Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - Abducted Christian aid worker in Niger released after six-and-a-half years in captivity - Open Doors UK & Ireland
21 March 2023

Abducted Christian aid worker in Niger released after six-and-a-half years in captivity

Jeff Woodke, an American aid worker who was kidnapped in Niger in 2016, has now been released.

Jeff Woodke
Jeff Woodke has been released after six-and-a-half years in captivity (image from Facebook group Bring Jeffery Woodke Home)

Many Open Doors supporters have faithfully prayed for Jeff Woodke, a Christian aid worker from America who was kidnapped in Niger in 2016. Praise God, he has now been released after six-and-a-half years in captivity

Jeff Woodke was kidnapped from his home in Abalak, northern Niger, on 14 October 2016. His kidnappers were thought to be members of a local radical Islamic group called Mujao. They reportedly took him out of Niger to eastern Mali. In the intervening years, it appears he was moved across borders to other nations on multiple occasions. Alongside Woodke, French journalist Olivier Dubois was also released; he had been abducted in Mali in 2021.

At the time of his kidnapping, Woodke had been living in the region for 24 years. He ran several development projects among the Tuareg people, and people in the community were shocked by his abduction. “He lived among us for years, even when it has been difficult to accompany vulnerable populations,” says Bilou Mohamed, Abalak’s mayor. “Everyone knows his goodness.”

Release from captivity

The aid worker was released outside of Niger, in a border area with Mali and Burkina Faso, a US official told the New York Times. He was then moved to Niger’s capital Niamey for medical checks.

“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.”

"This is such wonderful news and a big relief for Jeff and for all who were praying for him" Illia Djadi, Open Doors

His wife, Els Woodke, was told that Jeff was in good condition, according to a statement on a website campaigning for his release: “She has expressed her profound thanks to the many people in governments and others around the world who have worked so hard to see this result.”

In July 2017 a coalition of jihadist groups published a video showing six foreign hostages, including three missionaries, but not Woodke. Believing her husband was likely to be held by the same group, Els put out a video pleading with the kidnappers to let her husband go.

Woodke’s release comes amidst a surge of violence by militant Islamists and other groups in the Sahel region. Deaths from violent attacks by Islamist groups have increased by almost 50% over the past year, with the bulk of attacks taking place in Burkina Faso and Mali, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

Niger is number 28 on the World Watch List. Neighbouring Mali is currently at number 17, while Burkina Faso is at number 23. All three countries have risen in the past year, with the main reason being rising jihadist violence in the region.

Please pray


  • Praise God that Woodke and Dubois have been released and pray for healing from their trauma
  • For protection and peace for all Christians in the region who live in fear of persecution
  • That governments and decision makers would be equipped to tackle the escalating violence.
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