March 7, 2015 / 12:06 AM / 2 years ago

U.S. missionary kidnapped in Nigeria freed, church says

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SEATTLE (Reuters) - An American missionary who was kidnapped in central Nigeria in February was safely released to authorities and church leaders on Friday, her Free Methodist Church said in a statement.

Reverend Phyllis Sortor, 71, a Free Methodist missionary to Nigeria, was handed over into the care of authorities and church leaders in Nigeria, the church said.

"We are deeply grateful to all who prayed for Phyllis' safe return and praise God the family representative was able to secure her release," David W. Kendall, for the Board of Bishops, said.

Sortor was abducted from a church academy compound in Emiworo, in Nigeria's Kogi State, on Feb. 23, the church said.

Scores of expatriates have been kidnapped in the past in southern and central Nigeria, where kidnapping is a major criminal enterprise that makes millions of dollars a year.

Central Kogi state has also had low level activity by Islamist militants linked to insurgent group Boko Haram, security sources said.

"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," the church said.

Born to missionary parents, Sortor spent her childhood in Mozambique and spent years living in Seattle, in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the church said. She and her husband, Jim, relocated to Rwanda for missionary work for nearly six years and went to Nigeria in 2005.

"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 said.

Her stepson, Richard Sortor, told NBC in an interview that he was overwhelmed by her release.

"When I was called at work and found about it today, you probably could have heard me yell around Seattle," he said.

"Prayers are answered. Thank you very much, and you've got to believe. This doesn't happen very often and we're praising God."

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Catherine Evans

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