Christians worldwide pray for Leah Sharibu's release on her 18th birthday

Leah Sharibu(Photo: Open Doors UK)

Christians from around the world gathered on Friday night to pray for kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu on her 18th birthday.

Sharibu was the only Christian among 110 schoolgirls abducted from their school in Dapchi, Yobe state, on 19 February 2018.

Her abductors, the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a faction of Boko Haram, made her a "slave for life" after she refused to convert to Islam. The other girls were released.

A global digital prayer event was held in her honour by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Hosting the event, CEO Scot Bower paid tribute to Leah's courage but added that there were many more girls facing a similar plight.

"We want to remember Leah and not give up but push in and continue praying for her release. But we also know there are many more Leahs in Nigeria today and we gather in prayer this evening for all of them, all those who suffer for their belief," he said.

In a pre-recorded message, Leah's mother, Rebecca Sharibu, said she was "truly grateful to God" for the prayers of Christians around the world.

She spoke of her pride in her daughter but also expressed disappointment in the Nigerian government because "they have failed us".

"If I could see her, I will tell her how I praise her decision and also let her know that we are still praying for her and, some day, she will be back home," she said.

"I would encourage her to be patient. We are still praying for her, the world is praying for her. Nothing is impossible with God. Some day she will be free."

During the prayer gathering, artists came together to perform a new song written for Leah on her 18th birthday by Nigerian gospel artist Panam Percy Paul. The song features a collection of distinguished artists like Muyiwa, Noel Robinson and Lou Fellingham.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the song, Paul said that Christians who are in the position to speak up about what is happening in Nigeria, must do so.

"I really didn't want this name to just go down in history without anyone talking about what she is going through right now and what generally the Church and the Christians in Nigeria are going through," he said.

Lord David Alton, Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief, said it was important to remember the other girls held captive by terrorist factions, among them 112 Chibok schoolgirls enslaved for seven years, and hundreds of young girls and women abducted, forced to convert to Islam and then forced to marry their captors.

"May they be given the fortitude to withstand the cruelty that they are currently enduring, and may efforts be redoubled to secure their release," he said.

"Millions of us have not forgotten them. We will not choose to look the other way. And we will remain vocal on their behalf."

But he also called for justice for Leah and the many other Christian women and girls abused for their faith.

"The Nigerian Government has a statutory duty but also an obligation borne out of common humanity to its own people, particularly for the most vulnerable, and it must honour its duties to its nation before it's too late," he said.