Mary Ann Thomas survived Liberia’s civil war in 1990 by the grace of God, she says. Thomas, now 55, frequently tells her story to inspire Christians to trust in their faith. She shares the harrowing tale of how she endured the trauma of a bloody war.
“When the rebels came, we thought it was a joke, nobody was serious,” she says.
Many Liberians had never known war before, only what they had seen in movies.
“People who knew about war, they were leaving the country, so we started making fun of them,” she says. “Why are these people going? Why are they packing their stuff and leaving?”
As the days went by, she started hearing heavy gunfire. Men started breaking down doors, shooting people and searching for anyone affiliated with the government. These rebels would come and kill without question, she says.
Forced to flee to the American Embassy, Thomas and her family members were stuck for weeks without steady food and water. The American compound wasn’t secure. Rebels tried to force their way in, and the open space allowed for rockets.
“My youngest brother, [George] told me, ‘Mary Ann, do you think we can make it if we leave from here? We have to be strong and ask the Lord to take over from here because if we stay, we will be killed.’ Because people were dying,” she recalls.
Thomas told her brother that leaving would be too hard, but he told her to trust in the Lord as they prayed. They left the compound running, just trying to get to the other side of the city.
“The whole street was just full of dead bodies,” she says. “If you didn’t take time, you would step on bodies, so we were very careful not to step on anybody.”
They managed to cross to the other side of Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, but George insisted it wasn’t safe, and they kept going. Hungry and tired, they hid in bushes when cars approached.
“I was getting weaker and weaker because there was no food, no strength, no water,” she says. “My brother said, ‘Mary Ann be strong, the Lord will do it for us.’”
Along the way, there was a pickup truck taking people closer to the Sierra Leone border. Thomas rushed onto the truck as people forced their way, only to realize that her brother had not made it onto the truck.
The truck dropped her off in the countryside, and Thomas wanted to wait there until she found George. But a rebel approached her. At first she resisted, but the man’s female companion shook her head, and Thomas knew he would kill her if she said “no.”
Frightened, she changed her demeanor, smiled and complied. He ended up taking her to a house, where he forced the family out. He then turned to her. “Come in. This is our house. This is our new home. This is my house, and you’re my wife, and I will go and get food so you can cook,” Thomas remembers him saying. “I was just crying, but when he would look at me and see me crying, he would scream at me, and I would wipe my tears.”
Eventually the man helped her find George. But he still forced her to live as his wife.
One night, trumpets blew, indicating the rebels had a new mission. So the man left Thomas and her brother. George woke Thomas up at 3 a.m.
“He said, ‘Pack your stuff, Mary Ann. Do you believe that God will take over from here?’”
They walked until they reached the border, Freetown, but conditions there were even worse than anything they’d encountered previously.
“On the bridge, in the water, we just see dead bodies, beautiful girls, beautiful boys, men, women, children,” she says.
It wasn’t until George saw a rebel who he recognized, that they had hope of crossing the border.
“My brother turned around and said, ‘I know this lady. Her name is Josephine. Mary Ann, can you go to her? You can make it. I trust you. That’s the only chance of us getting out.’”
So she pleaded to the woman, who added them to the list of Liberians who could cross.
Thomas shouted to the woman, who she’d never previously met, “Girl, I’ll miss you! I’ll come back.” As they ran across the border, they heard shooting and people dying on the bridge. When Thomas reached Sierra Leone, she fell to the ground, greeted by soldiers with food and water.
Thomas prayed to come to America, and she got her chance in 2005, when she was admitted to the United States as a refugee, and soon began attending the Lake Highlands Church.
“When I heard the preaching for the very first time, I thought they were preaching to me,” she says.
Since joining the church, Thomas has told her story many times, encouraging audiences to choose faith and trust in the Lord, no matter their circumstances.