An American missionary who spent six years as a captive in Niger had a blunt assessment of his time at the hands of Islamic extremists.
“It was hell,” Jeff Woodke, 62, said, according to the Associated Press.
He and his wife shared the sentiments that while he endured privations, the U.S. government was not doing all it could to get Woodke released, with AP characterizing their view of the process as “frustrating interactions.”Woodke was freed in March. The exact circumstances of the deal to free him were not revealed.
Els Woodke, the missionary’s wife, said she told Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the process for ransoming captives favored the rich.
“I said, if it was you that had been kidnapped, you would be free in a week because your wife is free to take from your money and buy you free. So because you are rich, you can pay the ransom. But a poor person is never able to do that,” she said.
Els Woodke and Robert Klamser, a negotiator working for the Woodkes, told AP they believe the FBI misled them and withheld information while they were working with another government to communicate with the extremists.
Klamser said they learned after the fact in 2021 that Jeff Woodke’s captors wanted three million euros and the release of prisoners from West African jails.
Negotiators who were not working with the family got the release demand dropped, but then the ransom doubled.
The AP report noted that that strategy accomplished a U.S. foreign policy goal.
“We’re not things, we’re not bargaining chips, we’re not cases — we’re people,” Jeff Woodke said. “We don’t want to sit under trees in chains. Our families don’t want to have to suffer.”
Els Woodke said she tried to raise money for a ransom but was unable to do so.
“I have also had so many restrictions imposed by the U.S. government that any meaningful attempt to raise a ransom is effectively prohibited,” she said in 2021, according to the Associated Press.
The FBI said it worked “tirelessly” to have Woodke freed but did not address any criticisms.
“As you know, I have no higher priority or focus than bringing home any unjustly detained American, wherever that is in the world,” Blinken said in March after Woodke was freed, according to NBC. “We won’t rest until they’re all home and like Jeffrey reunited with their families.”
During an appearance shortly after his release, Woodke said he was “treated brutally and without humanity” during his captivity, according to the North Coast Journal.
“I was beaten and held continually in chains for 16 hours a day, every day, seven days a week. I was kept in isolation. I suffered injuries and illness, which were never medically treated,” he said.
The couple said faith sustained them.[firefly_poll] “I remember when it first happened, I cried out to God, ‘I want my husband home,’ and he did not say, ‘No.’ And I believed that God has never changed his mind when he did not say no six and a half years ago, he did not say no every day. So, I kept my faith that Jeff would be home and lived every day in faith he would come home,” Els Woodke said.
Jeff Woodke admitted to losing hope, but not faith.
“You might end up at the end of your faith as a human being, but faith is a funny thing — it stays with you whether you like it or not, I think,” he said.This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.