A Nigerian priest detailed his kidnapping by Islamic radicals, saying he was stripped of his clothes, tied up "like a goat" and prepared to be burned alive, before his prayers to God for a miracle saved him.
Fr. Sam Okwuidegbe, a Jesuit priest and director of a local spirituality center, shared his story earlier this week on the website of the Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar, recalling that his abduction in April 2016 took place while he was on his way to a retreat in Onitsha, in the state of Anambra.
"On looking up I saw masked men with AK47 rifles shooting. I was so scared. I also stopped my car abruptly and began to reverse, but as I was trying to do that, a man suddenly appeared ... and said, 'If you don't get out of the car I'll shoot you,'" Okwuidegbe said of being stopped on the highway.
He was able to identify the kidnappers as Fulani herdsmen, an Islamic radical group that has killed thousands of people in Nigeria, including many Christians, in the past couple of decades.
Okwuidegbe was taken with two other men on a perilous journey into the forest.
"I was so shaken, and began to ask myself, is this happening to me? What am I doing in this forest? What am I doing here? I felt extremely cold and in my confusion ... I'd mutter to myself, this can't be happening, God. This can't be happening," he recalled.
The priest and the other men were stripped of all their belongings and questioned. Due to the trauma of the experience, he was unable to recall anyone's phone number to call to negotiate his release and pay off the terrorists.
"That triggered a series of beatings ... they huddled me up, hands and feet tied to the back with a rope like a goat before a kill. They removed my cassock, then my shirt, threw me into the dirt on the ground, and began to beat me with the back of their guns, they'd kick me hard on my sides, slap across my face, push and pull me hard across the ground ... one of them said 'We are going to burn you alive!'" Okwuidegbe described.
Throughout the ordeal, the priest said that he prayed to God in silence, though he became resigned that he was about to die.
"I hoped for a miracle ... every minute I'd pray saying all kinds of prayers, I'd pray to Saint Ignatius, say the rosary and the Divine Mercy (chaplet) ... at one time I found myself singing heartily but in the inside, a Ghanaian song that says 'God speak to me ... God where are you?' I kept humming in my heart ... it gave me hope," he continued.
After another man in captivity managed to remember the phone number of Jesuit provincial Fr. Jude Odiaka, however, negotiations began for their release.
Eventually, after the herdsmen were seemingly promised what they wanted, Okwuidegbe was freed and left in the forest.
The priest said that when he finally returned home, he heard of just how many people had been praying for him.
"In all these things God revealed to me that I was never abandoned while in the forest, even if I was out of reach and in danger, that God heard the prayers and was with me," he said.
"It has renewed my faith in God, my faith in people ... the human person, God's gift of friendship and that if what I do matters, then also those people I do it with are also very important."
Back in January, Bishop Diamond Emuobor, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, noted that Christians are facing increasing dangers at the hands of extremists, and urged them to protect themselves.
"Christians should defend themselves and he who has no sword, should sell his coat and buy one to defend himself. We are all human beings, nobody should catch you like a snail and slaughter because you believe in Jesus Christ," Emuobor said at the time.