Michael Riddering’s journey to Africa began more than a decade ago, after he returned home from a business trip to New York.
“It was once I returned from that trip, I began to attend that church with my wife and daughters,” Riddering explained in a 2011 blog post after he sold his boat business in Cooper City and moved with his family to Burkina Faso in West Africa to do mission work. “The seeds that were planted throughout my life were watered, and one sunny afternoon by myself in a Publix Supermarket parking lot, I gave my life to Christ.”
Riddering, 45, who attended Hollywood Community Church before moving to the town of Yako to care for orphaned children, was one of at least 28 people killed when al-Qaida militants attacked a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso's capital of Ouagadougou last week.
“Mike was a modern day martyr,” Hollywood Community Church Pastor Brian Burkholder said Sunday during a news conference called to remember Riddering. “He lost his life doing the work of Jesus.”
On Sunday, Burkina Faso began three days of national mourning and stepped up security after the attack that killed people from 18 countries.
Riddering, who ran the orphanage Les Ailes de Refuge through the Christian mission organization Sheltering Wings with his wife, Amy Boyle Riddering, was in the Cappuccino Cafe waiting to meet a group of 15 volunteers from West Pines Community Church who were flying in when the attacks happened.
“They were about 1,500 feet from landing when there was the terrorist attack,” West Pines Community Church Pastor Robey Barnes said on Sunday. “The pilot was notified and they were diverted. We are very grateful to God that he kept them safe.”
According to Sheltering Wings, Riddering — who in his time in Burkina Faso also created a women’s crisis center and ran a school — was with a pastor in the coffee shop when the attackers hit. The two were separated and somehow the pastor ended up with Riddering’s phone. He called Riddering’s wife and told her to pray before the line went dead.
Two days later, a fellow missionary found Riddering’s body in a morgue, Sheltering Wings said.
“Tragically and unexpectedly, Mike’s life was cut short,” Sheltering Wings said in a statement on its website. “We grieve with Amy and her family, and all who knew Mike.”
Burkholder said he got a message Jan. 14 from Amy Riddering to pray for her husband.
“For some 20 hours Mike’s condition was unknown and he was unaccounted for,” he said.
Then he got a message from Amy: “Mike is with Jesus.”
Sheltering Wings Board Member John Anderson said Sunday that Mike Riddering’s death will leave a huge hole in the organization, but it will not deter them from keeping their mission alive.
“If anything it is going to make us increase our efforts,” he said.
Amy Boyle Riddering took to Facebook to mourn her husband, who leaves behind four children, two of whom were adopted from Burkina Faso.
“Heaven has gained a warrior!” she wrote. “I know God has a purpose in all things but sometimes it is a complete mystery to me. My best friend, partner in crime and love of my life. The best husband ever. An amazing father to his children and a papa to everyone. My heart is so heavy and I am having trouble believing he is gone.”
Mike Riddering, who was born Feb. 21, 1970, in Illinois, graduated from Fort Lauderdale Christian High School in 1988. He worked at a powerboat company for several years before running Ohana Boats Inc. Burkholder said he got involved with the church doing everything from cutting the grass to becoming a youth pastor.
“There was no job too small for Mike,” he said.
His older brother Jeff Riddering fought back tears Sunday as he spoke over the phone from his St. Louis home about his brother’s faith and belief in what he was doing in Burkina Faso.
“He had no fear, just love and faith,” said his brother.
Jeff Riddering said he remembers his brother telling him that God called him to dig wells in Africa. Mike Riddering managed to help dig more than 25 wells, but “he did so much more.”
“He was a father to the fatherless,” Jeff Riddering said, adding that his brother will be buried next week in Burkina Faso at his request. “That was very important to him.”
There will be a memorial in Mike Riddering’s honor in the next few weeks, Burkholder said.
On the Ridderings’ blog, they shared the success stories of their children in the orphanage. In the last post dated Dec. 18, the Ridderings wrote about Wendinda, who “found the family God had for her.”
Carol Boyle, Mike Riddering’s mother-in-law, said Sunday that her son-in-law believed his mission in life was to help others.
“He wanted to make everyone’s life better,” she said.
When her daughter and son-in-law told her they were moving to Burkina Faso, she had mixed feelings.
“I loved what they were doing, but I was terrified for them,” she said.
But they were determined. She said they sold everything including the business and their home, and left.
“He leaves behind a wonderful legacy,” Boyle said, adding that her daughter is trying to return to South Florida as soon as possible.
His wife had a message for her husband in her Facebook post.
“Mike Riddering I will love you always!” she wrote. “You left quite a legacy here. I can only imagine the adventures you are having now.”
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.