Update: Australian missionary couple kidnapped in Burkina Faso – what we know so far

NEWS  |  Kaley Payne

Last updated: Tuesday 19 January 2016, 3pm

At the weekend, reports emerged that Australian missionary couple Dr Ken and Jocelyn Elliot were kidnapped by Islamic extremists in the town of Djibo in northern Burkina Faso.

For what we know so far, click the links below:

Who are Kenneth and Jocelyn Elliot?
Has there been confirmation of the kidnapping?
Who is holding the Elliots?
What is the Australian government doing so far?
News from the Elliot’s family in Western Australia
How are other missionaries and locals responding? 

The community in Djibo have also started a Facebook page called Djibo soutient Dr Ken Elliot (translated: Djibo supports Dr Ken Elliot), where friends and supporters are posting messages and pictures.

Who are Kenneth and Jocelyn Elliot? 

Ken and Jocelyn Elliot

Ken and Jocelyn Elliot

According to the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship (CMDF), Ken and Jocelyn Elliot grew up in the country, where Ken left school at age 15 and worked on the family farm. As a mature-age student, Ken completed a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in 1963 and interned at Fremantle Hospital and spent time with the Kalgoorlie-based Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The couple served a 4-year term with missionary agency SIM in Bembereke Hospital in Benin.

“While at Bembereke, they surveyed the North of Upper Volta (now Brukina Faso) and received a call from the Lord to open a medical ministry at Djibo with a particular view of reaching the Fulani people,” wrote a CMDF Missions Chapter representative.

The Elliots drove across the Sahara to work at Djibo under an agreement with the government in 1973. “They literally built the hospital with their own hands using Ken’s farming skills,” they wrote.

Ken is the only doctor at the hospital and, now in his 80s, continues to perform surgeries almost every day.

Today, the Centre Medico-Chirurgicale de Djibo has space for 120 patients. The hospital is primarily surgical, with patients coming from Burkina Faso as well as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Mali.

According to the CMDF, the Elliots have a policy not to advertise or appeal for funds, except by prayer. “They have found Him true to all His promises through the years.”

Ken is the only doctor at the hospital and, now in his 80s, continues to perform surgeries almost every day.

Watch this 3-minute video for an overview of their work:

Confirmation of kidnapping

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.59.25 pmBurkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore named the couple in a televised address to the nation overnight, where the president announced three days of national mourning after al-Qaida militants killed at least 28 people in an attack on a hotel and cafe popular with foreigners on the weekend. But a link between the abduction of the Elliots and the hotel terror attacks is, as yet, unknown.

“A full alert has been issued to the defence and security forces in the area to find them and catch the kidnappers.” — Burkina Faso’s President

“In the night of 15th to 16th of January Dr Kenneth Arthur Elliot and his wife Jocelyn, Australians based in Djibo since 1972 and in charge of the Elliot Clinic, were kidnapped in the area. A full alert has been issued to the defence and security forces in the area to find them and catch the kidnappers,” said President Roch Marc Christian Kabore in his address, televised on Burkina24 yesterday.

The Elliots' hospital in Djibo in northern Burkina Faso

The Elliots’ hospital in Djibo in northern Burkina Faso

Who is holding the Elliots? 

News reports emerged overnight that Hamadou Ag Khallini, a spokesperson for a Mali-based militant group called Ansar Dine, told the Agence France-Presse news service (AFP) that the Elliots had been abducted by the al-Qaida affiliate, Emirate of the Sahara.

He said they were alive and more details would be released soon.

Professor Clive Williams from the Centre for Policing Intelligence and Counter Terrorism at Macquarie University told ABC 666 Canberra radio this morning that the group holding the Elliots is part of ongoing competition between al-Qaida and Islamic State for affiliation or control of local groups, but Mali and surrounding areas are more aligned with al-Qaida.

“They’re all seeking to have sharia law imposed in the areas that they’re controlling or are working in. They have essentially the same aims [as Islamic State], it’s just that they are in competition. The thing with Islamic State is that it was an off-shoot of an al-Qaida group … they’re now competing for influence in many places.”

“The fact that he is a missionary… is not going to be good. [The kidnappers] will tend to see that as being not so much the good works he’s been doing since the 70s for the local people, but as being a missionary spreading the word of Christianity. So that will not be good for them.” — Counter Terrorism expert

Professor Williams said that the kidnappers will be asking for a ransom.

“The fact that he is a missionary, as I understand it, is not going to be good. [The kidnappers] will tend to see that as being not so much the good works he’s been doing since the 70s for the local people, but as being a missionary spreading the word of Christianity. So that will not be good for them.

“Another factor that’s not so good for them is that the Australian government doesn’t do ransoms. Many other European countries would quietly be working behind the scenes to organise release. We would be doing that at the moment but only on the grounds that these people have no political agenda and that they’re just doing good works in the local area.”

Professor Williams believes the kidnappers will take a hard-line approach and money will be necessary. “In that case, if the Australian government is not going to pay any money, then it comes down to the family to try and raise the money.”

What is the Australian Government doing so far? 

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said, “Our Post in Accra, Ghana, is working with local authorities on a suspected kidnapping. We will not comment further on the situation.” 

Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss, taking on the job while Malcolm Turnbull is overseas, released a statement saying, “The Australian government is taking the suspected kidnapping of two Australians in Burkina Faso very seriously.

“The safety of the Australians involved is our highest priority. All actions the Australian Government takes will be in the interest of their welfare.” — Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss

“Our thoughts are with the family of the Australians at this difficult time and we ask all to respect their request for privacy.

“The safety of the Australians involved is our highest priority. All actions the Australian Government takes will be in the interest of their welfare.”

How are the Elliots’ family, based in Western Australia? 

On Tuesday, January 19, a spokesperson for the Elliot family issued another statement, thanking the Burkinabe people of Burkina Faso for their support, and urging patience in the community for Ken and Jocelyn’s release. Here is the full statement:

The Elliot family wish to express their gratitude for the messages of encouragement they have been receiving from around Australia and abroad during this difficult time. They are understandably deeply dismayed by this incident and sincerely hope that their parents are being treated kindly wherever they are. 

“The Elliots have been particularly heartened by the tremendous support of the Burkinabe people who clearly consider Ken and Jocelyn to be one of their own after all these years of providing surgical services to the region.  The family would like to urge the Burkinabe people to continue to show patience as they share in our feelings of loss at this time.

“We also want to extend our sympathy to the victims of the recent tragedy in Ougadougou and to the people of Burkina Faso as they mourn. 

“The Elliots would urge those who have taken Ken and Jocelyn to strive constructively for peace to the benefit of all people in the region and release their parents safe and sound so that they may continue to assist those who are in need of their services.”

On Sunday, January 17, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released this statement from a spokesperson from the Elliots’ family:

“Ken and Jocelyn began their hospital work in the town of Djibo in northern Burkina Faso in 1972.  At present they operate a surgical clinic with around 120 beds where Ken is the sole surgeon, supported by a small number of dedicated local staff.

“They have dedicated their lives to providing medical relief to people in the remote northern area of Burkina Faso.

“Recent news from the country indicates an alleged abduction of Ken and Jocelyn on Friday night, however no reason is yet given for this and their whereabouts is still unknown.” — spokesperson for the Elliot family

“Their commitment to the local people is reflected in the fact that they have continued there with only a few holidays since 1972. They are held in high esteem by the local people.

“Recent news from the country indicates an alleged abduction of Ken and Jocelyn on Friday night, however no reason is yet given for this and their whereabouts is still unknown.

“Their family is in Western Australia and wish to maintain their privacy.”

How are other missionaries and locals responding? 

Image from 'Djibo soutient Dr. Ken Elliot' Facebook page.

Image from ‘Djibo soutient Dr. Ken Elliot’ Facebook page.

Hundreds of local people in the Elliot’s Burkina Faso home town of Djibo gathered at the local high school to call for the couple’s release. Many held signs saying “Liberes Eliote” (“Free Elliot”).

Dominic Steele, an Anglican minister in Sydney and regular guest host of a Sunday Night programme on 2CH 1170, spoke with an Australian missionary in Burkina Faso who cannot be identified for security reasons.

The Australian missionary spoke of Ken and Jocelyn Elliot as “a lovely, gentle, humble Christian couple” who have “committed to serving the poorest of the poor in Jesus’ name and willing to make great sacrifices for that.”

The Australian missionary, who was on his way to church in Burkina Faso when he spoke to Mr Steele, said he and his wife lived as in Djibo, close to the Elliots for almost two years and spoke to them often.

“They started [their mission work] somewhere else but chose that town [Djibo] because there it was even poorer and the people had far less opportunities to have access to medical care than where they first began. They really chose the hardest place to go and shine the light of Jesus. They’re really a great example to all of us.”

“They really chose the hardest place to go and shine the light of Jesus. They’re really a great example to all of us.” — another Australian missionary serving in Burkina Faso

Mr Steele asked the missionary whether there were security concerns for other missionaries in the area.

“Since we arrived in 2010 there was already talk of potential security issues. Since that time we’ve been required to take increasing security measures for our personal safety and also for the safety of other members of our organisation and affiliate organisations.”

The missionary said that while terror events are becoming more prolific in neighbouring countries, the events at the weekand are “really the first ones in Burkina, so in a sense it’s getting closer and closer. But it’s hard to know at this stage whether this is just a one-off, or if this is the beginning of a pattern. We really don’t know what it’ll mean. But we’re not keen on just running and hiding at the first hint of danger. 1 Peter says we need to be prepared to suffer for the gospel. We are, and we’re willing to serve people here. We’re not keen on just running.”

That choice isn’t entirely up to individual missionaries. Mission agencies and local governments can decide that the risk for foreigners is too great, and ask them to leave. But, so far, that’s not the case for Burkina Faso missionaries.

The Australian missionary prayed live on radio with Mr Steele:

“Father God, we thank you so much for the peace that has been in Burkina, even despite the huge differences in cultures and religions that are here, and that people are proud of that peace. But, God, we see that there are people who want to change that. Father, we ask that your hand be upon this nation, and bring back peace and bring back stability. And we pray you protect us from terrorist and violent extremists and that you would protect your church here and keep growing your church here and grow it into maturity, that it no longer needs outside help. We pray that it will be a great witness in standing strong despite attacks, despite suffering and despite opposition. For your name’s sake, Amen.”

Listen to the full 12-minute interview, here.

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