Reverend Phyllis Sortor, a missionary from the Free Methodist Church in Seattle, was kidnapped by a group of armed men in Nigeria that is now demanding $300,000 in exchange for her release, according to reports on Tuesday.
Sortor, who is a U.S. citizen, was at Hope Academy in Kogi state at the time of the abduction. NBC News reported there were five armed men who raided the school, but the raid resulted only in the abduction of Sortor; no injuries or deaths were reported.
The U.S. Embassy, the State Department, and the FBI have been notified and “are working with local authorities to find and rescue her,” wrote the Free Methodist Church, USA on its website.
Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi, the Kogi Police Commssioner, told NBC that he suspects gangs may be behind the kidnapping.
Sortor helped to establish multiple Christian schools in Nigeria, and has spent 15 years there. Sortor had been working as the financial administrator at Hope Academy, and had also been teaching at two schools—a nearby Bible school, and Wesley Evangelical School of Theology (WEST), according to the church website.
Sortor was described as “a woman of prayer, a gifted story-teller, and fearless in her Christian faith,” KOMO News reports.
Born in Rwanda and having grown up under Portugese and French missionaries as parents, Sortor was well-aware of the risks that come with living as a missionary.
“She’s grown up with dangers,” Judy O’Brien, a friend of Sortor’s from their time as students at Azusa Pacific University, told KOMO News. “She knows full well what she’s involved with.”
In her newsletters from the mission field, Sortor expresses great enthusiasm in doing mission work in Nigeria, such as in her most recent newsletter in which she details the opening of a new school in Enugu.
“Just a little note to share the joy with you regarding the (long-awaited) opening of our brand-new ICCM school in Enugu! 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!” she wrote.
She further mentioned that though the school is a Christian school, many of the students’ parents were “wonderfully cooperative,” by, she wrote, “sending food and water with their kids, organizing a Parent-Teacher Association—giving us Fulani security guards for the school!”
Sortor mentioned cooperation from the government in her team’s grazing projects in another newsletter dated October 27, 2014. In her meeting with the Honorable Minister of Agriculture (HMA) of Kogi state, Sortor wrote that they “sat on a couch together and talked about Nigeria’s problems—the conflicts between herdsmen and crop farmers, the endangered Fulani culture, the disappearing grasslands—and the solutions!”
“The HMA thanked us for the work we’re doing in his country, and noted that as Christians we were solving a social problem, not out of a desire to proselytize, but out of love for our fellow human beings, for God and for His beautiful creation,” she went on. “And that was a very good thing.”
In another newsletter from October 21, 2014, after giving her readers a brief update on what is to come in her work, she concluded, “Please pray […] that God will give us strength, resources, wisdom, and understanding needed in the meetings, and that all that is said and done will bring great honor to God and more souls to His kingdom. My cup runneth over…”