“Tunawah Leah”

Friends; I first shared this post with you in January 2020. As we approach the third anniversary of this young lady’s captivity and persecution at hand of ISIS-WA (aka Boko Haram in Nigeria), my heart remains burdened. On February 19, 2021 Miss Leah Sharibu will be a prisoner for three years for two reasons. First and foremost, it’s because she refuses to renounce her Christian faith. The other reason, I believe, is that God has a purpose for her life that we can’t understand.

I share this story again this year; and pray I won’t have to this time next year. I’ve been praying daily for this young lady since first learning of her plight from her mama in October 2019. Please join me this week in praying for her safety, protection, health, and God’s mighty hand upon her. However He is choosing to use this faith-filled child of God; please ask Him to bring comfort to her still-grieving family. Now, Leah’s story:

Lonely and afraid, you tremble when he motions you to come with his AK-47 rifle. He’s killed five of your classmates in recent days. Are you next to die? His face covered with a dark balaclava; approaching, you see his cold, lifeless, soulless eyes peering at you.

You wonder, Is he in pain from chewing Khat that has stained and is rotting his teeth? Why does he always wear a mask? Why does he hide himself? He barks his command to you; “Get on the truck! You may go home to your family.” As you turn, his bony fingers dig into your shoulder, spinning you around to face him again. His dark eyes, like those of a shark, pierce your soul. You hear delight in his voice as he demands “You must first claim your allegiance to Allah!” You sense the evil smile behind his words.

”Do this and you can go home.” The moment of decision has come. Terrified, mistreated, beaten, and starved for weeks now, your freedom is but a few steps away. In your small voice, you utter “I cannot. I am a Christian.”

“I will kill you if you do not do this!” he shouts. Do you rip yourself from his grasp and run for the truck? Perhaps surrender your beliefs and tell him what he wants to hear? You know it’s not true, but you can be free. In this moment, what do you do?

Fourteen-year-old Leah Sharibu stood on her Christian faith and her belief in Christ. She refused to renounce her faith and claim allegiance to Islam. Because of her decision, now seventeen-year-old Leah remains a prisoner of Boko Haram somewhere in Nigeria. Deemed a “Slave for Life” by their supposed sharia law, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Leah a Religious Prisoner of Conscience. You can read more about this faith-filled child at https://www.uscirf.gov/leah-sharibu-0.

I learned about Leah at a missions meeting in October 2019. As the story unfolded, I remembered a twenty-second news story. Better known as Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa terrorists kidnapped “the Dapchi girls” from their school on February 19, 2018. Not long afterwards, the news reported their release. Here’s what western news media didn’t, to my knowledge, report to us.

On the fateful day of the attack on the Dapchi school in Nigeria, ISIS-WA terrorists kidnapped 110 young girls. Five were subsequently murdered. The terrorists later released 104 of them (mostly Muslim) after they claimed allegiance to Islam. One brave young teen stared into the face of hatred and terror to claim Christianity as her faith and Christ as her Savior. Leah Sharibu remains captive today because she refuses to renounce her faith in Christ.

I learned this on a crisp fall morning as I listened to Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, Leah’s mother; share this heart-wrenching story with our global missions team through her interpreter. Days earlier, Mrs. Sharibu shared this same story with then Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders in Washington, DC; hoping to bring attention to her family’s plight. What struck me as I met this brave woman before the meeting began, and throughout her speech, was her brokenness. I sensed in her not a spirit of fear from being in a strange country, surrounded by people speaking a strange language, but one of a weary warrior.

As she spoke, her soul cried out in anguish; her words bringing us into this horrific nightmare. Seldom lifting her head during our time together, we heard her sorrow and watched the tears fall from her tortured face. I wondered, How many more times must she tell this terrible story before they return her precious child? A pause signals her need to summon the courage to go on with her talk. How painful it must be for a parent to speak for a beloved child who is frightened, alone, imprisoned in some undisclosed location, with her condition unknown.

Listening as my heart cried out for her family, Mrs. Sharibu stated something that will long stay in my memory. Ms. Gloria Samdi Puldu, Rebecca’s interpreter, struggled to speak as she translated her tear-filled words. “I do not know that in the face of such terror, my faith would be strong enough to resist my armed captor. I do not know if my faith is that strong.” In that moment, in a quiet conference room in rural Connecticut, I felt God touching the heart of every attendee. I cannot tell you if there were any dry eyes in that instant. I can assure you mine, the eyes of a once-proud elite and battle-hardened warrior, were not.

Is your faith strong enough to withstand the trial? #StandUpForChrist #TunawahLeah Click To Tweet

As Rebecca Sharibu neared the end of her presentation, a mother’s heartfelt plea rang out. With hands raised to heaven, her face looking upward, she asked “Ku chigaba da tunawa da Leah a cikin audwowin ku.” Translated from her native Hausa language, her request was “Please continue to remember Leah in your prayers.” With that simple plea, the entire room stood as we joined hands and spontaneously prayed for God’s divine protection and resolution of this family’s horrific trial.

Following our meeting, I asked permission to escort Mrs. Sharibu, Ms. Puldu, and others to our host’s Prayer Walk on the grounds of their corporate headquarters. Erected and dedicated some years earlier as a gift to the company’s founder by its employees, I had been introduced to this peaceful place over a year earlier. In fact, I visited here daily while working with our hosts on a challenging, time-constrained opportunity. I explained how this powerful place held a special connection for me to our God. Each afternoon, I would walk the path to the site and feel the stresses of the day being released a little more with each step. I shared with them how I spent a few moments at each stone, considering how the scripture verse written upon them applied to my life. As Gloria translated each stone, our tears flowed in the moment’s beauty.

Before returning inside, the five of us joined hands and once again prayed for Leah, her family, her captors, and God’s amazing grace. As I held this dear woman’s hand, I could feel the strength of her love for her daughter coursing through me. I silently asked God to help me find the words to bring her peace. Before leaving, Mrs. Sharibu held my hands in hers, looked into my eyes and quietly uttered “Tunawa Leah. Tunawa Leah.” Tunawa (pronounced too-nah-wah) is the Hausa word for Remember.

Please join with us in prayer for the safety and release of Leah Sharibu. #FreeLeah Click To Tweet

As I was driving back to the hotel after this powerful day of prayer and praise, the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:18 rang true in my heart. God revealed to me how when Christ’s love is in us, we must extend it in His power throughout the universe and not limit it to our little corner of this world. We do this when we join in righteous prayer. I ask that you join with me and others around the world in prayer for the safe return of Leah to her family. Please help me share the message to #FreeLeah.

As I’ve updated this for 2021, my soul stirs. I realize how we Christian-Americans could soon face this same level of persecution; and may be faced with making that same decision. Will I choose faith over fear?

God’s blessings,

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34 thoughts on ““Tunawah Leah”

  1. This is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read, J. D. Yes, I will definitely keep Leah and her family in my prayers, and remember to pray for all the persecuted Christians suffering throughout the world. May that persecution never come to this country . . .
    Blessings, my friend!

    1. Thank you so much Ms. Martha Jane. I join you in your prayers for this nation, but I fear it’s on it’s way. My question is; “Am I ready to make that choice and face that trial of faith?” I pray every day that God is helping me to prepare for exactly that.

  2. Oh J.D., Leah is a modern day Daniel. How this breaks my heart for her and her family. Brother Young wrote that his years in a communist prison were his seminary. May Leah and her family experience the presence of God in a mighty way. Thanks for sharing this. I will be praying for her and her family.

    1. I’ve cried many prayers for exactly that for Ms. Leah, her mother Ms. Rebecca, her father, and her brother Daniel. Originally when I learned of this tragic story, I prayed God would rain down plagues upon Boko Haram in such a way (much like Pharaoh in Egypt in Moses’ time) so that life would become so miserable, they would gladly let Leah return home. In time, God has changed my heart, from justice, revenge, etc., but to one of “Your will be done Lord. I can’t understand how You are planning to use this little girl, but I trust You Lord. Keep her safe, keep her strong, and let her change the world, or whatever her task is in accordance with your plan.” Thank you for your prayers ma’am.

  3. Thank you for sharing the story of Leah. I will add her to my prayer list. With my years of mission work, I am amazed at how often we forget the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must regularly pray for the persecuted church and for strength for when we face such times in our lives.

    1. Such truth Ms. Yvonne. The stories we hear about Christian persecution in other parts are the world are often just that, stories. I think most Americans can’t even fathom what might one day be coming to our very shores.

    1. Mine too Ms. Melissa. I pray I only have to write one more chapter this this story; and that is one of God’s great victory through this young lady’s faith. God’s blessings ma’am; and thank you for your prayers.

    1. Thank you Ms. Connie. In my heart, I believe she remains alive and strong in her faith today because of the strength, fervency, and effectiveness of our prayers. Thank you for storming the gates of heaven in prayer for this little girl ma’am.

  4. My heart breaks for her mother and family and for her. What courage this young woman has. I pray I would have that same courage if faced with the same situation. God I ask that you protect her and bring her back safely to the family that loves her. I will be praying for Leah. Thank you for sharing this, J.D.

    1. Amen Ms. Ann. I’ve asked myself many times if I would have the strength, courage, and faith to withstand such a trial. I think back to survival training in the military, in a simulated POW situation. While I survived the training, I knew in my heart that this was a simulation and not the real thing. I wondered then, as I do now when I may one day be faced with becoming a prisoner of my faith, how I will react when “it becomes real.” I pray daily for God to prepare me and others for that possible coming day. God’s blessings ma’am.

  5. I remember when you shared this story before and my heart is grieved for this brave girl and her mother. Thank you for reminding me of her story. She is a testimony of faith and I pray God’s protective hand will rest on her.

    Peace and grace,
    Tammy

  6. JD, I clearly remember you sharing this with the pjnet family last year and echo your prayers that you won’t have to share it next year as a result of the prayers being answered and Leah would be set free. I truly hope we don’t see this kind of persecution in the USA, but the tide has turned and it is much more plausible to see. May God provide strength to Leah. May her captures apply mercy. May she finally be set free, Amen!

    1. Amen Mr. Ben! In my mind, I see Miss Leah as being “free” in her soul. I try to see her now undertaking her tasks (she’s a “slave for life” after all) with a smile and a simple children’s hymn (I imagine “Jesus loves me this I know…”) that she hums out as she works. Her captors realize there is something special about her. A strength, countenance, and joy they cannot understand. “How can this child not be moved by the fear of death, the terrors we inflict, or the threats we have made?” I believe she frightens them; and that God’s mighty hand of protection is over her each second of each day; as He carries out His plan for her life. While my heart breaks thinking of this little girl having to be separated from those she loves and the home she thought safe; I am strengthened by the resolve and courage she shows each day to face down Satan himself by showing no fear through the strength of her face. “Help me Lord to become as strong in my faith as Leah Sharibu”

    1. Thank you Ms. Candyce. I think all Christians face some level of persecution because of our beliefs ma’am. I know I’ve been excluded from meetings, I’ve not gotten opportunities, etc. because I wasn’t willing to bow to the worldly pressures of doing things that went against my moral values. I consider those things a small price to pay to know that I choose to honor God and not this world. I pray one day to meet a free Leah Sharibu. I hope to one day be in the presence of such a strong faith.

  7. I remember your message from last year, but that does not mean it didn’t still bring great sadness as I read again. I admire this young woman so much. Like you, I wonder if we will have her strength of faith when tested. I pray that we will have such courage and faith, and most especially, I pray for Leah. Thank you for sharing, for keeping us aware.

    1. I don’t know that we can answer that question until we are tested in that way Ms. Carolyn. What I’m pretty sure of, is that if I fail in little tests, how can I expect to be victorious when the big test comes. Perhaps that’s why I pray for strength and growth each day ma’am. I’m not there yet, but we serve a faithful God.

  8. J.D., I remember this story from your first sharing of it. How heart-wrenching and chilling. I just put Leah in my prayer journal and on a sticky note on my laptop so I won’t miss praying daily for her release!

  9. This is my first exposure to this piece, J.D., and it is hard to read. I have two daughters and could not stop the overwhelming emotional impact of what I might feel if what happened to Leah had happened to one of them. It’s a story that I will not forget, and a matter of prayer that I will not ignore from this point onward. It would be daunting enough to endure if this was only one isolated incident, but her awful plight is shared by more than any of us knows. God bless you for opening your heart to her, and her story to us. May the One who gave her the strength to stand also give us the strength to stand with her, and to use every gift He provides in an effort to free her and to deliver us from falling into the hands of the same satanic forces now running our country.

    1. Yes! Such a true statement Mr. Ron. This is happening over and over, and so many times we never hear of it, around the world. I know some will think me “Chicken Little” when I tell them that this very same level of persecution could be coming to the United States of America soon. Some have scoffed, laughed, and told me to “take off my tinfoil hat.” Just this week, we learned that Cancel Culture has gained another victory by getting Lifetime Television to remove D. James Kennedy Ministries’ program “Truths That Transform” because they would not agree to not mentioning God’s view on abortion, same sex marriage, LGBTQ issues, George Soros and the leftist/progressive agenda, or anything else they (Lifetime) deems to be a controversial issue.

      The day may come my friend, when “Anti-Social” media blocks or closes all Christian accounts, or blocks all Christian media/communication methods. They might take away our microphones, but they can never silence the voice of God’s people unless we allow them too. God’s blessings my friend; and thank you for your prayers for Leah, her family, and her captors.

  10. J.D., you have described an encounter you will never forget. You have come face-to-face with the persecution that many Christians face in their daily lives. Their extraordinary examples humble me and inspire to pray for them, and to emulate their giant-sized faith. Thank you for reminding readers about Leah. May she soon be set free, and may God use her courageous example to bring many to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

  11. J.D., I read this information on your blog when you first posted it, and I prayed for Leah. I cannot imagine Leah’s angst or her mom’s. I will surely pray for this brave young woman. May God protect her.

  12. I hadn’t heard this story before, so thank you, J.D. for posting it again. I will surely add this poor child to my prayers. I can’t imagine the horrors of what she continues to endure, but I’m sure that Jesus is with her in that prison of evil. May we Americans take this to heart and pray fervently for her release. I agree persecution may be around the corner for all Christians, and we need to prepare for it.

    1. Thank you so much Ms. Karen. This young lady has been in my prayers for two years now; and it breaks my heart to know she still remains a prisoner. Yet, somehow, I sense she’s free in her soul. Thank you so much for praying for Ms. Leah and her family ma’am. And yes, we need to prepare ourselves for the coming trial of faith ma’am.

  13. I remember your posting from last year, J.D. It touched my heart then and touches my heart again. We need to pray for the persecuted church. I often do and now I shall remember Leah specifically in those prayers. My heart is burdened for those being persecuted. How could I not but wonder if I would be strong enough to keep my faith. I hope I never have to answer that question, but sadly our country is becoming more and more intolerant of Christians.

    1. Thank you so much Ms. Karen. I wish none of us had to remember this, and pray that I’ll never have to run this article again. More, I pray we’ll never have to read another article like this again (anywhere in the world). God’s blessings my friend; and thank you for lifting Miss Leah and her family up in prayer.

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