Nigeria (MNN) — It’s been over two years since nearly 300 Nigerian Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram fighters.
Now on Saturday, the extreme Islamic faction attacked another village just 12 miles (20 kilometers) away from Chibok, rubbing salt in an old wound. They looted and burned the village, and abducted 13 more women and children.
Boko Haram also released footage of several of the Chibok schoolgirls still alive earlier last week. The masked spokesman in the video demands the Nigerian government release imprisoned Boko Haram insurgents, implying a trade.
Voice of the Martyrs, USA’s Todd Nettleton explains, “There is also, behind the scenes apparently, a power struggle going on within Boko Haram…. Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to ISIS, [and] ISIS apparently has recognized a new leader of Boko Haram, a man named Abu Musab al-Barnawi. So this video may be part of that power play as Shekau, the previous leader of Boko Haram, tries to reassert, ‘Wait a minute, I’m still in charge. I’m the guy who has these hostages, these girls. I’m the guy you need to deal with, Nigerian government, if you want to negotiate.’
“So there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and it’s hard to know exactly what the agenda is in releasing this video at this particular time. But it does show that these girls, at least many of them, are still alive. They are still held by Boko Haram. They claim that 40 of them have been married off to their fighters, but that some of them are still single, still releasable.”
Boko Haram in the Hausa language means “Western education is forbidden”. They began military operations in 2009, targeting Christian villages, churches, and moderate Muslims. Thousands have died at the hands of this Muslim extremist branch.
“Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim. The Christians there are the minority. They know they’re at risk, they know they’re in danger. Going to church is something they don’t take for granted because they know sometimes churches are targeted, sometimes Christians go to church and they don’t come home,” Nettleton shares.
Since joining the Islamic State, Boko Haram considers itself the “West African province” of ISIS. The Nigerian forces have made significant advances to contain Boko Haram and recapture territory, but it’s not enough.
While the world’s eyes are trained on ISIS in the Middle East, the events of last week remind the us that Nigeria’s Boko Haram fighters are still at-large.
When considering the world’s general inattention to the Boko Haram crisis, Nettleton reflects, “I’ve often wondered why that is, if it’s [because] Africa is farther away, if there’s an element of even sort of racial prejudice that plays into the lack of coverage of suffering in Africa. But these pop up in the news occasionally, [that] by the way, those girls are still taken captive. But this has been more than two years now since they were taken hostage.
“There have been negotiations with the Nigerian government, there has been talk of some kind of military rescue. Boko Haram says if you try that, they will all die. So it is an ongoing story that just seems like it will never go away, and when you think about these girls who are held captive, this is a tragedy for them. If we think about what they are likely going through as Christian captives of Islamic terrorists, it really is horrendous.”
If Nigerian Christians know their spiritual brothers and sisters around the world have not forgotten them and are currently lifting them up in prayer, that alone would be an immense encouragement, says Nettleton.
“The most important thing we can do is to pray for them. That would be their request. Pray that God will protect them, but pray that they’ll stay encouraged and stay bold in their witness.”
Additionally, Nettleton offers a rather unconventional, yet necessary prayer request.
“We also want to pray for the persecutors. We want to pray that Boko Haram fighters will encounter Christians and hear the Gospel message, perhaps even supernaturally through dreams and visions, that they will meet Jesus Christ in a personal way. We never want to forget that as we’re praying for those who are persecuted, the Bible also calls us to pray for the persecutors as well.”
It may be surprising, but it is already happening, and Muslim persecutors are indeed coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Nettleton has even met a few of them.
“Several years ago, I was in Nigeria and met some former Muslims who has come to Jesus Christ, some of whom who had persecuted Christians. They were the persecutor, they were the Saul and now they’re the Paul, they’re the people who are following Jesus Christ.
“I’ll never forget one of them because he said his favorite thing to do in the world is to sit down with a Mullah (an Islamic leader) and a new Testament and talk to him one-on-one. Now, he said if you sit down with a group of Mullahs, they’ll never admit that you have a point. They’ll never admit any curiosity about Christianity or Jesus. But if you sit down one-on-one, they have a ton of questions they want to ask. They’ll talk about where Jesus is referred to in the Koran and they’ll say, ‘Hey, what does this mean? Why does it say this?’
“So he’s able to take out a New Testament, and as a former, very strong, well-trained Muslim, he knows their way of thinking. He’s able to take out a New Testament and say, ‘Let me share this story. Let me show you what this says about Jesus Christ.’ And he says it’s his very favorite thing to do in the world is to sit down in a conversation like that one-on-one. So God is at work. Muslims are being reached with the Gospel message. Their hearts are being changed, and really that’s an answer to our prayers.”
If you’d like to come alongside Voice of the Martyrs’ ministry to the persecuted Church, Nettleton says they are collecting Bibles to give to Christians in hostile and restricted nations.