Seven years ago today Boko Haram militants stormed the Chibok Girls' State Secondary School in north-eastern Nigeria, where 275 girls had gathered to take an exam. Pretending to be government security, the attackers coaxed 230 of the girls onto trucks and made off with them into the Sambisa Forest.
Today, seven years later, 111 of those girls remain unaccounted for. On April 14 the parents will commemorate the event, unsure as to whether their children are alive or dead.
The event will take place amid an atmosphere of exasperation. Very little is known about the whereabouts and the condition of the girls. It is also not clear whether there are any real efforts to negotiate a release by the Nigerian Government.
Yakubu Nkeki Maina, chairman of the parents' association of the Chibok Kidnapped Girls told Open Doors: "It is so unfortunate that the government, who is supposed to take care of all its citizens, have neglected our daughters in the hands of the Boko Haram. We have asked the government to come to our rescue, but our cry has fallen on deaf ears."
Over the past seven years, the parents of the Chibok girls have had to endure endless speculation about the fate of their daughters. For the parents, it has been a nightmare with no end.
According to one parent, Yana Gana, "These seven years have been like 100 years to me. Day and night, I keep praying and hoping that my daughter will come back home. If my daughter is dead, I want to know, so that I would mourn and find peace in my heart. The suspense is too much."
Adding to their stress is the continuing insecurity in Chibok. Boko Haram continues to carry out attacks in the area. On Christmas eve, they attacked the town and other nearby communities. The insurgents arrived on motorbikes, shooting indiscriminately, and setting houses on fire.
In one location, the attackers surrounded some youths as they were rehearsing for the Christmas service. They killed eight and set the church on fire. They took the pastor and a three-year-old boy with them. Later that day the body of the pastor was recovered. The boy remains missing.
Tip of the iceberg
While Chibok has been Nigeria's most notorious kidnapping by Islamic militants, it is far from the only recent example. Nigeria has one of the world's highest rates of kidnap-for-ransom cases. In their effort to establish an Islamic state or caliphate in the Lake Chad Basin region, Boko Haram has snatched thousands of children and adults from their homes across north-eastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
As for the girls that have escaped or been released, it is hard to generalise about how they have coped with their ordeal. Access to the freed Chibok released girls is tightly controlled. However Open Doors understands that 39 of the girls so far released remain in school at the American University of Nigeria, 17 are studying in the US, two have graduated, and one has become a pilot there.
"We thank God [for this news] after all that they have been through. However, some of the girls are still dealing with serious trauma, and have been unable to face returning to school," Nkeki Maina explained.
Still speaking out
Open Doors continues to urge the Nigerian President, through the international community, to work to liberate the hostages. They are also calling for a new position within the Nigerian Government that liaises with the traumatized families of hostages.
Christians in northern Nigeria have been exposed to targeted violence for more than a decade. In the last year recorded by Open Doors World Watch list, which reports on persecution levels worldwide, over 3,500 Christians were killed in attacks, three times more than the previous year.
As well as advocating on behalf of the kidnapped and their families, Open Doors helps to address survivors' physical needs and gives specialised trauma care.
Pray about this:
Please pray that the Chibok parents will receive the happy news about their daughters' release soon. As they commemorate the 7th anniversary of possibly the worst day of their lives, pray for God's sustaining grace and peace that surpasses their own understanding. Pray that the many other Nigerians whose loved ones have been abducted may also experience God's mercy in this way.
Open Doors UK & Ireland is a Christian charity that supports persecuted Christian across the world. They work with local partners to distribute Bibles and other Christian resources, as well as providing support and vocational training to affected communities.