On April 14, in the small village of Chibok, Nigeria, hundreds of teenage girls were awakened in the middle of the night by men wearing paramilitary garb who claimed to be moving them to safety.
As the world has learned, the girls were in fact kidnapped and are currently being held hostage by the Boko Haram, a radical terrorist group that claims to be Muslim. The northern Nigerian Islamic leadership has disavowed any association with the Boko Haram.
Seven weeks later, the location and condition of 276 young girls remain unknown.
While Anderson and Chibok are divided by oceans and miles, this troublesome story hits the Anderson Church of the Brethren personally.
In 1954, a young Church of the Brethren mission couple arrived in Chibok and began integrating girls into the small village school. Without chalkboards or paper, the children wrote their lessons in the dirt with sticks. Church of the Brethren congregations – and especially their children – raised funds to provide basic school supplies to the children of Chibok.
Over the years, this area of northern Nigeria became a strongly Brethren center, known as Ekklesiyar Yanu’wa a Nigeria (EYN). We know that over 200 of the kidnapped girls are from Brethren families.
These are very much “our girls,” as are those of other faiths – including Muslim – who have faced similar violence in Africa. They are all our girls.
The problems girls and women face in Africa are too numerous for this short piece: overwhelming poverty, harsh environments, the lack of adequate health care and a cultural resistance to educating females reflect just a drop in the bucket of challenges confronting half of Africa’s population.
We cannot directly rescue the girls. Whatever the political outcome – and whether or not the girls are returned to their families – this kidnapping will continue to have tragic consequences. There will be an ongoing need for assistance for the girls and for their families.