The first convert baptisms in Freetown, Sierra Leone, were held in June 1988. These converts met with a handful of others who had joined the Church in other countries and the work of building the Church in this West African nation had begun. By 1990, Mustafa Touray and his family were organized as a home group in Sierra Leone’s second largest city. By August 1990, a branch was organized in Bo and Brother Touray was called to preside. He also oversaw two other groups that were meeting in rented buildings.
There was enthusiasm for the growth of the Church, and the saints felt they had finally gained a toehold in this teaming city. There was notoriety in the community and recognition by those of other faiths that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was there to stay.
Five months later, in January 1991, mission president, Miles Cunningham, received a letter from Church President, Ezra Taft Benson, in which he asked the Saints in Bo to abandon their meetinghouses and to gather again in their homes to worship. The young leaders were very discouraged, feeling that the buildings were such an important milestone for the Church in this part of Sierra Leone.
Uniformly, members were disappointed and unhappy about the request. Some members of the infant congregations were offended that the prophet in Utah would give such unwelcome advice. Others were heard to question whether or not the prophet understood their circumstances, and, lacking faith in the Lord’s servants, they left the Church. Others felt the stirring of testimony and confirmation of the Spirit, and while they didn’t understand why President Benson would ask such a thing, they knew him to be a prophet. They had also come to trust their mission president who they loved. President Touray spoke recently of those days with grateful appreciation. He was sad and discouraged, but “recognized that we had been given a formal commandment, and I had to obey. I realized it would be very important for us to obey although I did not know why at the time.” The chapel doors were closed.
In March 1991, civil war erupted in Sierra Leone and this little nation became engulfed in a fiery battle that lasted more than a decade. Communities collapsed, infrastructures deteriorated, banks were shuttered, food was in scarce supply and repeated military coups left uncertainty as to who was a friend or foe. Churches were frequently targeted by the rebels with bullets and firebombs, and thousands of people lost their lives while sitting on pews hoping to pray and worship.
But the members of the Lord’s Church were safe from this harm for they were home worshiping in obedience to a prophet’s counsel.
President Touray spoke of the miracle that had come to the people because of their obedience. “No member of the Church died in Bo during the war — not one. The LDS Church was the only church that continued operating during the war in Bo — the only one. Every other church closed its doors. It was too dangerous for the people to walk to church and too dangerous to sit and worship. None of us (the Latter-day Saints) had any problem during the war. We worshipped through the whole war no matter how grave the situation was. Because we were obedient, our members received this great blessing.”
— Peter Evans, former president of the Minnesota Minneapolis Mission, serves as Salt Lake Valley View Stake Young Men President. He directs the communications initiatives of the Church Welfare Services Department.