It’s been over three years since American missionary Michael Riddering was among dozens of Christians killed by al-Qaeda in West Africa. But today, his ministry to the orphaned and poor there continues with national partners and the help of his family.
In 2011, Riddering, along with his wife, sold all their possessions in the U.S. to run an orphanage and women’s crisis center in West Africa operated by an American mission group called Sheltering Wings in West Africa. He was killed when gunmen opened fire on a coffee shop just minutes after Riddering arrived in January 2016.
Riddering was driving a ministry van on his way to pick up a group of about 15 missionaries at the airport. But since their flight was late, he decided to get some coffee. Minutes after arriving at the cafe, the attack began and 28 people were killed.
"One of the things that my brother said is that if God is for you, who can be against you," Jeff Riddering, the pastor of Gateway House of Prayer in Sunset Hills, Missouri, said. He paraphrased Philippians 1:21, which states: "to live is Christ and to die is gain."
The organization Riddering worked with, Sheltering Wings, partners with churches by sending missionaries to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed to the world.
The orphanage serves hundreds of children. But Sheltering Wings helps educate over 1,000 children through its $35 per-month sponsorship program.
The program provides children with school fees, supplies, daily meals at school or semi-annual food and goods distribution as well as basic medical care.
A total of 468 children are given a free education at Sheltering Wings Christian School, while other sponsored children go to public schools and have their education paid for by their sponsors.
According to Sheltering Wings, sponsoring a child is a tangible way to show God’s love to a child in need as sponsorships reach the vulnerable children by giving them the opportunity to be educated, learn about God’s love, and to grow up healthy, all things that are critical in helping children escape extreme poverty.
“[Sheltering Wings sponsorship programs] make it so [the children] don’t become a burden to their extended family but even a blessing,” Jeff Riddering explained. “People have the entire courtyard with food and different things like that. It becomes a blessing and almost an honor to be a sponsored child in the courtyard because Sheltering Wings comes in every month. Because of that child, they bless the entire courtyard.”
A courtyard is a term used to describe a group of homes that are associated with the same family. In many cases in Muslim-dominant cultures, a courtyard encompasses a man, his multiple wives, their offspring, and other relatives.
The women’s crisis center that is also operated by Sheltering Wings assists women who might have been kicked out of their courtyards for somehow bringing shame to the family. Some examples include having sex out of wedlock or even being raped. When the women and her children are kicked out of the courtyard, they have no place to go.
But at the Sheltering Wings women’s crisis center, the women can receive job training and are eligible to receive microloans to help them get on their feet.
Sheltering Wings also has a widow sponsorship program beginning at $20 per month.
“Sheltering Wings also has a ministry to the widows there,” Riddering explained. “Maybe they are elderly women no longer being cared for by their extended family.”
Sheltering Wings also partners with well-drilling organizations to help bring clean water to impoverished communities.
As for Jeff Riddering, he lives in St. Louis, Missouri. But he has also made a decision to begin his own ministry to help the church in West Africa.
This decision has weighed on Riddering’s heart since he saw his slain brother in a dream several months after his death.
“I saw him coming through these double doors. He comes up to me and I say, ‘Michael, how can you be here? You are dead,’” Riddering recalled. “He kind of smiled and said, ‘Jeff, continue my ministry.’ It was only four words.”
Riddering’s new ministry will be called My Brother’s Keeper. The ministry will assist the Assemblies of God denomination in accomplishing its vision.
“Without them, Sheltering Wings couldn’t have done it,” Riddering said. “The workforce is African. All the school teachers, they are all African. All the Christians there are from the Assemblies of God denomination.”
“There are over 200 churches that are Assemblies of God churches. What we have is an opportunity to help the Assemblies of God accomplish their mission,” he added. “We want to facilitate their vision to become missionaries themselves, not missionaries outside of [West Africa] but to the unreached people in [West Africa].”
Riddering said that he will be working to raise funding to help plant between 10 to 15 new churches in West Africa this year.
“[I]f God is asking me to go, then I will not be afraid,” Riddering explained.
“The reason why we want to go to [West Africa] is [because I felt] we were called to this area,” Riddering said. “What we are seeing right now is a revival type thing that is on the cusp of happening.”
My Brother’s Keeper Ministries is also the title of Riddering’s book My Brother’s Keeper: The Surprising Story of a Modern-Day Martyr. The book tells the story of Michael Riddering’s unlikely transformation from an alcoholic yacht broker to a missionary in a desert African nation.
Riddering recalled the day that his brother called him on the phone to tell him about a conversation he had with Jesus.
“His life radically changed at that point. His children, his wife, and all the people in the church, they just couldn’t even recognize him,” Riddering said.
“He was just anti-social but then all of a sudden he has home groups at his house and he gets baptized. The pastor thought it was such a moving moment, they made him the person that did the rest of the baptisms for the church. He became the youth pastor of the church. He oversaw the food distribution stuff. One time, he joked about it. ‘I'll do anything God wants. I will move to Africa.’”
The move to Africa came about seven years after Michael Riddering was saved, his brother explained.
“When he was there, he helped tens of thousands of people make decisions for Christ,” Riddering said. “He was only there for five years before he was killed.”
Michael Riddering’s adopted daughter has followed in her father’s footsteps.
“The last trip I was on she came up to me and said, ‘Uncle Jeff, my girlfriend here lives in a small village.’ We would like to go to that village,’” Jeff Riddering remembers. “I got two vans and loaded them up and brought them over to this village. In four hours, they said, of about 300 people, 111 made decisions for Christ and 56 said they were interested but couldn’t make a decision at that time. That doesn’t happen in America yet. In some ways, I believe that it will.”