U.S. missionary kidnapped in Niger

Missions | Jeffrey Woodke is the first American kidnapped from the Western Africa country
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/17/16, 11:24 am

Gunmen kidnapped an American missionary from his home in central Niger over the weekend and killed two other people. The incident is the first reported kidnapping of an American in the region.

On Friday night, the attackers stormed into Jeffery Woodke’s home in the town of Abalak, killing his guard and housekeeper, Niger’s interior ministry said in a statement on Saturday. The armed men, driving a white Toyota Hilux pickup truck, took Woodke and headed across the desert toward Mali.

“Our forces are on their trail,” Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum said. “The president of the republic is personally following the situation and our forces are fully mobilized to capture them and put an end to this disastrous affair.”

Woodke, a 55-year-old native of McKinleyville, Calif., has lived in Niger since 1992. He worked with JEMED, a local partner of U.S. non-profit Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  The Nigerian charity group helps Tuareg herdsmen who are battling disease, drought, and lack of education.

Woodke served as an instructor at The Redwood Coast School of Missions, a ministry run by the Arcata First Baptist Church in Arcata, Calif. His biography on the mission’s website describes him as having a “passion in providing humanitarian aid to those who are among the poorest in the world, coupled with his desire to see God’s kingdom advanced in a largely Muslim world.”

The Sahel region faces attacks from al-Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups, Nigerian-based extremists Boko Haram, and other criminal gangs. Armed attackers have targeted and kidnapped Europeans, demanding huge sums of money in ransom. An Australian doctor kidnapped in February in Burkina Faso and a Swiss woman kidnapped in Mali both remain in captivity. Woodke’s kidnapping is the first of any American in Niger. In 2009, suspected extremists attempted to kidnap U.S. embassy personnel from a hotel in the town of Tahoua.

“We are aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Niger,” a State Department official said after the Friday abduction. “The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • Minivan Man's picture
    Minivan Man
    Posted: Mon, 10/17/2016 12:10 pm

    Thanks Onize.  Praying for Jeffery's safety, and success in his calling.  

  •  Lowell W's picture
    Lowell W
    Posted: Tue, 10/18/2016 09:25 am

    Thanks Onize for covering this. I know of two people who were kidnapped in Nigeria and later released. I have no idea how their release was procured. One was a missionary and surgeon who had saved many lives and delivered hundreds of babies. He was shot in the arm during the kidnapping but thank God was able to regain use of his arm. His wife and he later relocated to another country in Africa to continue the work they love. The second person was a local who ran a Christian high school. He and his family have done much to help educate the young people of their area as his school is one of the top rated in his area. He continues to run the school. Both of these incidents occurred a few years ago. 

    I pray Jeffery Woodke is released soon unharmed. May God watch over him and the others you mention in this article.

  • Rus Gustavson
    Posted: Sat, 10/22/2016 11:46 am

    Jeff has been a friend for about 35 years. Thank you for praying for Jeff and his wife and sons. They have been faithful to God's calling, knowing the risks of where they live. He is well loved by those he ministers to, some have even named their children after him. I know Jeff will be steadfast to our Lord. 

  • Tessa
    Posted: Mon, 10/24/2016 09:03 am

    Web editor: in the fourth paragraph, it should be Nigerian, not Nigerien. 

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Mon, 10/24/2016 10:02 am

    @Tessa - Thank you. We have corrected the mistake.