For about five weeks the song “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables has been going through my head, a kind of incessant prayer for the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria. Every time I think about them – which is often – I become almost paralyzed in my horror and grief. And I don’t think I’m having that response because I’m a mother or a parent. I think I’m horrified by this because I’m a decent human being who believes that children should not be the pawns in the deadly games that adults play.
When I was a teenager, my family was held up in our home. For forty-five of the longest minutes of my life, my little brother, who was nine at the time, was taken hostage. He’s fine now; we’re all fine now, after time and therapy and a lot of love. But for forty-five minutes I sat in my neighbor’s house, paralyzed, and when I saw the police cars pull away and knew the situation had been resolved, I didn’t know if my next move would be to exhale or scream. I exhaled, because the SWAT team was successful in their negotiations and my brother was okay. I hope so much that the families of those girls are able to exhale soon; to exhale and run and embrace those children and watch them grow up and heal.
Sometimes I wish God would just smite dead people who abuse and terrify children. I don’t believe in the death penalty, except when I do and that’s usually when something horrific has happened to a child. I have to stop myself from thinking about what might be happening to these girls, isolated in the woods, or being smuggled out of the country to illegal human markets.
I feel so powerless about this, that there is nothing I can do other than pray. So I pray. I pray that these girls are allowed to be with each other, that leaders have risen among them who set a tone of comfort and hope. I pray for their families. I pray for those in positions of power and influence. And because Jesus tells me I have to, I pray for the terrorists. The prayer is pretty basic: God, I am praying for these terrorists. I do not know what to ask for, but You know what to do, so do that. Amen.
Then that little voice in my head gets going. You know that voice – the one that tells you prayer is not enough. The one that reminds you that there are children right here who are in just as desperate a situation as those Nigerian girls. The voice that does not let you off the hook for worrying about something on the other side of the world without worrying about things in your own back yard.
It’s not just me – maybe the media could cover some of our own domestic tragedies, especially those that involve children, especially children who live below the poverty line, children of color. Maybe our own elected officials could look in their backyards in addition to looking across the globe.
Last year my daughter and I read Robert Coles’ book The Story of Ruby Bridges. My daughter was amazed that a child was treated that way, and I was horrified by it, though I knew the story. I think about her courage and her faith and her prayer for those who were doing such cruel things to her and shouting such hateful things at her. And my wish that God would smite dead all those who abuse and terrify children comes back. Because I really, really pray that adults will stop using children in their deadly games.