By Lindy Lowry in Africa, Stories of Persecution
Families of Chibok girls have not given up hope of reuniting with their still-missing daughters.
Since April 14, 2014, when the world learned about the kidnapping of 230 girls from a state finishing school in the northern Nigeria village of Chibok (#bringbackourgirls), Open Doors has been journeying with the Chibok parents both practically through emergency relief (food and medicine) and spiritually through presence ministry, prayer and trauma care. On this difficult five-year anniversary, our team spent time with some of the families who thanked Christians for praying for their still-missing daughters—and begged the global church to continue to pray with them. Women like Yana Gana and Hannatu Dada have not given up hope of one day reuniting with their daughters.
“It has been a rough journey for me. There is a Hausa proverb that says fresh wounds are always very painful. Any time I speak about Rifkatu, I feel so much pain in my heart.”
For Yana Gana, April 14, 2014—now five years ago—was the start of a 1,825-day-old nightmare she has yet to wake up from. That night, life changed forever for Yana, her daughter Rifkatu and an estimated 230 girls and their families in the small dusty town of Chibok.
While most state secondary schools in northern Nigeria’s Borno State had been shut down for fear of attacks by the Islamic extremist group, Chibok’s school had opened its doors to almost 3,000 girls, most of them Christians. A day later, in the middle of the night, Boko Haram stormed the school, driving off with around 230 girls on the backs of trucks as behind them, the school went up in flames.
As news spread of the attacks and kidnapping, the world cried out. Quickly, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread like wildfire across the globe.
112 CHIBOK GIRLS YET TO BE FREED
Forty-seven girls escaped during and shortly after they were kidnapped. Afterward, each of the 47 had their own tale of dread and trauma—and perhaps feelings of “survivor guilt,” as the few who were spared the horrors of days, weeks, months and years spent in the hands of unredeemed men who believe they serve Allah through rape, maiming and murder.
After a few more escaped, Boko Haram released 21 girls in October 2016 and another 82 in May 2017 .
The timeline below offers a detailed list of escapes and releases in the last five years:
During and after the attack on April 14, 2014, 47 girls escape.
On May 18, 2016, Nigerian soldiers discover 19-year-old Amina Ali Darsha Nkeki with a four-month-old baby and her “husband” in the Sambisa Forest.
On November 5, 2016, soldiers find Mary Ali Maiyanga who escaped with a 10-month-old baby.
On October 13, 2016, Boko Haram releases 21 girls.
On May 6, 2017, another 82 girls are released.
On January 5, 2018, one more girl is rescued, marking the last time Chibok girls have been found or released to date.
Some 112 Christians girls have yet to be freed, says the chairman of the Chibok Parents’ Association, Yakubu Nkeki Maina. No one knows how many are still alive.
Yana Gana’s daughter, Rifkatu, is among the 112.
Since the releases in 2017, there have been very little developments in the Chibok kidnappings. A few rumors about where they may be now and speculations about how many would still be alive this long after—but there has been no substantial news.
‘LAUGHTER CEASED IN MY HOUSE’
For Yana, it is a heavy burden to carry. The second of three children, Rifkatu is missed for her extraordinary character. Sharing lovingly about her daughter, Yana talks about Rifkatu and her faith.
“She was never bothered if her sisters didn’t help with the house work. She always woke up, cleaned the house and prepared breakfast before we all got up. While most young girls usually get into makeup and fashion, Rifkatu never payed attention to those things.
“None of the young girls in my community go to church as often as Rifkatu did.” Yana’s family attends EYN (Brethren), but Rifkatu chose to attend a different church.
“She loved the prayer life there. Because of the way she conducted herself, an older woman called her ‘sister,’ which is unusual.
“When Rifkatu was kidnapped, laughter ceased in my house. Everybody was filled with pain, most especially me, because I gave birth to her,” she says, adding that her younger daughter is even more traumatized than she is.
“They were so close. They wore the same clothes, the same shoes … even tied their headscarves the same way. I have never seen people who loved each other as much as they do. When Rifkatu was kidnapped, I felt pity for her younger sister.”
On the advice of family members who warned the trauma would be too much for Rifkatu’s sister to handle, Yana sent her daughter to school in Yola four hours away.
“Her aunties told me the trauma will be too much, and we might end up losing her,” she says.
Yana works to exercise self-comfort: “In everything that happens in life, you must be patient. You can’t change what has happened. We have tried to exercise patience … waiting to see what God would do for us.”
‘THEY’VE SEEN HELL TOGETHER’
The young women from Chibok who were released are now living at and attending a private American university in Yola in Adamawa State.
Compared to other Boko Haram returnees who usually spend months in horrible conditions following their “freedom,” these girls are lavished with care.
The horror they have endured has placed them in a very unique position that requires a unique response. They have a dedicated principal, a dedicated psychologist and a dedicated pastor.
“They’ve seen hell together,” their psychologist says. “Their testimonies speak of periods of hunger, slavery, rape, lashing and battle injuries—shrapnel lodged under the skin, even a part of one girl’s leg amputated. They saw people, including many children, die.”
Physically, the young women whose youth was robbed are doing well. At this point, they are trying to catch up on the education they missed and recover from their trauma as a group.
Since they arrived at the university in September 2017, their environment has remained tightly controlled. To protect their safety and prevent exploitation, they cannot leave campus without an escort and cannot receive visitors without special permission. They have rarely seen their families and visit Chibok, a four-hour drive away, only twice a year.
HOPE BUOYED BY MILLIONS OF PRAYERS
While the freed young women of Chibok still struggle to be truly free of their horror, their families know their daughters are alive and safe.
For women like Yana and Hannatu Dada whose daughters are still among the missing, hope buoyed by millions of prayers from the global body of Christ continues to be their lifeline. Hannatu thanks believers for their prayers for the protection and return of her daughter, Saratu.
“Christians, and everybody around the world: I am honestly grateful for your prayer and support. The whole world knows about our story,” she says.
“Because of the condition we found ourselves in, we didn’t have anywhere to turn, except to God … We have cried and prayed. We pray for our daughters when we walk outside; when we sit inside; when we sleep. We never cease praying.”
Yana Gana echoes Hannatu: “If we were left alone in Borno, all of us parents would have died. But believers all over the world stood by us. You have invited us to trauma counseling, prayed with us, studied the Bible with us and, through all of that, we have been able to stand strong.
“We have placed our total trust and dependence on God, knowing He is the only one that can save them. We thank everyone who stood by us in different ways in our time of pain … There has been crying and praying all over the world for these girls, and we can’t forget that.”
Yana, Hannatu and many families cling to hope. For them, there is no giving up hope for their daughters’ return.
“Even after 10 years, I will never lose hope because she was kidnapped alive,” Yana says. “If they have killed her and show me her body, then I will stop hoping for her return. Until then, we will wait for Rifkatu to come back. No matter how long it takes.
“I believe that God will perform a miracle, and the girls will be released. Because this battle is not against flesh, only God can fight it. He alone can make a way where there is no way for her to return.”
Hannatu has hope that this will be the year God will bring her daughter home.
“And just as God brought other girls out, He will bring my daughter out,” she says.” Just as we rejoiced with those who were freed, we will also rejoice when our daughters come back.
“I usually tell my other children, ‘Even if I die today, don’t lose hope that Saratu will come back. And if she happens to be released, hold her, embrace her well. Even if the world will hate or disregard her, hold my daughter dear to your hearts.”
“Anytime I hold this picture, I feel as if she is here with me. I have so much hope that if she is alive. God will bring her back to me. God willing, one day my tears will be wiped away.”
PRAYING FOR CHIBOK GIRLS AND FAMILIES
🙏Thank God for preserving the faith of the Chibok girls and their parents. Pray that He will continue to do that for all of them.
🙏Continue to pray for the release of Chibok girls like Rifkatu and Saratu and 15-year-old Leah Sharibu (kidnapped February 2018), as well as Christian aid worker Alice Loksha Ngaddah who remain in captivity.
🙏Pray that the Lord will fulfill His purposes in their lives and glorify Himself in their circumstances.
🙏Pray for due diligence on the side of the government in keeping up negotiations for the release of the remaining captives.
🙏Pray for the released Chibok girls as they seek to start their lives again. Pray they will experience the Lord’s healing, comfort and encouragement.
🙏Pray for the many thousands of nameless others who remain in Boko Haram captivity. Ask God to bring freedom. Until He does, pray that He may sustain them and be at work in their lives.