On April 14 more than 200 Nigerian teenage school girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in the rural, northern village of Chibok, where they were studying and dreaming of becoming teachers, doctors, lawyers, educated women. These girls have been taken by a terrorist group called Boko Haram, a name which means ‘Western Education is a Sin.’ They are probably being sold or married, being trafficked or forced into sexual slavery.
I won’t cower under the excuse that my small action is meaningless.These are Muslim and Christian girls, the pride of their families, the hope of their communities, the embodiment of courage and progress and love. Other schools closed down in the area due to the threat of terrorist attacks, but these girls were sitting for exams. This is far from the first attack by Boko Haram. Earlier, fifty teenage boys were slaughtered. They are responsible for mass murders, destruction and burning of property, and have killed more than 2,300 people since 2010.
The Nigerian response to the current crisis appears to be slow and ineffective. There are complaints about the lack of information about the government’s efforts, that police and government are not working together well, that President Goodluck Jonathan has not done enough. Nigerian activists have started a #BringBackOurGirls campaign to attract more international media attention and to put pressure on governments to act.
Presidents, militaries, and international bodies like the United Nations have power. They have the ability to make things happen, possibly even to get the girls returned to their families. But what can one average person, so far removed from Nigeria, do?
In the face of such horrific, hateful aggression, we change the channel. We tweet about television episodes, pin pizza sauce recipes, and hope that someone, somewhere, will do something.
I live in Africa, miles and miles from Nigeria, but I have worked and lived in violent, hard places like Somalia. I don’t have answers.
But I do have a teenage girl at boarding school. If someone kidnapped her because she dared to get an education… if someone said she should be married by the age of nine, or twelve, that serving her husband was more important than learning how to read and write…
I can’t stop thinking about it.
What if someone kidnapped one blond suburban Minnesota high school student and sold her because she was studying? What if someone shot one blond suburban Minnesota high school student in the head because she was studying? What if someone poured acid on your daughter’s face because she was studying? But we are not called to only care for the close, the similar, the ones we agree with theologically. My faith calls me to care for the Samaritan, to touch lepers, to welcome the alien, to provide for the orphan, to serve the least of these, to cross international borders.
People do care about international events. Malaysian Flight 370 was front page news for weeks after it disappeared. As awful as it is, that story is most likely over. There is no one left to save. But these girls are (presumably) still alive, and can still be returned to the arms of their mothers and fathers.
I felt just as helpless last October when news broke that Westgate Mall in Nairobi, a mall near where my daughter and son are at boarding school, was under attack by al-Shabaab terrorists. I felt this way when elementary school children were gunned down in Newton and when chemical weapons were used against Syrians. I want to scream, wrap my arms around my children, and cry.
The things I can think of to do feel so small. But they are not small. I’m not responsible for changing the heart of a terrorist organization. I am not responsible for bringing these girls home. I’m not responsible for moving Nigeria or the United States or the United Nations to action. But I am responsible to do what I can do.
I won’t cower under the excuse that my small action is meaningless. I don’t want to live in a world where the little things stop counting, where, as D.L. Mayfield writes, no one is watching the sparrows.
One thing I know to do is to pray. Sarah Bessey has written In Which We Pray: Bring Back Our Girls. Pray it with her, pray it with me, pray with the mothers and fathers who want their daughters back, pray with the girls enduring what my imagination will not let me imagine. Pray for the men who have taken them to be filled with remorse, to choose mercy, and to release the girls.
Another thing I know to do is to tweet. Use #bringbackourgirls to draw attention, to raise an outcry, to effect change.
Another thing I know to do is to sign petitions. Sign this: Bring Back Our Girls
Beyond the immediate crisis and the immediate actions of tweeting, signing petitions, and writing to lawmakers, there is a kingdom life to be lived in the middle of brokenness, in the middle of haters and hated, oppressors and oppressed, victims and victimizers.This might not bring back the Nigerian girls. It probably won’t.
But I hope in an unshakeable kingdom and I bear this kingdom in my soul. We can live out these kingdom values with our family and neighbors. We can plant the seeds of the kingdom everywhere. We can pray, work, hope, and live in dark, violent places while clinging to our small light and, in a small way, push back the darkness.
What did Jesus say? “You have heard that it was said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy? But I tell you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.”
What did Jesus say? “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”