American missionary in Nigeria kidnapped for ransom

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
Phyllis Sortor has lived in Nigeria for 10 years, working as a missionary to the Fulani people group, who are Muslim nomadic herdsmen. She opened a school in January in Enugu, southeastern Nigeria, for Fulani children.

EMIWORO, Nigeria (Christian Examiner) – A ransom of nearly $300,000 has been demanded for the release of Phyllis Sortor, a missionary with the Free Methodist Church.

"Free Methodists" are evangelical, said to be "free" from various restrictions in other Methodist groups.

Sortor was abducted mid-morning Monday by five men, three of whom were masked, local and international news reports said. The men had climbed a wall onto the courtyard of Hope Academy, where Sorter is a financial administrator.

The kidnappers "came into the school premises shooting sporadically into the air to scare away people before taking [the hostage] away into the bush," a Kogi state police spokesman said. "We are hopeful of finding her."

Because Kogi in central Nigeria has not been a state of much interest to the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists, police determined the kidnapping was by local criminals rather than terrorists.

However, some friends and family members spoke of their concern that some Muslims in the area were not pleased with the start-up of a Christian school for Muslim children, and Kogi has also had low level activity by Islamist militants linked to insurgent group Boko Haram, security sources say.

Nigeria is one of the world's worst nations for kidnapping with millions in ransom paid each year to criminal gangs who abduct expatriates in southern and central Nigeria.

Sortor, born in Mozambique, has been living in Nigeria for the last 10 years, working primarily with the Fulani people group, who are nomadic herdsmen. She opened a school in January in Enugu, southeastern Nigeria, for Fulani children.

"We have worked long and hard on this school, and are so thrilled that yesterday, January, 19th, 2015, we were able to open our doors for the first time," Sortor wrote in her most recent newsletter. "We began with 82 children, 58 of whom are Muslim, Fulani kids from one nearby camp!

"The Fulani parents are wonderfully cooperative – sending food and water with their kids, organizing a Parent-Teacher Association – giving us Fulani security guards for the school," Sortor continued in her newsletter. "We have six teachers altogether; a tutor-chaplain, bursar, driver and 'mother's helper.' All are wonderful Christian people who I know, with God's help, will make this school great!"

In a six-minute video produced by Free Methodist World Missions, Sortor said her life verse was 2 Corinthians 9:8 – "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

She speaks in the video about the love and care given to her by Muslims and Christians alike when her husband Jim died in 2008 from an infection.

"I miss Jim terribly but I trust God," she said. "Nothing that can happen to me in my future will ever defeat me with God by my side."

The Free Methodist Church has 77,000 members in the United States and 850,000 members worldwide in 82 nations.