Mlen-Too Wesley, an instructor at Penn State Altoona and an ordained minister who preaches at Juniata Presbyterian Church, knows what it is like to live in a war-torn country with no way to escape.
A native of Liberia, Wesley was teaching business classes at the University of Liberia in Monrovia when civil war broke out in 1989.
Wesley and his family had moved back home four years earlier from the United States where he had earned a master of science degree in Business and Education at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. The news of war did not worry them, he said, because they did not believe it would last.
Instead the skirmishes intensified and the rebels infiltrated the capital city of Monrovia and the rest of the nation.
"Everyone was touched by destruction," Wesley said of the civil war.
He said an estimated 250,000 people in the country of 4.1 million were said to have been killed. Wesley believes the count is higher.
"It was a terribly bloody war," he said.
Many people were displaced, said Wesley, who added that people were cut off from electricity, communication and water.
The Wesleys' suburban family home was taken over for a time. He lost his job when the rebels invaded the city and the university closed. His car was hijacked at gunpoint.
The Wesleys wanted to flee the country but there was no way out.
Wesley said he held onto hope and prayed. He would frequently walk to the American embassy, asking for permission to leave. The answer always was no. He inquired at the embassy because their daughter had been born in the United States, making her an American citizen.
Thousands of miles away, Dan Denk, a friend in Michigan who worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, was trying to help. Denk and his family had served on a short-term missionary trip to Liberia and worked with Wesley through Winning Eternally, a nonprofit Wesley started that helped missionaries assimilate into the culture.
Denk gave a doctor, who was going to Liberia and knew Wesley, money for the family.
Wesley was making a trip to the American embassy one day when he encountered the doctor.
"My chances of seeing this man were one in a million, Wesley said. "We lived in two different places."
The money was a valuable resource, but the Wesleys still could not leave. They had no visas.
Denk would intervene again. He had been calling the American embassy, hoping to get any information on the welfare of his friend, but to no avail. Frustrated that he could get no answers, he decided to try the State Department in Washington, D.C. His call was answered by the assistant to the West African diplomatic corps, who makes decisions concerning West Africa.
The assistant learned that he and Denk had a common bond. The assistant had been a member of InterVarsity Christian campus ministry during his college years. Visas were granted for the Wesleys.
"I am praying and I decide I am going to trust the Lord," Wesley said of those days of violence and uncertainty. [All the while], God is working behind the scenes," he said.
The Wesleys were able to cross the border into Sierra Leone, where they made arrangements to travel to the United States.
In the United States, the Wesleys had another child. Wesley and his wife are permanent residents of the United States and all four adult children are citizens of the United States.