My parents served two missions in Nigeria, first as humanitarian missionaries from 1999 to 2001 and then in the Aba Nigeria Temple presidency in 2006-2008. They loved Nigeria and the wonderful people there.
When Elder Clark and I were called to serve 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 wish that I could visit the land that my parents served in and also loved. We knew that we would be based in Ghana with responsibilities across the Area, but, due to the continued violence and dangers for Westerners, we were not sure if we would be able to visit Nigeria. As senior missionaries, servings as Area Auditors, in July 2016 we received permission to travel to Enugu, Nigeria to train a new Assistant Area Auditor and also participate in the financial training for that city, as well in Abakaliki, which is located about an hour’s drive east from Enugu since that region is generally considered safe.
In the evenings there are many police or military stops along the highways, intended to suppress violence in that area. On this Saturday morning, Chidi Ibeakuzie, the former Assistant Area Auditor and Bright Okoro, his replacement, and Elder Clark and I, travelled to Abakaliki without any stops, but on our return to Enugu that afternoon we were stopped by four military men carrying automatic rifles. They approached 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 men demanded that they open the back of the car and began searching through each of the bags that were there. We were seated in the back seat of the car when an officer came to our window and demanded to see our passports. He asked us again why we were in Nigeria and we explained that we were here serving as missionaries.
During this whole experience, despite the reports of danger 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 that the military in that area often stop vehicles and harasses them in hopes of receiving a bribe to be left alone. Chidi, who travels extensively in the area, is familiar with their tactics. As he spoke with the officers he did not offer the desired bribe, 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, he said, he wanted us to say a prayer right then. We agreed and then Elder Clark offered a beautiful prayer there on the roadside, thanking our Heavenly Father for these good men who were here protecting their country. He prayed that they be 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.