It was June 1997, and I was working in the west African country of Mali. My wife was doing contract work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sierra Leone, processing refugees from war-torn regions for eventual resettlement in the United States. We were a distance away from each other, which, in the US or Europe would have been a day's drive, but in Africa it was unreachable by road.
On Sunday morning, the phone rang. "We've just had a coup here in Sierra Leone," my wife said. "There is shooting downtown, and the rebels are looting the hotels, robbing, and raping. I don't know how long the phones are going to last, and I don't know when I'm going to be able to get out of here."
Then the phone went dead.
What could I do but pray?
I started with the Lord's Prayer, and found comfort in the first two words, "Our Father." The one Father, the one God, the all- powerful and all-loving was right there in the war zone. I could see that.
I knew that this God would protect my wife, and all who were vulnerable, and that somehow there would be a solution. I didn't know at that moment what that solution would be, but I did pray that God would guide all involved to take steps that would eventually lead to their freedom.
About 20 minutes later, even though it was a Sunday, my boss happened to come to my house, and when he learned of my wife's situation, he prayed with me as well.
For four days there was no word. Of course the international news media began to cover the street fighting in Freetown, the capital city, and this tended to increase my fears, but I would turn again to my understanding of God to gain a palpable assurance that my wife would be safe. I also studied "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the major work by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper. She wrote: "Understanding the control which Love held over all, Daniel felt safe in the lions' den, and Paul proved the viper to be harmless. All of God's creatures, moving in the harmony of Science, are harmless, useful, indestructible" (p. 514).
I intuitively knew that my wife was included under God's control, and that she was safe, even in the "lions' den." It also occurred to me to include the insurgents in my prayers, to know that even they were God's beloved children who would not knowingly harm the innocent.
Finally, early in the morning, the phone rang. My wife, tired but very happy, told me of her escape from Freetown. She had been evacuated by the UN along with 100 other women and children, and placed on a tugboat normally used to transport relief supplies.
For 10 hours, at night and during a storm at sea, they had huddled together outside on the deck, singing hymns, praying, and encouraging one another, until they arrived at Conakry, the capital of the neighboring country of Guinea. She stayed a day to help others who had become refugees like herself, and then was home the next day.
Sometimes, when it's physically impossible to rescue, or even to communicate with, a loved one in peril, it's easy to feel helpless and frustrated. But prayer is a universal armor. By affirming the all-power and all-inclusive nature of God, we can help our loved ones, and even those we haven't met. This prayer makes God a living presence to us, brings us confidence, and this is effective.
I will say of the Lord,
He is my refuge
and my fortress:
in him will I trust.