There were roughly 1,200 Latter-day Saints living in Liberia in December 1989, when the First Liberian Civil War began. Even after foreign missionaries were withdrawn to Sierra Leone, eight Liberian missionaries remained to preach the gospel and minister to members. That summer, however, Elders John Gaye and Prince Nyanforh were cut off from the other six missionaries and the acting mission president, David M. Tarr, when revolutionary forces occupied Paynesville, where they were serving.
Fighters often targeted an ethnic group called the Krahn, which had been treated preferentially under President Samuel Doe. Because John Gaye was Krahn, he stayed indoors. Nyanforh agreed to go out into the war-torn city when the missionaries ran low on food. “When I get out there and I die,” Nyanforh said to Gaye before he left, “let the ward know that this missionary died for this cause.” Nyanforh was stopped and questioned, but he was able to return safely.
The missionaries soon decided to flee Paynesville altogether, but their group of refugees was detained by revolutionary forces. Gaye heard fighters interrogating each person, asking about their ethnic origin. The questioning stopped for the night before the elders’ turn came, but Gaye feared he would be killed in the morning.
“All night long I had been in communion with my Heavenly Father,” Gaye later wrote. As the questioning resumed, Gaye “began to imagine paradise.” But just before he was questioned, a familiar figure arrived. “It was a Saint who the Lord has sent to rescue me and my companion,” Gaye recalled.
The man, a clerk in the local branch who had joined the revolutionary forces, recognized the missionaries and intervened on their behalf. After their release, the missionaries fasted and prayed for guidance. In answer to their prayers, they felt prompted to make the eight-hour walk to the mission home in the besieged city of Monrovia. They arrived just as the other six missionaries were about to depart for Sierra Leone, determined to complete their missions there. All eight elders were able to do so.
During the same period, many Saints in Liberia fled the country, were displaced, or went into hiding. By the spring of 1993, however, seven of the country’s eight branches had been reorganized. Many Liberian Saints weathered a decade of fighting to preserve the Church in their country, while others built up the Church in neighboring countries.