UPDATE: Praise Report
(Morning Star News) – Nearly two weeks after heavily armed men kidnapped a long-time missionary in a remote area of Nigeria, despondent colleagues and others are still hopefully praying for her release.
Phyllis Sortor, born to U.S. missionaries in Africa and now a widowed grandmother, was kidnapped on Feb. 24 from Hope Academy school in Emi-Oworo village, near Ajaokuta town in central Nigeria’s Kogi state. The Free Methodist Church missionary had been living at the school compound she established in 2008.
“We are earnestly praying and hoping to see her released soon,” said the Rev. Emmanuel Egbunu, Anglican archbishop of Lokoja Archdiocese.
Five gunmen reportedly invaded the compound in the morning, shot into the air, burst into Sortor’s office and took her away. Police have said she was singularly targeted as no one else was taken. The kidnappers reportedly called Mathias Emenike, an official of Sortor’s Free Methodist church, and demanded $300,000 that day but reduced the amount to $150,000 the following day.
Church officials and family members have said they have little money and don’t understand why Sortor was targeted. Kidnapping is common in the area and annually garners millions of dollars for criminals nationwide.
Egbunu said church leaders believe whatever can be done to secure her release is acceptable.
“We must not allow the worst to happen if we can prevent that in any way,” the archbishop said. “In a situation where the security agencies have said they didn’t think they could match the sophisticated arms used by the kidnappers, much caution has to be exercised.”
Prior to establishing Hope Academy in Kogi state, Sortor had lived in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region of Akwa Ibom state. Hope Academy has 400 students, of whom about 60 percent Muslim Fulani students who pay little or no tuition.
The area’s traditional leader, Alhaji Saidu Abdullahi, told Vanguard newspaper that no local people had any conflict with Sortor.
“I gave the land to the woman free of charge to build the school; we have no reason to regret her coming to the village,” he reportedly said.
He added that her ministry dug the first bore-hole in the community, and that the school had also provided employment opportunities to villagers. Only a few of the schoolchildren pay fees, with most benefiting from scholarships she offered, he said.
“Since her abduction, the community has been in a pensive mood,” he told Vanguard. “We have also been praying in our traditional way for her release.”
The principal of the school, Roselyn Shaibu Ojone, told reporters that Sortor never quarreled with any villagers.
“Mrs. Sortor is just like a grandmother to all of us,” Ojone reportedly said. “She is very peaceful, dutiful, and approaches every one of us as if we are her direct children. We have been crying, wailing, praying and fasting to God to release her safely to us.”
Ojone told Morning Star News that the gunmen had spoken with the Emenike, the superintendent of the Free Methodist Church, and that they had allowed Sortor to speak with him. She reportedly pleaded with Emenike to raise the ransom funds.
Police and others do not believe Islamic extremist group Boko Haram was involved in the kidnapping, although some suspect members of the rebel group stormed a church on the outskirts of Okene two years ago, killing more than 25 worshippers. Boko Haram was also suspected in an attack on a contingent of the Nigerian Army near Lokoja, the state capital, injuring several during the same period.