A Christian missionary who was kidnapped in Niger in 2016 has been released and is in good condition, according to Open Doors.
Jeff Woodke, an American aid worker and missionary, was held captive for more than six years after being taken from his home in Abalak, Niger, on Oct. 14, 2016, by a local radical Islamic group. He reportedly then was taken to eastern Mali and other nations on multiple occasions, Open Doors said.
"Praise God, he has now been released after six-and-a-half years in captivity," Open Doors said.
White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed Woodke's release.
"I'm gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity," Sullivan tweeted. "The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him. I thank so many across our government who've worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom."
I’m gratified & relieved to see the release of U.S. hostage Jeff Woodke after over 6 years in captivity. The U.S. thanks Niger for its help in bringing him home to all who miss & love him. I thank so many across our government who’ve worked tirelessly toward securing his freedom.— Jake Sullivan (@JakeSullivan46) March 20, 2023
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said "no concessions" were made between the United States and the group that kidnapped Woodke.
"This was just hard, grueling, deliberate work by diplomats and other experts directly with the government of Niger to get him home," Kirby said, according to CBS.
When he was kidnapped, Woodke had been living in the region for 24 years, serving the people with development projects, Open Doors said.
"Everyone knows his goodness," said Bilou Mohamed, Abalak's mayor.
Niger ranks No. 28 on Open Doors' annual ranking of the most dangerous countries for Christians to live in. Less than one percent of the population is Christian. Open Doors reported that his wife, Els Woodke, "was told that Jeff was in good condition."
"This is such wonderful news and a big relief for Jeff and for all who were praying for him," says Illia Djadi, Open Doors' senior analyst for sub-Saharan Africa. "We have been praying and advocating for the release of Jeff for years. It's the end of over six years of suffering and agony for him and his family."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Tinnakorn Jorruang
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.