Nearly a dozen volunteers with Antioch’s Cornerstone Christian Center are stranded in the West African country of Niger, as a nine-day Vacation Bible School trip very unfortunately coincided with a military coup that closed off the country’s borders.
A group of nearly a dozen volunteers with the Cornerstone Christian Center went on a nine-day trip to the African nation of Niger for a Vacation Bible School mission that KRON4 reports was to “help build schools and churches.” They left the U.S. on July 20th, and were supposed to return on July 29.
But a nightmare scenario has unfolded, as a military coup in Niger closed off all of the country’s borders last week. And KTVU reports that those volunteers are now trapped in the country, with no apparent immediate way out. Some of the volunteers are in their 70s, according to the station, and one of them is just 11 years old.
Cornerstone’s Principal Logan Heyer tells the Antioch Herald, “There are 11 from our church and school, about 15 total.” Heyer adds that his daughter, wife, and father-in-law are among those trapped in the country. He and many of the other volunteers' family members are understandably terrified.
“My family is stranded in Niger Africa,” one family member said in a Wednesday Facebook post. “The US government has evacuated part of its embassy staff but has been unhelpful in helping us get our family out! Help me spread the word. Share and pray. Whatever you can do. Email a congressman or senator. Call the local news. Anything helps. They are in a group of 15 US citizens ages ranging from 11 to 73.”
The offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein, and the region’s congressional representative John Garimendi, both say they’re working to secure the volunteers’ release.
"My team is working closely with the state department and the constituents to get them home safely,” Garimendi’s office said in a statement to KTVU. “However, I cannot share additional details at this time due to operational security issues."
Today, we ordered the temporary departure of non-emergency personnel and eligible family members from Niger. The U.S. is committed to our relationship with the people of Niger. The embassy remains open, and our leaders are diplomatically engaged at the highest levels.— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) August 2, 2023
Families say they’re frustrated because European nations like France, Italy and Spain have been more thorough at evacuating all of their residents from Niger. Though there may be hope the volunteers can be shuttled into a neighboring country and have flights home arranged, as the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Nigerian junta claims they have reopened some borders opened with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Libya.
Image: cornerstoneantioch via Instagram