Bolaji Oyebanji Adepoju is not like most missionaries. Before he left for his mission in Italy, Adepoju survived a shooting attack in his own home and a miraculous rescue at sea. Read more about his amazing story below.
Walking the streets of southern Italy and Sicily, the young Nigerian man daily sees hundreds of refugees who have fled their native lands — mostly from Africa or the Middle East — and who are escaping religious persecutions, economic devastation, political instabilities, ethnic cleansing or unlivable living conditions.
In his mid-20s and sporting a white dress shirt, slacks and a tie, he has a purpose. The refugees he sees — of all ages — may not have much more than the clothes on their backs, and they’re looking for work, for food, for stability, or for what tomorrow may bring.
What the young man doesn’t see is his place among them — although he could.
Because less than five years ago, Bolaji Oyebanji Adepoju — then a recent convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — survived a shooting-turned-bloodbath in his Nigerian home by Muslim extremists, surviving only because of his mad dash to the roof.
And because less than two years ago, Adepoju — one of some 200 refugees packed in a water-logged boat pushed off from Libya and bound for anywhere in Europe — was plucked from the sea by the Italian coast guard, escaping a fate his two brothers elsewhere on the boat could not.
Once a refugee himself, he is now a Latter-day Saint missionary serving in a country that has become an arrival point of sorts for fleeing refugees — not for Italy’s own choosing, but for geographic realities.
“I don’t think about myself anymore,” Elder Adepoju said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “I think and feel for them. I feel for the people who left everything they had and came to this place with nothing but their life.”
His own life was all he had on the day of his rescue — August 15, 2015.