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Kidnapped missionary credits prayers for rescue
Reverend recounts ordeal to Turlock audience
Rev. Phyllis Sortor shares her frightening memories and experiences with Covenant Village residents on Thursday. Sortor was kidnapped in Kogi, Nigeria as she was on a mission with Free Methodist World Missions this past February. - photo by CANDY REYNOLDS/The Journal

After being kidnapped by several armed men at a school compound in Nigeria, American Free Methodist Church missionary Rev. Phyllis Sortor described herself as feeling lonely and disconnected throughout her first two days in captivity.

“I couldn’t imagine what was happening to me and I had no contact. I didn’t know if anybody even knew that I was missing or if they were doing anything about it,” said Sortor. “I felt so scared and so alone.”

However on the evening of the second day, Sortor’s outlook on her situation changed after she conversed on the phone with an American man named Bob who served as a hostage negotiator.

“He told me that thousands of people around the world are praying for me,” said Sortor. “When he said that, it lifted the burden right off my shoulders. I knew that I could relax because I knew that God was in control.”

Sortor was in town to share her experience as a missionary in Kogi, Nigeria and the harrowing details of her kidnapping ordeal to an appreciative audience at Covenant Village in Turlock on Thursday.

Sortor had been serving at the Hope Academy in Emi Woro when she was taken hostage by an armed criminal gang.

Sortor told the audience she learned later that people prayed most intensely for her in the first 24 hours of her abduction, which she said helped get her through the time that she came closest to losing her life, and that they prayed for God to offer her a bubble of protection while she was out there in “the bush.”

During her 12 days in captivity, Sortor drank water that was black and thick from cattle watering holes, and not once did she get sick. When she came back to the United States and was tested, she did not have any bugs or parasites. She didn’t even suffer from any mosquito, ant or other insect bites.

“God just really protected me,” said Sortor. “In spite of the circumstances of being kidnapped, everything else around me was okay and manageable.”

Thousands of supporters also asked God that Sortor would be given a protector among the kidnappers, a prayer which was also answered, Sortor said.

“From the very first day, the leader from the gang of kidnappers began calling me ‘mommy’ and became my protector,” said Sortor.

Her protector, who was originally tasked with killing Sortor, but changed his mind, brought her what little food she received and made sure she ate it, moved her from the sun to the shade when it got too hot, gave her his jacket and his wool cap to use at night, protected her from the other men, and saved her life several times.

During her time in captivity, Sortor was dragged and pushed by her kidnappers and even survived many murderous attempts, all while trying to find a way back home to her family.

Sortor said that her most dreadful memory from that 12-day period was on the third day when she was taken to a circular, manmade clearing deep in the heart of the jungle by her captors. It was not until Sortor, who was beyond exhausted at the time, resorted to lying down on some planks that were placed in the center of the clearing that she noticed big patches of dried blood on the planks and on the ground around her.

“Then I knew that I had fallen into the hands of cultists,” said Sortor. “This was a witch doctor’s killing ground. This was the place where witch doctors brought their victims, decapitated them, and sold the heads for people to use as charms.”

“I was to be sold to the witch doctor, which would dismember me and use my body parts to make medicine,” continued Sortor.

Fortunately for Sortor, she was able save herself by convincing her kidnappers that she was worth more alive than dead and sold to this witch doctor. She prompted them to call her family and ask for a ransom, for an amount that would be more than the witch doctor could provide.

“From that day forward, it was all about money,” said Sortor.

Sortor was eventually released on March 6 after her ransom was successfully paid by family and friends. Her protector then dropped her off on the edge of town, where she was coincidentally met by a Christian man who immediately recognized her and escorted her back to his church.

“I want to thank all of you who prayed for me,” said Sortor. “It means so much and it’s the reason why I’m here today.”

“My faith is so strong now,” said Sortor.