For the last few days the news has finally, and rightfully, been full of outrage and anguish at the news of the abduction of dozens of girls from a boarding school in Nigeria. Social Media has been full of pleas to #bringbackourgirls. Our own slice of the world is finally up in arms that these girls, who were trying to make the most of themselves, to be all that they could be, who were learning, growing, and living life as abundantly as they possibly could, have been stolen from their school and from their families. Most strikingly has been the publication of the list of names of those who are missing, along with pleas to speak their names, remember them in our prayers, and to cherish and care about each one of them.
From today’s gospel: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
God calls us into that life abundant, and calls us by name, at our baptism. I understand that some of the missing girls are Muslim, while many are Christian. To be honest, I don’t think God cares by what faith they have come to know him: he knows them, each of them, by name, and loves them all.
New parents are hyper-alert to the needs of their child – a new baby can wake its parents in the middle of the night because they are programmed to believe that their child is the most the most important thing in the world. It’s not the volume of the call that matters, it’s how important we think it is, how carefully we listen for it. Whenever we call God our Father, we affirm that he is this acutely aware of the pain and distress of each of his seven billion children.
And therefore so must we be. For to be beloved of God, to be part of Jesus’ flock, is to affirm that our relationship with God is intimately bound up with the welfare of the whole flock. We are not cats in the household of God, just in a one-to-one relationship on our own terms, we are his sheep, and our relationship with God as our shepherd is inseparable from our relationship with each other. A sheep that is close to the shepherd is by definition close to the rest of the flock.
And the closer we come to our shepherd, the more we may remember about the gospel message and what it reveals about Jesus’ attitude to the lost, to the weak, to those in distress. And how in performing acts of mercy, kindness and courage, he told us to go out and do likewise.
Our calling as the body of Christ on earth has to be to continue Jesus’ work of enabling all his people to have life abundant. This is the start of Christian Aid Week, when we may be thinking of contributing something to the work of a charity which, in the name Jesus Christ, seeks to bring abundant life to those in need (of any faith or none) through the relief of poverty, through education, better healthcare, improved sanitation and so much more. This is how we start to be not only sheep in his flock, but fellow shepherds.
Our calling is to protect those most vulnerable from ‘the thieves who come to steal and harm and kill’ – and to ask our government to do this in our name when we see acts of violence and injustice being carried out against those who cannot defend themselves.
Meanwhile on the micro scale, we think again of those missing girls. Pray for them. Speak their names. See them as God sees them. Love them, even from thousands of miles away.
For your prayers, below is the list, provided by the Christian Association of Nigeria, of 180 of those still missing: