The Nigerian pastor had just started his Sunday sermon in his small village church, when his phone rang, from a number he didn’t recognize. He didn’t answer. Then it rang again. “I think I must answer this call,” he said.
A rough-sounding man said he held one of the pastor’s parishioners as hostage. (Advocates use the pseudonym “Grace” to protect her identity.) He demanded an exorbitant sum for the Christian woman. Then he hung up.
The Pastor Negotiator
The shaken pastor immediately informed local authorities. He gave them the kidnappers’ and Grace’s numbers. He later learned she had hidden her cell phone and kept it on, for the signal to be tracked.
But the Nigerian police did nothing. The pastor, over a hundred miles from the captors, had to negotiate her release. He and his small congregation had no means to pay the massive ransom. He decided to sell virtually everything he owned: furniture, tools, nice clothes, a vehicle. His church followed suit, even selling their small building.
Seminary hadn’t prepared him to be a hostage negotiator. But he rented a car, met the captors at a designated location, and handed over the money.
Grace was released unharmed. “She was saved through literally a miracle and that pastor’s heroism,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper in a phone interview. “But several Christian men traveling with her were killed on the spot.”
United to Stop the Violence
In February, Grace and her pastor traveled to the Nigerian capital city of Abuja. They met with two men who like to say they are “freelance diplomats”: Cooper, an Orthodox Jew, and itinerant Christian minister Johnnie Moore.
Rabbi Cooper has spent over 50 years advocating for human rights and against genocide. He serves as director of global social action at the Simon Wiesenthal Center based in Los Angeles. It is one of the world’s largest nonprofit groups standing against hate and violence.
Moore, who runs PR firm The Kairos Company, is an appointed member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The bipartisan commission serves as a watchdog for religious freedom rights.
Cooper and Moore recount the dramatic story of Grace’s rescue last December in their new book, The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa.
“This woman Grace was traveling in a van, heading home to see family for Christmas week,” said Cooper. “Their route took them near the capital city. They even passed a government checkpoint. About one hundred yards later, these kidnappers took this Christian woman and several people in that van were killed.”