A group of student missionaries from the Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas, were safely on their way back to the U.S. Thursday after their return from a mission trip in Niger was delayed by the ousting of the country’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum by soldiers last week.
“They have boarded a plane to America! Continue to pray as they spend the day traveling home,” the church announced in a post on Facebook Thursday morning with a photo of the smiling group.
The missionaries who had traveled to Niger’s capital, Niamey, as part of Harmony Students, the church’s youth ministry, had been stuck in the landlocked West African nation since the coup was launched against Bazoum on July 26.
Harmony Students explained in a statement on Facebook that the students were originally scheduled to return to the U.S. on Sunday but the coup disrupted that plan.
“Thank you to everyone who has been praying for our Student Team serving in Niger, West Africa. They have had four great days of ministry serving alongside our partner Church! Our team was scheduled to return Sunday, July 30. However, due to a military coup, the airport has been temporarily shut down, delaying the team’s return,” the ministry said. “At this point, Niamey is peaceful, and the citizens and team are going about their day as planned.”
In a statement to The Christian Post, Charles Roberds, a spokesperson for the church, said their congregation is “elated” that the 12-member missionary team, which was relocated to Rome thanks to the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Niamey, are now “on their homeward voyage from Italy, marking a triumphant moment of unity and faith.”
“The prayers of the faithful were answered as the Lord made a way for the missionary team’s safe return journey to begin from Italy. The collective dedication of the church community, along with the unwavering support of countless individuals, has brought about this joyous occasion of progress and celebration,” Roberds said.
He praised the efforts of Lufkin Mayor Mark Hicks, and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions and Sen. Ted Cruz, both from Texas, who exhibited “remarkable dedication and prioritized the repatriation of the missionary team, exemplifying the spirit of compassionate leadership and community collaboration.”
Roberds also thanked the Italians on behalf of the church for their “exceptional act of kindness” in finding a way home for the missionaries.
“The church extends its sincere gratitude to the representatives from Italy, who displayed an exceptional act of kindness by accommodating the missionary team on their homeward-bound flight. This gesture of international goodwill serves as a testament to the interconnectedness of humanity and the boundless compassion that transcends geographical boundaries,” he said.
The return of the missionaries comes as the U.S. Department of State reissued a Level 4 Travel Advisory Wednesday warning Americans not to travel to the West African nation.
“U.S. citizens have previously been advised to reconsider travel to Niger due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. On July 26, President Mohamed Bazoum was placed under house arrest amidst efforts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Niger. Subsequent events have severely limited flight options. Given this development, on August 2, 2023, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and eligible family members from Embassy Niamey,” the advisory said.
It was further noted that “the U.S. Embassy in Niamey has temporarily reduced its personnel, suspended routine services, and is only able to provide emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Niger.”
On Tuesday, United Nations Envoy Léonardo Santos Simão warned that the crisis could worsen security in the region.
“The unfolding crisis, if not addressed, will exacerbate the deteriorating security situation in the region. It will also negatively impact the development and lives of the population in a country where 4.3 million people need humanitarian assistance,” Simão said, according to a U.N. release.
“(He) urgently calls for the strict adherence to Niger’s international human rights obligations and the prompt restoration of constitutional order,” U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
The coup in Niger comes as El Roi Haiti, a Christian education ministry in Haiti, waits for the release of New Hampshire nurse Alix Dorsainvil and her daughter who were kidnapped on July 27 as she did work for the ministry in Port-au-Prince. Gang members from the unstable Caribbean nation have reportedly demanded a ransom of $1 million.
“As the missionary team commences their journey back to their awaiting families and loved ones, Harmony Hill Baptist Church earnestly requests the community to continue uplifting prayers for their safe passage, as well as for the people of Niger. The church also asks people to continue to pray for Americans in Niger still waiting to be evacuated,” Roberds said. “The outpouring of support and unity thus far has been a beacon of hope and strength, and the congregation believes that these continued prayers will provide peace and assurance to all involved.”
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