Rev. Phyllis Sortor was released March 6, after 12 days as a hostage, according to a statement released by the Free Methodist Church – USA.
“It appears she was kidnapped by a criminal gang, and there is no evidence this event is associated with terrorism or religion,” according to the statement, which was signed by David W. Kendall for the Free Methodist Church Board of Bishops.
The church did not say where Sortor’s release occurred, and said it would not reveal how her safe return was arranged, “as a matter of sound policy, and to help protect the many people who helped secure Phyllis’ freedom.”
“Sortor was aware there were risks associated with her ministry, but also knew there are very few places in the world without risks and dangers,” the release said. “Free Methodist leaders express deep appreciation to all who prayed for Sortor’s safe return.”
The original report of Sortor’s abduction, published Feb. 25, is below.
A 71-year-old missionary, active in education, health services and clean-water development, was abducted Feb. 24 by unspecified kidnappers in Nigeria.
Rev. Phyllis Sortor, born in Rwanda to Portuguese and French missionary parents and based in the U.S. state of Washington when not in the field, was taken by several men from the Hope Academy, in the central Nigeria state of Kogi, said Bishop David Kendall of the Free Methodist Church USA.
“Our precious friend and partner . . . has been abducted by unknown captors in Nigeria,” wrote Brenda Young, Director of Clear Blue Global Water Project, an Ohio-based mission agency, which has sponsored some of Sortor’s work in Nigeria. “She is one of the most dedicated, tireless women of God we know.”
NBC news reported that five armed men barged into the Hope Academy compound at 10:30 a.m. Monday, firing shots into the air. Citing Police Commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi, NBC said no one else was targeted, leading police to conclude Sortor was specifically sought out. Through a Sortor friend, the kidnappers later demanded 60 million Nigerian naira, or about US $300,000, NBC quoted the commissioner as saying.
In a Free Methodist World Missions publication, Sortor is listed as the financial administrator of Hope Academy and the Hope extension school, in the town of Ikot Ntuk, in southern Nigeria, and as a teacher at a Bible school and the Wesley Evangelical School of Theology. It also describes her as a supporter of “community health evangelism” and women’s literacy projects.
In a January newsletter to supporters, Sortor described the Jan. 19 opening of a school by International Child Care Ministries in the city of Enugu, in the southeastern state of the same name.
“We began with 82 children, 58 of whom are Muslim, Fulani kids from one near-by camp!” she wrote. “We have two excellent, Hausa-speaking teachers for these Fulani kids! 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!”
The Fulani are an ethnic people of Western Africa, many of them herders, and most of them Muslim.
Clashes between the mainly Christian indigenous Berom communities and the Muslim-dominated Fulani tribe have been frequent in Nigeria, but mostly in the central region of the country, north of the region where Sortor has been working. NBC reported that Ogunjemilusi, the police commissioner, said he believes the kidnapping was carried out by a criminal gang, and not by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist insurgency that has waged a murderous war, largely against Christians, in Nigeria’s northeast.
Kendall, bishop of the Indianapolis-based Free Methodist Church USA, said the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation have been notified, and are “working with local authorities to find and rescue her.”
A prayer vigil was held Monday night in Seattle, where her stepson, Richard Sortor, told TV station KCPQ that his stepmother is an unlikely target for ransom.
“We are just a working-class family, we don’t have money,” he told the TV station. “That’s not a huge church, they don’t have money. Why they took her, who knows?”