Police in Nigeria rescued at least 77 people, including 23 children, who pastors had asked to stay in a church basement and wait for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Pastors of the Whole Bible Believer Church in Valentino Area of Ondo town in the south-western state of Ondo had encouraged church members "to stay behind" and wait for the rapture or to be taken to Heaven at the Second Coming of Christ, a spokeswoman of Ondo State Police told media.
Some people had been kept in the church since last year, residents told The Associated Press.
Police learned about the incident after parents of some children filed nuisance complaints. One woman said the church had possibly kidnaped her daughters as she was not allowed to register for her exams.
"Preliminary investigation revealed that one Pastor Josiah Peter Asumosa, an assistant pastor in the church, was the one who told the members that Rapture will take place in April, but later said it has been changed to September 2022 and told the young members to obey only their parents in the Lord," BBC quoted police press officer Funmilayo Odunlami as saying.
Police have arrested the church's pastor, David Anifowoshe, along with his deputy, BBC reported. The victims were handed over to the care of the authorities.
Odunlami said the pastors had denied the allegations of kidnapping, according to Voice of America News.
"The pastors still claim that they were having a seven-day program," Odunlami said. "The one who claimed that Jesus was to come by September said it was what God told him. But, we want to ask more questions from the parents that are around. We want to, first of all, get this information clear from the parents."
Odunlami said the state's Criminal Investigation Department has taken over the case and will update the public.
The incident comes at a time when Christians in Ondo state are still recovering from a June 5 attack at the end of Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo.
The Christians were shocked by the attack as such violence is not common in that state.
A visiting speaker from western Nigeria's Oyo state, Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Oyo, said at a June 17 funeral service that "over 40 of our departed people" were killed, Morning Star News reports. ABC News cited an unnamed source as saying there were 82 bodies from the attack taken to a local morgue.
Three undetonated improvised explosive devices and fragments of a detonated device were reportedly recovered from the scene.
As many as 4,650 Christians were killed in Nigeria during Open Doors USA's 2021 reporting period, up from 3,530 the previous year.
More than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped in Nigeria, up from 990 the previous year, according to Open Doors, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries.
Nigeria ranks as the seventh worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on the Open Doors 2022 World Watch List, its highest ranking ever.