The father of a high school girl kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria is pleased by Christians' support but said he has yet to hear from government officials.
Nathan Sharibu, father of Leah Sharibu, told Morning Star News by phone that no one from the government has called the Christian family since the abduction of his daughter in February, nor since the release of an audio recording by Leah last month.
"Unfortunately, since the abduction of our daughter, no government official in Nigeria has contacted us or even let us know the effort the government is making towards the release of my daughter," he said. "However, Christians across the world have been supporting us and praying with us. It has not been easy bearing the pains of missing our daughter, but the Lord has been gracious through His unmerited grace to us."
Because she refused to convert to Islam, Muslim extremists from Boko Haram declined to include the 15-year-old Christian girl among more than 100 kidnapped girls the terrorist group released in March. In an audio recording released by a local journalist on Aug. 27, Leah says in her native Hausa that she wants the Nigerian government and "people of goodwill" to rescue her.
She and the other girls were kidnapped on Feb. 19 from Government Girls Science and Technical Secondary School, Dapchi, in northeast Nigeria's Yobe state.
"When I heard Leah's voice in that audio message and her photo as shown, I was highly elated, knowing that she was still alive," Sharibu told Morning Star News.
He thanked all individuals and organizations, including his Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) congregation, who have stood with his family in their ordeal.
The Rev. Yunusa Nmadu Jr., ECWA general secretary, told Morning Star News that Boko Haram likely released the audio recording to bolster its chances of negotiating her release.
"I think that that recording was released to reassure the government of proof of life, because usually when you're negotiating things like these, the other party would ask for proof of life," Nmadu said. "So I'm suspecting that that recording and photo are proof of life."
The Christian leader said the church has relentlessly pressed for her release.
"We have been trying as much as possible, working with other organizations in and outside the country, to raise the tempo of the campaign for her release," Nmadu said. "One such organization is Christian Solidarity Worldwide [CSW], and the office in the U.K. marked the 200-days campaign, which was held in front of the office of the Nigerian High Commission in the U.K."
CSW persuaded parliamentarians in the United Kingdom to advocate for her release among "very notable" persons, he said, an effort that is now circulating in social media.
"We're also trying to get in touch with some top government officials to plead, further plead the case of Leah, and to say that, please, whatever the government can do in order to get her released, it should do that," Nmadu said.
ECWA officials have visited the Sharibu family, including some from the ECWA's Evangelical Missionary Society and leadership of the Yobe District Church Council, along with members of other ECWA congregations.
"I visited the father and had discussions with him," Nmadu said. "Her mother too, was invited here at the ECWA headquarters [in Jos], and she had the opportunity to speak to a women's fellowship group who were attending a conference here. So, we have done what we can do to be with her family in solidarity, as we await the release of Leah, and we are confident that she will be released."
He appealed to the Nigerian government to intensify efforts for her release.
"We once again are appealing that the government should speed up the efforts to get Leah released, because it's torturing to her parents and to all of us who are related to Leah, as she's still left there as the only girl, the only victim in fact, out of those that were abducted," he said. "And you can imagine that the narrative is that [she is yet unreleased] because she is a Christian. This goes a long way not to help the image of the government at this time."
Sharibu said he wanted to thank Christians who have prayed for his family and was particularly grateful for the support and advocacy of his ECWA church congregation.
"We appreciate all Christians across the world and appeal that they continue to pray for us and urge the Nigerian government to intensify efforts towards getting Leah released," he said. "I also want to thank your organization, Morning Star News, for widespread publicity about the plight of Leah, which has moved many Christians across the world to be praying for me and my family."
Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013, according to CNN.
About 100 of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.
Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, "Western education is a sin," has fought for nine years to impose sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.
In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks. Jubilee Campaign reports that, according to figures from the Stefanos Foundation, Boko Haram in 2017 took responsibility for attacks that claimed more than 650 lives.
At the same time, attacks by Fulani militant herdsmen have increased in the past three years, according to Jubilee Campaign.
"Since the beginning of 2018, the violence is again spiking with reported deaths attributed to Fulani militant herdsmen climbing to at least 1,860 people, with an additional 300 plus victims claimed by Boko Haram," Jubilee reported earlier this year. "Again, most of these victims are Christians from small ethnic minority communities in the northeastern states."
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria's population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.
Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors' 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.