Four North Dakota missionaries were released by Venezuelan authorities Saturday after being detained and questioned for several days, a pastor at their church said.
Bruce Dick, lead pastor at Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Devils Lake, said the three men and one woman were released Saturday morning after being in custody since Wednesday. U.S. Embassy Press Director Glenn Guimond said the missionaries boarded a plane out of the country and would not be allowed back for two years.
It was unclear Saturday why the missionaries were detained by Venezuelan authorities, and Dick said he couldn't comment until he spoke with them. He said they flew to Aruba, where they planned to rest for at least a day.
Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been steadily deteriorating. Earlier this month, President Nicolas Maduro accused the U.S. of working with local opposition groups to stage a coup that involved bombing the presidential palace. Washington called the accusation ludicrous.
The pastor said the missionaries were taken Wednesday from Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town where they have been working to establish a church, to the city of Maracay. He said they were steadily questioned by authorities over the approximately three days, but couldn't say what they were questioned about.
The missionaries were treated well, Dick said, adding that they were able to keep their cellphones and send text messages and make brief phone calls to loved ones. "They didn't fear for their lives or anything, it was just question after question," he said. Dick said he was waiting to hear whether the group had finalized its plans to return from Aruba.