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Nigeria (MNN) –The government of Nigeria hopes to put a rumor to rest: Leah Sharibu is still alive.

(Photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs Canada)

The rumor made social media rounds in the last couple of months. A spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Greg Musselman gives some context: "About a year and a half ago, February of 2018, Leah was kidnapped along with over 100 girls (in the northwest part of Nigeria, in Yobi state), by the Boko Haram. Eventually, all the girls were released except Leah because she refused to announce her faith in Jesus."

Yeah, but can you believe the government?

President Muhammadu Buhari's administration officially denies the story of Sharibu's reported death, but his track record with Christians creates a credibility issue. Amnesty International fiercely criticized Buhari for his inaction on security issues. Musselman agrees.  "The government is not always trustworthy. The bigger issue is they have not been able to secure her release. That's been a difficult situation, and then there's also the ongoing killing of Christians."

(Photo courtesy of Think Defence/Flickr/CC)

However, the federal government says it is in talks with Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) about Leah's release, and that's hopeful news. "There's no reason for them to say that she's alive if she wasn't. I think they would then condemn the Boko Haram for needlessly killing this young lady."

The face of the Church

Leah symbolizes the vulnerability of Christian women in northern Nigeria. Women are often doubly targeted: once for being Christian, and again for being a woman, according to an Open Doors USA report. Nigeria is number 12 on the 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors' annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. In Nigeria, it's coming from two groups: the Boko Haram (part of which has split off to become ISWAP), and the Fulani herdsmen.

(Graphic courtesy of VOM-Canada)

No matter what happens in the talks, the root cause is not land rights or religious rights. This problem goes much deeper. Musselman explains, "It's not just Christians that are being persecuted by the Islamists; it's also any group of Muslims that don't go along with their form of Islam (which is a more radical Sharia law-type Islam). So people get caught in the physical battle, but it's a spiritual battle as well."

What we can do

VOM-Canada supports the existing body of Christ in Nigeria. They work with in-country ministry partners to facilitate skills training for 70 widows whose husbands died for their Christian faith. They've also joined forces with a United Kingdom-based ministry partner to build a medical clinic in a persecution' hot zone'. Their assistance enables the local church to be the hands and feet of Christ in difficult areas. We can also pray.  Pray not only for ministry but also for the government leaders as they tackle terrorism. Musselman urges us to ask God to grant wisdom, courage, strength, and help. Pray for the Sharibu family, for the power to keep the faith as they wait. And finally, "We need to be praying for Leah. She is somebody that is an example of standing strong for Christ and refusing to bow down to anything that does not glorify God."       (Headline image courtesy Marco Verch/Flickr/CC)