Faithful under Fire
She heard the gunshots first; then saw the men storming into the compound of her boarding school. She and the other students — more than 100 girls — were herded into vehicles and carried away from life as they knew it. It was February of 2018. Her name is Leah, and she is 15 years old.
Her captors were a part of Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group that terrorizes parts of Nigeria. In March, the majority of the girls were released; five reportedly died in captivity. Leah Sharibu was not released, and though at first the terrorists openly threatened to kill her, they have now changed their minds and decided to make her a lifelong slave. From the freed girls, one discovers why Boko Haram has singled out Leah– because she is a Christian, and refuses to convert to Islam.
Which of you would be able to face that kind of extended opposition and not cave in? I know I cannot—not on my own strength. But Leah has chosen to cling to Christ, and He will certainly hold onto her. According to 1 Peter 4:14; “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (ESV)
So take a personal lesson from Leah. Are you tempted to compromise with the world in order to avoid hard and uncomfortable situations, or do you cling to Christ? It may not be your life at stake. Maybe it’s your reputation, your time, your money, your relationships, or something else that’s being threatened. In the end, though, it won’t matter what was at stake—only whether you remained steadfast in your faith in Christ.
The Chinese government, which has been increasing its suppression of Christianity over the past two years, closed down another large church in the middle of October.  The pastor who established this particular church spent more than 20 years in prison for refusing to become a state run church. In spite of the state’s later confiscation of books and equipment, the membership had grown to more than 2,000 in number. Why did the government finally close the church? Because they probably expect, and rightly so, that a Christian separated from others will be far more tempted to leave the faith.
Growing up in a Western society, we far too easily overestimate the power of the individual. We forget that God didn’t ordain his church to be a collection of individuals, but a single body with many parts. Our place in the church is critical to our individual relationships with God, because He intended us to be giving and receiving support through the Church.
But sometimes we must love our Christian family in difficult ways, as demonstrated by Leah’s father, Nathan Sharibu, who shared his reaction to the news of his only daughter’s continued captivity. “I am very sad,” he said, “but I am also jubilant, too, because my daughter did not denounce Christ.” 
This is an incredible, Spirit-empowered response to the separation. Nathan is sad – of course! That’s normal. Being a Christian never included shutting off your emotions. But his love for his daughter is rooted in his love for Christ. Even though it’s an absolutely horrible situation—even though he and his wife long for Leah’s return—Nathan would rather have his daughter face pain and remain in Christ, than have her deny Christ and return to him.
Sometimes following Jesus means separation from loved ones. It’s not always under persecution—sometimes you are simply called to another place. Do we love God enough to go where He calls us? And do we love our dear ones enough to let them follow Christ’s call?
What do you love? Who do you love? And where is that love based—in God, or in self?
Fearless in Trust
Leah sent a message home to her mother with some of her classmates. She wrote:
“My mother you should not be disturbed. I know it is not easy missing me, but I want to assure you that I am fine where I am… I am confident that one day I shall see your face again. If not here, then there at the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 
I’ll be honest: hearing stories such as Leah’s can be terrifying. We shiver in horror and sink into anxiety. What if that level of persecution comes to America? What might we have to give up? What would our family, friends, and churches have to face? What kind of pain would I have to face? Would I remain true to Christ?
Fear is one thing we must not accept as an appropriate response. I know you are weaker than you want to be—physically, mentally, and spiritually. But that’s okay, because you aren’t in control, either now or then.
“Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:28-29)
God is in control even of Leah’s situation. No, I’m not going to tell you that through her witness, her captors have turned to Christ. I have no idea whether that will happen, though we do pray for that. But God will bring good out of this event, and even if I never know what it is within this lifetime, I trust His promise to do so. (See Romans 8:28-29)
Faith in the Father
There’s another point I want to clarify. As Christians, we do not place our greatest hope for Leah, or any of our persecuted family, in the government. While we acknowledge that God can and does use the nations of this world to accomplish His sovereign will, our greatest hope is in the Highest Power available- our loving, Almighty God, whom we call “Abba, Father.”
And because our Abba is in control, what do we have to fear? We have the presence of God now, and heaven in our future. Instead of worrying, start praying. For yourself, certainly—but also your fellow Christians who are currently suffering for Christ.
Consider what the Apostle Paul, who was often persecuted, said in 2 Corinthians 1:11; “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”
November 4th was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. If you missed it, don’t panic. Your prayers for them are needed as much now, as then. Therefore, make it a point to pray for your persecuted family on a regular basis. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to just forget about them.
The “persecuted church” is not a vague, distant, group of foreigners. These are your brothers and your sisters. They belong to the same Christ to whom you belong. Leah is your sister in Christ. The Christians in China who are currently unknown to you will eventually be your neighbors and family in heaven. They need your prayers right now.
For more information on Leah and other persecuted Christians, check out the Voice of the Martyrs website. There you can learn more specific ways to pray, donate to Christians in need, and even send messages of encouragement to suffering believers around the world. https://vom.com.au/
|Rachel Brubaker is a pseudonym, because she prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons. She is frequently shocked at her journey towards missions, which God has led her on throughout the past several years. She loves her dear family, a good pun, anything artsy or musical, real-life God stories, people who expect an honest answer to “how are you”, and of course, coffee and chocolate. Oh, and she also really wants to go skydiving someday.|
- “Nigeria: Leah Sharibu Still in Captivity for Her Faith.” Voice of the Martyrs, 26 July 2018, https://vom.com.au/nigeria-leah-sharibu-still-in-captivity-for-her-faith/
- “China: Another Prominent House Church Shut Down.” Voice of the Martyrs, 1 November 2018, https://vom.com.au/china-another-prominent-house-church-shut-down/
- “Nigeria: Father’s Joy at Voice of Abducted Daughter.” Voice of the Martyrs, 30 August 2018, https://vom.com.au/nigeria-fathers-joy-at-voice-of-abducted-daughter/.
- “Nigeria: Kidnapped Leah Sends Message Home.” Voice of the Martyrs, 11 April 2018, https://vom.com.au/nigeria-kidnapped-leah-sends-message-home/