(Guest Post by Michelle Clark)
My parents served two missions in Nigeria, first as humanitarian missionaries from 1999 to 2001 and then in the first Aba Nigeria Temple presidency in 2006-2008. They thoroughly loved Nigeria and the wonderful people there.
When Doug and I were called to serve as Area Auditors in the Africa West Area, we too were thrilled to be able to serve in Africa. Since arriving in Ghana, I have come to know and love this country and its people, but I often wished that I could visit the land where my parents served and the people they loved. We knew that we would be based in Accra with responsibilities across all of West Africa, but because of the ongoing violence and the dangers for westerners, we were not sure if we would ever be able to visit Nigeria.
However, in July, we received permission from our security team to travel to Enugu, Nigeria to train a newly called Assistant Area Auditor and conduct financial training for priesthood leaders both in Enugu, as well in Abakaliki, which is located about an hour’s drive east from Enugu, since that region is generally considered safe. Security generally does not like us traveling on the intercity highways, but they made an exception because the area is generally considered safe.
In the evenings there are many police or military stops along the highways, generally intended to suppress violence and crime in that area. On this Saturday morning Chidi Ibeakuzie, the former Assistant Area Auditor and Bright Okoro, his replacement, traveled with us to Abakaliki without any incidents or stops, but on our late afternoon return to Enugu, we were stopped by four military men carrying automatic rifles.
ached Chidi, the owner and driver of the car and demanded to know who he was and what he was doing. When they were told that we were in Nigeria doing work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they became agitated and said that they had never heard of our church. Chidi and Bright got out of the car and the police demanded that they open the back of the car and began searching through each of the bags in there. We were seated in the back seat of the car when an officer came to our window and demanded to see our passports and again asked why we were in Nigeria. We explained that we were here serving as missionaries.
During this whole experience, despite the reports of dangers and recent kidnappings of foreigners, I felt totally calm. I felt the spirit whisper that all would be well. I even felt the presence of my parents. We had been told by Chidi, who travels extensively in that area and is very familiar with their tactics, that the military often stops vehicles and harasses them in hopes of receiving a bribe to be left alone. As he spoke with the officers he did not relent, but calmly and patiently answered all of their questions.
Finally, they demanded that, since we were missionaries, we should say a prayer for them. Not understanding completely what they meant, we told them we would be happy to pray for them. No, the policeman wanted us to say a prayer right then. Doug offered a beautiful prayer there on the roadside, thanking our Heavenly for these good men who were here protecting their country. He prayed that they be would watched over so that they could return home safely to their families. The leader of the group removed his hat and bowed his head during the prayer and at the end told us we were free to continue our journey, which we did with no further stops or problems. Chidi later explained that many members of the military carry guilt about some of their activities, but believe that if a holy man prays for them, their sins will be forgiven.
It was a sweet reassuring experience, which illustrates the Lord’s promise in D&C 84: 88 – “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”