Standing at the threshold of a small Nigerian restaurant in Indianapolis, a pastor preaches of love and miracles. But over the verses and psalms, a chant is heard. It gets louder and more fervent with every syllable, as the pastor becomes harder and harder to hear. But the chant does not relent. "Bring Back Our Girls."
More than a month has passed since over 300 young girls studying for their final exams were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, a city in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The Islamic militant terrorist group Boko Haram, which translates to "western education is a sin," has taken credit for the April 15 capture. While a handful of girls have managed to escape, an estimated 276 remain missing. Around the world, people are rallying in support of the abducted young women, protesting the Nigerian government's slow response and urging officials to prioritize the rescue.
Listed by the World Atlas as the most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria is also one of the most politically corrupt. Aside from the problems of embezzlement and bribery reported by the BBC, girls in Nigeria are at an especially high risk. Child marriage is still common, and according to the Global Slavery Index
, the country currently has an estimated 700,000 slaves.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, revealed in a taped video message obtained by the Agence France-Presse (AFP)
that he planned to sell the girls into marriage and sex slavery. Though Shekau stated he was willing to exchange the girls for imprisoned militants, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has ruled out a prisoner swap.
While there are numerous theories regarding the girls' current whereabouts, the most prominent possible locations include either the Sambisa Forest or neighboring countries Cameroon and Chad.
Thus far, the Nigerian military claims to have sent troops to the border area but have not yet entered the Sambisa. Instead, Nigerian officials state they have been having discussions with Boko Haram, but will not disclose any information about the terms or negotiations.
For weeks the Nigerian government refused international help locating the girls. It was only recently that they accepted help from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Israel, who have all agreed to send surveillance or share satellite imagery to help find the missing schoolgirls.
Many have viewed Nigerian officials' delay in action as a lack of urgency. This apparent lack could suggest a reluctance to bring in outsiders or even an infiltration in the government by Boko Haram, a possibility not yet ruled out by Nigerian officials.
The kidnapping has become a phenomenon, drawing worldwide attention. Many around the world criticize the Nigerian government's idleness and are thus working to bring awareness to the situation in hopes to speed up the rescue of the girls.
While sympathetic to the plight of the Nigerians, most Midwestern residents likely feel distant and unconnected with the problem permeating national news. But to a city with a rapidly growing Nigerian population, it hits all too close to home. According to Eli Lilly and Company
, Indianapolis has a general population that grows 50 percent faster than the national average, and with this booming population comes a growing international community. Nigerians are becoming a significant part of the city's population, forming a connection between the Indianapolis community and the heartbreak in Nigeria.
On Saturday, a vigil was held by members of the local Nigerian community in support of the kidnap victims at the Beautiful Shades Nigerian Restaurant
. Led and organized by local activist Reverend Mmoja Ajabu, the service offered sympathizers a place to gather in prayer for the young Nigerian women.
"My daughter inspired me to hold this service," offers Ajabu. "She had just come back from Atlanta, where they had this huge vigil for the girls, and she asked me why Indianapolis hadn't done anything yet. So I said alright then."
Ajabu immediately decided to rally support in Indianapolis, creating the vigil and recruiting Pastor Daves Faspipe of the Everlasting Hope International Ministry to preach. Faspipe moved to America from Nigeria 20 years ago, and preaches of his passion for his home country. This passion motivates him to pray for the safety of these girls.
"They were in school to make their lives better," Faspipe said. In a country where less than 35 percent of students finish their secondary education, the kidnapped schoolgirls were certainly making their own strides.
"And now," Faspipe lamented, "Their bright future is affected. Their parents are affected. Their plans are affected."
The vigil brought together pastors, their "First Ladies," and various members of the community in prayer, praying for the girls' safety as well as a change of heart in Boko Haram and newfound strength within the Nigerian government.
At the vigil, many in attendance took turns leading prayers for the girls. While each had different styles and views of the issue, a common theme among the supporters was strength. Through parables and stories of miracles, worshippers asked for the girls' safe return. Through powerful songs and fast, impassioned speech, they begged that the kidnapped young women find the strength to make it home.
Faspipe begged supporters to pray for the girls' safety. "When we pray we are touching God," Faspipe said. "We pray to help."
Ajabu urged attendees to pray for Boko Haram, that they find a way to remedy their issues with western education without kidnapping.
As the worshippers fervently prayed for the girls, their passion only increased when they urged Nigeria to step up and solve their own problems, that they may take the lead so other countries don't have to become involved.
This prayer vigil follows countless services, rallies, and protests around the world that hope to give a voice to the missing girls. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has permeated social media and the worldwide community, bringing heightened awareness to the missing girls' plight. V-Day
, an organization dedicated to ending violence against women and girls, has created a petition, held multiple rallies and protests, and encouraged people to use the hashtag to increase awareness.
While awareness has been intensified across the globe, the situation lacks resolve. On May 4, at least 11 more girls were abducted from northeast villages. As more and more people hound the Nigerian government, officials take the defensive. At one point, the Defense Ministry falsely announced that all but eight of the girls had been found, only retracting its statement after a protest from the girls' school principal.
To show continued solidarity to the kidnapped girls, people remain dedicated to the mission of raising awareness. On, May 15, a vigil was held in Abaju, marking exactly one month since the girls' capture. Another vigil was also held in Indianapolis at the Messiah Missionary Baptist Church the night following the one at Beautiful Shades, advertised as a "City-wide prayer and praise service" to show solidarity to those affected in Nigeria.