I am both an idealist and a pragmatist.
This means that I have far too many interests and passions than I have money, time and energy. It also means that I can become distracted from what is most important in my life, and I have to take a step back and reflect.
Inevitably, I come to the conclusion that I can’t do it all, nor should I try. But that doesn’t stop my heart from breaking, just a little, when I hear about a tragedy or an injustice in a place far away from my home.
This was certainly true for me recently with the recent kidnapping of Nigerian female students. (I don’t like calling them “schoolgirls” — it is a slightly degrading term to my mind.) I thought of our own lovely daughters, brilliant, lovely and kind. I thought of the concerns I have with our progeny, living on their own just over an hour away. The “mama bear” part of me was angered, to be sure. Who could DO this to young women, and think that it is OK? Why are they getting away with it?
I know what the kidnapping group stands for (though I don’t name them because they do not need the notoriety.) I know that they do not value women being educated or in leadership. But there is more to my reaction than that.
A lifetime ago, I went on a short-term assignment to Jos, in the Plateau State of Nigeria. I raised my own finances and lived in a place that was well-populated with missionaries. I worked in the local church as a musician, though the Western music they wanted me to teach them was completely inappropriate for the joyous worship and songs of their own people groups. Instead, we figured out a way to add piano to their drums and made a joyful noise. (It was truly a noise of some sort – the piano in the sanctuary was missing strings and badly out of tune. No one cared. It was about worship. I learned something from my Nigerian friends.)
I looked back now on this experience, and I realize it really was not what I came to do with the church, but what I learned about myself.
Part of my experience was a bit surreal. I lived by myself in a 3 room apartment (palatial by local standards). I learned how to cope with hand laundry, iffy electricity, water purification, harmattan and buying my groceries at the market. I learned that I could pluck a chicken if I had to. I learned what my privileged birth and citizenship meant in terms of rights, and responsibilties.
Perhaps most important of all, I learned that the unconditional love and friendship extended to me by my new friends in Jos was not based on anything I could DO for them, but instead, because I was a sister in Christ. I experienced agape love — what I had only heard preached about I experiened deeply and personally.
So when I heard of the kidnappings, my heart sank. For the last 13 years, there are have been numerous reports of strife and animosity between factions of Christians, Muslims and animists. These reports tend to get glossed over unless you follow the RSS feed of an advocacy group. It is beyond our understanding as Westerners and outsiders. It is not our country, our culture, or our perspective. Indeed, all we can do is pray.
I pray because I have memories associated with some of the places that you read about in the news. The churches where I worshipped have long since been burned to the ground. While we in the Western world were fixated on the tragedies surrounding 9/11, there were over 1000 people killed in riots in Jos over a 10 day period in September 2011. It didn’t make the mainstream media coverage then, either.
I pray because of the cries of parents and grandparents, siblings and friends. Anyone who has been through a traumatic incident will tell you that the feelings of isolation and powerlessness are overwhelming. Even the most connected among us have this bewilderment, of betrayal, of anger at circumstances that have spun out of control.
I pray because while they are not “my” girls, they are known and loved and cared for by their families. They have a community, a school, a hometown. They have dreams. They live with fear. They have grown up in a world that is so foreign from mine. And yet, as my Nigerian friends taught me so long ago, they are fellow human beings, sisters under the skin. They are of value. They are loved. And — they are being oppressed, their rights invaded, their bodies tortured.
I can’t change anything with one blog post. But I can continue to pray.
The reality of these kidnappings, at first denied and then downplayed by Nigerian officials, was slow to get mainstream media’s attention. Their names have been published. The names — which some say put them at greater risk, actually give an accounting to the kidnappers. It says, “We know they are missing.”
You are welcome to disagree with me. But I will pray. By name. For these young women to be released and safely restored to their families.
As of this writing, the list of names is now being publicized as first names only. Choose a name. Or names. And keep praying.
No, they are not “our girls.” And yet. They are OURS.
So, I pray.