Christian doctor and missionary Ken Elliott has been released from captivity in Burkina Faso after being held for more than seven years by Islamic extremists.
Many Open Doors supporters are among those who have faithfully prayed for Ken Elliott, the Australian doctor and missionary who was kidnapped in Burkina Faso in January 2016. Praise God – this week, after more than seven years in captivity, he has finally been released.
Ken Elliott was 81 when he was abducted by a branch of the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He and his wife Jocelyn were running a medical clinic in Djibo, northern Burkina Faso near the border with Mali, offering free medical care to the local community. They had opened the clinic more than 40 years earlier, and Ken Elliott worked there as a surgeon – he was known as ‘the Doctor of the Poor’.
On 15 January 2016, both Ken and Joyce were abducted. On the same day, AQIM had killed 29 people in Ouagadougou, including six Canadian Christians doing humanitarian work and a missionary from the US. Locals in Djibo ran a social media campaign calling for the couple to be freed. Less than a month later, Joyce Elliott was released. She expressed her gratitude to the people of Burkina Faso for their support, and said: “I’d like to be reunited with my husband soon so we can return to Djibo and continue our work there.”
Joyce Elliott made a further call for her husband’s release in 2018 – on his thousandth day in captivity: “May peace be with you and your families,” she wrote. “I am grateful to those who decided to release me unconditionally in February 2016. Dr Elliott is living his last years and I ask you to release him too.
“My husband did not have an easy and comfortable life: 46 years ago, he chose to raise his family among you, our friends and our neighbours. With God’s help, he performed thousands of operations and saved many lives. Those who asked for help often came from afar, they came to us at any time of day or night.”
On the same anniversary, the human rights activist and journalist Gideon Vink shared how the Djibo community had been affected by Ken Elliott’s abduction. “For 1,000 days, the poorest of the poor no longer have access to affordable healthcare,” he wrote. “While in Djibo, I heard testimonies of people who had their cousin, their sister, their mother treated by Dr Elliott. The doctor, after 1,000 days of captivity, is now 84 and it is not the right age to be detained somewhere in the desert.”
Now that Ken Elliott has been freed from captivity, the family have shared a statement via the Foreign Minister’s office:
"We wish to express our thanks to God and all who have continued to pray for us" The Elliott family
“We wish to express our thanks to God and all who have continued to pray for us,” they say. “We express our relief that Dr Elliott is free and thank the Australian government and all who have been involved over time to secure his release. We also continue to pray for those still held and wish them freedom and safe return to their loved ones.
“At 88 years of age, and after many years away from home, Dr Elliott now needs time and privacy to rest and rebuild strength. We thank you for your understanding and sympathy.”
The Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, said: “Dr Elliott is safe and well and has been reunited with his wife Jocelyn and their children. The Australian Government, like the Elliott family, has worked tirelessly toward Dr Elliott's release. We acknowledge the strength and resilience Dr Elliott and members of his family have shown through the most difficult of circumstances.”
In the years since the Elliotts were abducted, jihadist violence in Burkina Faso has continued to escalate. The trend is having a catastrophic impact on Christians in the country. Believers have been targeted and killed in villages, churches and workplaces, and hundreds of churches have been forced to close, with many having been destroyed. The threat from extremist Islamic groups has even spread to cities that were previously beyond their reach. There are over a million internally displaced people in Burkina Faso, a significant number of whom are Christians who have fled the rising jihadist violence.
The country rose from number 32 to number 23 on the most recent Open Doors World Watch List – the annual ranking of the places where Christians face the most persecution. The targeting and killing of Christians due to the rising influence of jihadist groups has created an environment of fear, with many Christians being too scared to attend church services or send their children to school.
Praise God for Ken Elliott’s release – and please join his family in praying for others to be released, and for safety for Christians in this region.