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Doug Robinson: Giving up everything for love and faith

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 11:38 p.m. MST

Mariama Kallon and Bayo Olayemi on their wedding day.

Joanne Steveson

SALT LAKE CITY — Could there be a better Valentine’s Day story than the marriage of Bayo Olayemi and Mariama Kallon?

Separated by thousands of miles and an ocean, they found each other in middle age, through fate and faith. Before that, she survived political uprisings, murderous rebels, starvation and the threat of violent death; he survived government threats and the upheaval of his personal life that resulted from his religious conversion. Olayemi once had an assassin show up his door in his native Nigeria. Kallon once stood in a line to have her legs cut off by rebels in her native Sierra Leone.

With all of that behind them, they married last fall and settled in Salt Lake City, where they endure this strange thing called snow and struggle to make ends meet while they hope and wait for citizenship to come through.

Olayemi, a 43-year-old former TV and radio journalist in Nigeria, sacrificed friends, career and his homeland to come to America straightaway and marry Kallon.

“I gave it all up for love,” he says, but that isn’t quite right, because religion played a big part in it, as well.

Kallon’s story was first told in the Deseret News in 2006. She had escaped civil war-torn Sierra Leone, but only barely. The rebels shot her parents as she and her siblings fled on foot. The rebels caught them a day later and placed them in a line to have their limbs severed with a machete as a message to the government the rebels were trying to overthrow. Mariama watched as her sister had her legs chopped off. Just as Mariama’s turn arrived, United Nations forces arrived and the rebels fled. For seven years, Mariama ran from village to village to flee the rebels. They caught her again, but she escaped again.

Finally, she escaped the country. She converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served a mission in Salt Lake City. Then she volunteered on Temple Square and took work cleaning homes, as well as the Salt Lake Temple. After her story was told here, she began speaking at numerous firesides around the valley, which led to more opportunities. She was retained to speak around the country as part of Deseret Book’s Timeout for Women series, and she also cooperated for a book about her life, “Delivered by Hope.”

More than 7,000 miles away, the story of Olayemi was unfolding. He was a journalist who took on the oppressive government of Nigeria. He used the airwaves to advocate free elections and citizen rights, which did not sit well with the government. He repeatedly defied their attempts at censorship. Urged to advocate the government’s position, he refused to play ball.

“They were trying to buy me with money,” he says. “I was educating people to believe in their power. That is where we had confrontations."

This went on for years until 2007, when two men showed up at his door, one of them carrying a pump-action rifle. They said they were there to “silence” him as representatives of a local politician who was notorious for violence. This might have ended badly, but then one of the men recognized Olayemi and expressed his appreciation for his advocation of free elections. Suddenly more sympathetic than he had been moments earlier, he offered Olayemi a way out: Leave town. If Olayemi didn’t, he said, he was certain other men would come for him.

Olayemi took the advice and found radio work elsewhere, but he continued to battle the government over the political positions he took on the air. Three years later he left journalism completely and worked for the public affairs department of the LDS Church in Nigeria.

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