Tunawa Leah – Year Six

Friends, another year has passed, and my heart remains burdened for this precious child of God. I first shared Leah Sharibu’s story of faith in the face of extreme persecution with you in January 2020. This year marks the sixth anniversary of this young lady’s captivity and enslavement at hands of ISIS-WA (aka Boko Haram) in Nigeria. Last year, on the anniversary of her capture, I shared that she remained a prisoner 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.

Again this year, I am compelled to share her story. I pray at the start of each new year that I won’t have to come February. God continues to allow this imprisonment for His reasons, ones we can’t begin to understand. I’ve prayed daily for this young lady since first learning of her plight from her mama in October 2019.

The last report from friends in Nigeria is that she has been seen alive by other captives who were released. She has been forced to bear at least two children for her Boko Haram captors. I cannot imagine the horrors she has been subjected to, yet the Nigerian government does nothing.

Please join me this week in praying for her safety, protection, health, and God’s mighty hand upon her. However He chooses to use this faith-filled child of God; please ask Him to strengthen her faith and 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 twenty-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 Share on X

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 Share on X

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 2024, 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,

19 thoughts on “Tunawa Leah – Year Six”

  1. My heart breaks for this brave young woman and her mother. I will be praying daily for her release. Thank you for sharing her story.

  2. Praying for Leah and all other persecuted Christians in this world. Reading this brought tears afresh to my eyes, J. D. Would I be as strong as Leah when it comes to sticking with my faith? I would like to think so, but I pray God never puts me to that test.
    Blessings, my friend!

  3. My heart aches and breaks as I read this. I often think of Leah and lift her and her family in prayer.
    God bless you, J.D., for faithfully praying for her and for reminding us to do so as well.

  4. I am deeply moved and grateful you’ve brought this situation to the attention of your subscribers, JD. It brings comfort to know the Lord’s hand and eyes never leave this warrior. May he be pleased to release her when the work he’s prepared in advance for her to do in her captivity be complete. God bless the two children she was forced to conceive and bear. Let the light of Jesus Christ overwhelm the darkness.

  5. J.D., thank you for not allowing us to forget Leah. Her example of faith is humbling and inspiring. Continued prayers for this young heroine. May her life and story change the world!

  6. Thanks for reminding us of Tunawa Leah, and in turn, of others in her situation. So heartbreaking and hard to understand. I remember where I was when I read your first post about her. I pray you have good news to share soon.

  7. Praying for Leah and all those held captive. Thank you, J.D., for your reminders of this tragic kidnapping and imprisonment. We are so blessed by our freedom to express our faith openly–I pray we won’t forget those who cannot–and that we’ll continue to pray for the prisoners and the lost.

  8. Every year since the first time I saw this, I anticipate its recurrence with a heart that is both broken and grateful. No matter how many times I read it, there’s no way to get through it with dry eyes. I can’t return to those places in her story where such strength is displayed and not marvel at the power of God to fill our frail bodies and minds paralyzed with fear and just take over. Regarding the question about whether my faith is strong enough to do what Leah did, I have no idea, but this much I know. When I am weak, He is strong. When I can’t, He can. When I have nothing left, He has everything needed.

    Leah’s story doesn’t so much leave me with questions as it drives me to the answers I need to remind myself of before any “Leah” moments happen to come my way. The other thing it does is to remind me again of my responsibility to do what Leah’s courageous mother and those who have become aware of her situation have been asked to do. So, thanks once again to you, my faithful Brother, we “remember Leah” and we join you in praying that the One who sustained her then will continue to do that until she is free.

  9. J.D., The suffering this young lady is enduring, breaks my heart. Thank you for reminding us that there are believers living out their faith in remarkable ways. The young lady has been on my prayer list for several years now.

    Blessed to you,

  10. I guess I’ve read your anniversary posts about Leah for 3 years now. Like you, I’m praying and hoping in the Lord for her release. What a story about immovable faith in the face of such unmerciful persecution and circumstances! She’s definitely a hero of the faith for her stance for Christ. Thanks for the reminder of this backstory and details. None of us know when we might be put in this situation, and I pray my response will be the same as this sweet and bold woman of God.

  11. The impact of that story never loses its punch. What a commitment you have made to pray for her every day. It will happen. Leah will be released one day. Just like the Christian Mao I prayed for for many years, who underwent torture day after day. His body wreaked and mind worn down, he was finally released and I learned about it somehow. The Lord made it known to me. I shall join you in that prayer for Leah and her family. Yes, God has a plan. It is good for you to keep her story alive.

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