HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (Christian Examiner) – Reacting with shock to the news that Michael Riddering and his wife Amy Boyle-Riddering perished in Burkina Faso at the hands of al-Qaeda radicals, South Florida pastor Martin Vargas told Christian Examiner the two men were "very good friends" and both had a strong conviction about reaching the lost.
The attack in the country's capitol is said to be an indicator of a major escalation of Islamist militancy in West Africa.
Vargas recalled a breakfast meeting at the International House of Pancakes in Hollywood where the Riddering family attended church prior to selling all of their property and leaving to run an orphanage and women's crisis center in Africa.
"He met with me ... to share his heart to go to Burkina with his family, as a missionary," Vargas told the Examiner. "I encouraged him to go and to obey God's calling."
The men had a history of working together and talking about life.
Vargas said he and Riddering, 45, who owned a yacht outfitting company in Cooper City, Florida, won awards in the local "Candy Parade" in 2007 and 2008 for having the best decorated and illuminated boat.
They also shared a passion for ministry.
While Vargas, pastor of Real Church, or Iglesias Real, stayed in the Miami area to renovate a historic Hollywood theater from which he plans a church planting hub, Riddering went to Africa to minister with Sheltering Winds, a St. Louis-based mission organization dedicated to providing clean water and medical care to children and others, along with the message of salvation.
Riddering blogged about the West Africa ministry.
According to a report in the Orlando Sun Sentinel, Riddering was to meet with a group of 15 volunteers from West Pines Community Church in Pembroke Pines, Florida, when there was an attack on a hotel and café in Burkina's Faso's capitol.
He was to have taken the group back to work at the orphanage and crisis center, but instead their Air France flight was rerouted and only later flew into Burkina Faso.
Riddering was in the Cappuccino Café at the time of the attack.
"Our church is heartbroken at the loss of our beloved friend and ministry partner Mike Riddering," said a pastor from the Pembroke Pines church, in a statement. "We are grateful that our team is safe, but are grieving with the Riddering family."
Carol Boyle, Amy Riddering's mother, told the Sun Sentinal, she is unsure of when her daughter will return to the U.S. with the two children, ages 15 and 4, that they adopted in Burkina Faso. "Her faith is what is holding her up."
At least 28 died in the attack in a siege that lasted more than 12 hours.
Vargas said word of Riddering's death came as a shock to him and his family.
"We lost a great man," the Hollywood pastor said. "But I am sure God has a plan."