Bring Back Our Girls: A Prayer of Lament

How much is one human life worth?

The question arrived unexpectedly in the middle of my morning routine; the answer was surprisingly explicit. On this particular day, the world was reeling from the plane crash into the French Alps. The news on my kitchen radio dissected every angle of the case: the co-pilot’s mental health, airline regulations, and now, just compensation for the victims’ families. If the airline was proven liable for the crash, as it seemed they would be, families were entitled to something called “Unlimited Compensation”, but this did not mean that they would receive the same amount, nor that it would be unlimited.

Instead, through the courts of each victim’s country of primary residence, compensation would be determined byvarious formulas. Americans are compensated more generously, for example, and Germans more frugally, because of each country’s legal precedents and biases. Then each victim would be weighed according to their age, net worth, earning capacity and number of dependents.

How much is one human life worth? Within the bounds of financial liability, the answer is fairly straightforward, at least within our current systems. But how much is one human life worth in terms of foreign policy, media attention, or the investment of our churches?

Does anyone have a formula we can apply?


One year ago today, several hundred high school girls were gathered in Chibok, Nigeria to take their multi-day college entrance exams. The government had closed most of their schools months before because of a local terrorist organization that called itself Boko Harem, or “Western Education is Sinful.”  Boko Harem particularly opposed the education of girls, but these girls, many of whom were poor and whose families had sacrificed mightily for their educations, needed to take their exams, and the Nigerian government promised extra security in Chibok for this purpose.

The girls went to bed on the evening of April 14th, their compound guarded by a handful of soldiers, and one elderly man asleep at the threshold of their dorm. When Boko Harem arrived in the middle of the night, the ‘extra security’ fled, leaving the almost-300 high school girls to their own defenses. By morning, they were gone.

Several weeks later the Nigerian government publicly acknowledged their disappearance, and the hashtag #Bringbackourgirls exploded on social media, creating a ripple effect of international attention. Governments, including the United States, pledged and delivered help; celebrities, including the Pakistani nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, urged the Nigerian government to respond.  

On May 12th Boko Harem released a video of 130 girls, vowing that they would be sold as slaves unless the government agreed to a prisoner exchange.  The government did not agree, and by the end of May, the news was hushed, then silent. As the summer intensified, ISIS rose to the top of the headlines, a passenger jet crashed in Eastern Ukraine, the bodies of Israeli and then Palestinian teenagers became the impetus for retaliation, and Michael Brown died on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

And as the world, and the Church (with a few exceptions, most notably the Church of the Brethren)  turned our attention elsewhere, the violence in Nigeria escalated. Emboldened by the initial outrage concerning the schoolgirls’ abduction, Boko Harem began kidnapping more women and children, ravaging villages throughout Northeastern Nigeria, and in the early months of 2015, began strapping ‘suicide’ bombs to young girls and beheading people with chainsaws.

At the one year anniversary of their kidnapping, the missing schoolgirls are now the first chapter in a story so atrocious as to be unthinkable, and their continued absence begs this question: How much is one human life worth?



Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

because you know that when the shots popped, men shouted

and daughters screamed,

my own beloved were safe behind deadbolted doors.

My own awoke from nightmares on soft mattresses

while in another world others’ daughters woke into hell

hard as the beds of pick-up trucks.

I did not hear their cries

from so far away.


Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

because when I sat behind a computer screen and considered

hashtags, Michelle and Malala held the sign:


Facebook asked me to update my status

so I tried to message you:

Lord, Bring back our girls, Amen, but

I’m not sure how often you check your page.


Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

because Pittsburgh is 5,788 miles from Chibok, Nigeria

and my own daughters are settled in my lap.

The five year old asks,

Mama, are the kidnapped girls still kidnapped?

Sweetie, I think, if you were gone, I would not rest,

but I say yes

staring out the window

yes, they are.


Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer,

bring back your daughters

to the ones who miss them most,

the ones who know their infinite value.


In Jesus,



-Jen Pelling is a writer, seminary graduate, and the mother of two young girls. She blogs with friends at You Are Here, and tries to love her neighbors, at least a little bit, every day.