By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service
SEATTLE, WA/JOS, NIGERIA (ANS, March 7, 2015) — An American missionary who was kidnapped by armed men in Nigeria last month was released Friday, March 6, according to her church, NBC News has reported.
Rev. Phyllis Sortor, 71, a missionary with the Free Methodist Church in Seattle, was released into the care of church leaders early Friday night local time, according to a statement from the church.
NBC News said Sortor was abducted from the Hope Academy compound in Kogi state on Feb. 23 and her captors demanded almost $300,000 for her safe return, Nigerian police have said. Police said they believed Sortor was the target of the raid on the compound — which they said was likely gang related — because no one else was taken. The statement from the Free Methodist Church said they would not be disclosing what was done to secure her freedom in order “to help protect the many, many people who helped.”
Sortor’s main ministry was working with children and establishing schools in Nigeria, according to the church. She had previously spent six years serving in Rwanda.
“Phyllis 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 statement said, adding, “We are deeply grateful to all who prayed for Phyllis’ safe return and praise God the family representative was able to secure her release.”
Sortor had also partnered in Nigeria with the Clear Blue Global Water Project since 2009. Brenda Mason Young, the executive director of the non-profit, said that everyone at the organization is “delighted and excited to know that this has all worked out and that she’s well.” When she got the news of Sortor’s release, Young said, “I could hardly contain myself.”
Young didn’t know if Sortor planned to return to Nigeria, but told NBC News, “I know her heart is there.”
Morning Star News (http://morningstarnews.org) said in a separate story that Sortor was released after 11 days in captivity.
The news service said that, in a statement signed on behalf of the Board of Bishops of the church, David W. Kendall had stated the 71-year-old Sortor was released by her captors on Friday evening (March 6). Kendall said armed gunmen abducted Sortor on Feb. 23 (not Feb. 24 as previously reported) from Hope Academy School in Emi-Oworo village in the central Nigerian state of Kogi.
Saying Sortor was released into the care of authorities and Free Methodist Church leaders, Kendall thanked all in Nigeria, and in the United States, for their efforts to secure her release. He did not state whether the church or Nigerian authorities paid a ransom.
“As a matter of sound policy, and to help protect the many, many people who helped secure Phyllis’ freedom, we will have no comment concerning the efforts that were undertaken to secure her release,” he said.
“Please continue to pray for Phyllis as she processes the ordeal she has faced. Also pray for Phyllis’ family members, who have been profoundly affected by this experience. We are reaching out to them and will continue to minister to them in the days ahead.”
According to the church statement, Sortor spent her childhood in Mozambique, born to Free Methodist missionaries, Victor and Susan Macy. After living many of her adult years in Seattle, Washington, she and her husband, Jim, relocated to Rwanda, where they ministered for nearly six years, Kendall said.
The couple returned to Africa in 2005, this time serving in Nigeria, according to the church.
“After Jim’s death in October 2008, Phyllis remained in Nigeria where her main focus has been leadership development and International Child Care Ministries, the Free Methodist Church’s child sponsorship program,” the Free Methodist Church statement read.
“She has also been instrumental in establishing schools in Kogi state for the children of Fulani herdsmen and in instituting grazing projects as one solution to long-term conflicts between Nigerian farmers and Fulani herdsmen.”
The church leadership added that in the course of her missionary service, Sortor faced security challenges but never gave up serving in the mission field.
“Phyllis was aware there were risks associated with her ministry, but also knew there are very few places in the world without risks and dangers,” Kendall said. “She recently said, ‘Heaven is for real! There is no guarantee in life; no safe place – other than that place we find ourselves when our full faith and trust is in God!’”
The news of the release of Sortor prompted many comments of gratitude posted on the church website.
“My fourth grade class in Kansas City has been praying for her release every day!” Judith Johnson Young wrote. “Can’t wait to tell them on Monday that their prayers have been answered!”