ANTIOCH, Calif. - An 11-person church missionary group from Antioch is finally back home after becoming trapped in the West African country of Niger amid a military coup.
The group had an emotional reunion with family at the airport early Sunday and later during a service at the Cornerstone Christian Center in Antioch.
The missionaries were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief after their plane left the tarmac on Friday in Niger.
"When the wheels went up I started crying," said Steve Miner.
The group, which included an 11-year-old and some in their 70s, became trapped in Niger while running a free summer camp for kids. They’d been scheduled to return the previous week, but two days before their departure, a military coup seized power, and the border was shut down.
During that time, the group says they did their best to stay occupied by helping ready a local school for upcoming fall classes.
"I felt like wow, we can still do good even during a terrible thing," said Magaret Rickli.
Meantime, family and friends back home were working hard to secure their return home.
"That was my job this week, it was just calling everybody that I could call, and doing everything that I could do," said Hannah Foster, whose parents Steve and Maria Miner were in Niger.
With the help of their elected representatives, the group eventually received word from the U.S. State Department that they’d anxiously been waiting for.
"The email said ‘come with your patience and your humor and be ready’, and we waited there for about 10 hours," said Steve Miner.
More than 24 hours later, the volunteers touched down back in the Bay Area. Some kneeled to kiss the ground as family waited to embrace them.
"Oh a lot of tears then, then they started falling for sure," said Maria Miner.
The group says they soon learned just how lucky they had been. Niger’s borders shut back down just hours after their plane took off.
"I think we got out, man, just in the nick of time," said Steve Miner.
Despite everything they went through, all 11 say they would not hesitate to go back if the situation stabilizes in Niger. They say their thoughts are now very much with the kids who they helped and their families, who they say just want things to go back to normal.