American Held Captive for Six Years in Niger Shares Story with The Voice of the Martyrs Radio

BARTLESVILLE, OK — “It’s better to be dead than taken hostage,” Jeff Woodke told The Voice of the Martyrs’ Radio Host Todd Nettleton. When Jeff first said those words, he didn’t know he would be taken hostage from his home in Niger in 2016. But Woodke, a long-term relief and gospel worker in Africa, knew the risks.

Jeff didn't know he would be taken hostage from his home in Niger in 2016. But Woodke, a gospel worker in Africa, knew the risks.
Jeff Woodke and his wife Els recount the story of his six-and-a-half year captivity with Todd Nettleton, VOM Vice President

Risk wasn’t such a big issue in the early years of the ministry of Jeff and Els, his wife, in Niger. They worked on community-development projects, church planting, discipleship, and evangelism. Niger was an open country with churches throughout. Christian persecution there usually came from family members or neighbors who opposed following Jesus. However, the rise of Salafist Islam changed Niger—and increased the risk.

Then one day a truck pulled up to the Woodke’s home. Two guards were shot and killed, Jeff was badly beaten and forced into a truck. As they drove away, Jeff didn’t know who his captors were or how long his captivity might last. During his six and a half years as a hostage, Jeff was transferred into the custody of multiple terror groups, beaten and mistreated.

The Woodkes share their dramatic story and how their faith carried them through with Nettleton in a three-part series on The Voice of the Martyrs Radio.

“The moment I heard Jeff was kidnapped, I cried out to God,” said Els.

Shortly after Jeff’s abduction, Els felt God say to her, “love the enemy.” She obeyed and never let bitterness or anger toward the terrorists take root in her heart.

It was 4 a.m., when Els answered the phone to hear the words she’d been praying for the past six-and-a-half years: “Jeff has been recovered!”

Jeff spent several days in medical care to stabilize his health before he could return to the US. One of the first things he asked for was a Bible.

In the final episode of the series, Els speaks to the people who prayed for Jeff’s release and for her, which strengthened her faith during his captivity.

About The Voice of the Martyrs

Founded in 1967 by Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, The Voice of the Martyrs is a nonprofit, interdenominational missions organization serving persecuted Christians in the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to follow Christ. For more information, visit

Read more news on Non-Profit / Faith Based Organizations, and World Missions on Missions Box.

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