls. She has been unwell ever since.
According to the online resource, Abarim Publications, the name Leah is a biblical Hebrew name that means weary or tired. How ironic, then, that this apparently unassuming 15 year old has shown such solid strength, and not become wearied into abandoning her seven-month-long stance for her Saviour, Jesus.
Press and Public Affairs Team Leader with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Kiri Kankhwende, said: “The latest update is that Saifura Husseini Ahmed and Hauwa Liman, two of the three humanitarian workers abducted by the al-Barnawi faction of the Boko Haram in May, were executed on Tuesday 18 September and Saturday 27 October respectively. This is the same group holding Leah, and they have threatened to kill the remaining hostages, including Leah, in one month unless the Nigerian government responds to its demands.
“CSW is urging Christians to use the powerful tool of prayer to stand with Leah and her family. In light of the recent threats, we are calling on Christians in the UK to join us in coordinated, focused and intensified prayer, praying through Psalm 27 daily at 5.30pm, which is the time of day when Leah was abducted.
“You can also sign our petition (www.csw.org.uk/prayforleah), calling on Nigeria’s President Buhari to intervene to help Leah, or use our online guide to write a letter to the Nigerian Ambassador.”
Kiri added, “We are in touch with Leah’s family, and they have asked people everywhere to pray for Leah’s release and to do whatever they can to help secure her freedom. We have a range of suggested activities for people to do on our website: www.csw.org.uk/prayforleah.”
Personally, my prayer for Leah’s family is that the peace God spoke at that first Christmas, will pervade their lives and home; that God will be glorified through this situation; that the world will see He is Lord; that He will continue to strengthen this extraordinary teenager, who continues to astound the world with her boldness, and that Christmas may actually find her returned home safely.