The American missionary kidnapped last week in Nigeria was once a teacher at Tacoma’s Sheridan Elementary School.
Now an ordained pastor in the Free Methodist Church, Phyllis Sortor worked first as a substitute teacher beginning in February 2002 and then as a classroom teacher at Sheridan from September 2002 to December 2004.
“She was an outstanding teacher,” said Kelly Evans, the principal at Sheridan from 2003 to 2012 and now principal at Northeast Tacoma Elementary. “I remember a deep compassion for kids.”
Sortor was at Sheridan when it taught multiple international languages, and she was part of what was called the French family, Evans said.
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He said Sortor left teaching in Tacoma to do church work. He said she struggled over the move, but decided in the end that she felt a strong religious calling.
Evans remembers her as “a deeply spiritual person.”
“I do think of her often,” Evans said of Sortor. “I have a glass sculpture on my shelf that she and another teacher gave me my first year (at Sheridan).”
Sortor’s parents were missionaries in Mozambique, and she grew up there. She graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 1964, and in 2009 was honored with the university’s Medallion Award for her work in Nigeria.
Sortor was abducted from Hope Academy in Nigeria’s Kogi state. She served as a missionary there under the Free Methodist World Missions.
Her kidnappers demanded a ransom of $150,000, after initially asking for twice that amount.
Officials in Nigeria and other experts characterized the kidnapping as most likely the work of a criminal gang, and not the work of the militant group Boko Haram, which generally operates in a different part of the country. Kidnappings for ransom by criminals are not uncommon, and public officials and foreign workers have been victims.
Sortor is a member of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the Free Methodist Church, and her home church is First Free Methodist in Seattle.
The national church body released a statement asking for prayers for Sortor’s speedy release, as well as for her family and for the staff and children of the academy.