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Posted: 6:50 PM- SALT LAKE CITY - Four Mormon missionaries abducted from their apartment Saturday morning in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, were released unharmed at 10:40 p.m. (2:40 p.m. MST) Wednesday to the home of LDS Church Bishop Sancho N. Chukwu, who helped negotiate their release, church officials said.
The motive behind the hostage takings was not fully known, said Quentin L. Cook, of the First Quorum of Seventy and executive director of the LDS Church's missionary department. However, the captors likely believed they had abducted oil company workers, for whom they would receive ransom payments, then quickly realized they had made a mistake.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sticking to policy, paid no ransom for the missionaries' release, said LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard, chairman of the missionary executive committee. However, it did give the captors $810 to pay for the four men's food, lodging and care during their captivity.
Church officials said they paid the money early on in negotiations with the captors to ensure the men, all Nigerians age 20 to 25, were properly cared for. They credited church leaders in Nigeria and involvement of other community members, including tribal chiefs, in helping to resolve the matter. And they expressed their gratitude for worldwide prayers.
Officials could not comment on the captors, the details of the abduction nor the conditions in which the missionaries were kept. But they did say the missionaries were in good health and doing fine.
"Their spirits are high and they are expected to return shortly to the work they love," Bruce Olsen, spokesman for the LDS Church, said while reading from a prepared statement.
Cook fought back tears as he spoke about the "wonderful young people" who serve the church and the sacrifices they make.
Speculating on what the missionaries might have been doing during their time with the captors, Ballard said, "I think they were teaching the lessons.. . . Hearts were softened."
The Port Harcourt Mission will continue operations, even amid escalating violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. The LDS Church will take precautions, as necessary, just as they did last month when they moved five American missionary couples to safer ground in the west African country. This decision was made in response to a U.S. State Department travel warning and because it was the Americans who were most likely to be mistaken for oil company workers, who've been the targets of more than 70 hostage takings since the start of the year.
Of the 352 young missionaries serving in Nigeria, none are American and most are African, officials said.
Moving missionaries around, in response to security concerns, is nothing new for the church. They've made changes in missionary plans due to conflicts in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, to name a few. So officials don't expect tensions in Nigeria to hamper the church's work.
Mormon missionaries first arrived in Nigeria in 1978. Today, there are more than 74,000 Latter-day Saints living in the country.