Westminster vigil for kidnapped schoolgirls

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Nigerian church leaders across the UK calling churches and Christians to a prayer vigil in Westminster on 19 May, as concerns remain for the safety of 276 girls kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno state, last month.

The plight of the schoolgirls has gained international attention, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter and politicians, celebrities and activists alike calling for their release.

Both US President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have confirmed that specialist teams have been sent to Nigeria to assist authorities in the rescue effort, although as yet the girls remain in captivity over a month after they were taken by members of Muslim extremist group Boko Haram.

A video emerged on Monday in which over 100 girls thought to be among those abducted, were shown wearing the full-length hijab and praying to Allah, chanting, "Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world".

In the clip, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Sheka declares, "These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with... we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims."

Most of the girls were from Christian families.

Nigerian church leaders have condemned the situation as "deeply serious" and called upon the government in Nigeria to increase protections for those who may be forced to convert to a new religion.

Those attending on Monday will gather in London to pray for the girls' safety, and to show solidarity with the families who are suffering.

"We earnestly call on Christians everywhere to come and pray for the Chibok kidnapped schoolgirls, their families and Nigeria!" says Pastor Jonathan Oloyede, Convenor of the National Day of Prayer and Worship which has partnered with The Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians, Christian Concern and the International Strategic Alliance Committee to endorse the vigil.

"This is a heartbreaking situation and we urge you to invited everyone to pray for all those who are persecuted and oppressed based on religion," he added.

Spokesman for the event and director of Christian Concern Pastor Ade Omooba has also urged Christians to support the vigil, labelling it as "vital".

"We are called to pray for comfort to all family members in anguish, shock and distress over the fate of the girls," he said.

"We will pray for the Nigerian government and all supporting foreign countries to deploy all necessary resources to find these young people."

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, has also expressed his support and asked churches across the country to continue to pray for the safe return of the girls.

"The Church in the UK must unite with our brothers and sisters in Christ from Nigeria and the prayer vigil on Monday will give us that opportunity to show solidarity with them," he said.

"Our prayers continue to be with them as we look to the God of all hope in the midst of darkness and despair."

The vigil will be held from 7-9pm on Monday 19 May at the Emmanuel Centre 9-23 Marsham Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3DW.

Organisers have said donations made on the evening will go directly to the families of the missing girls.  

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