Recognition of the Church in the Ivory Coast was announced at a special meeting of Church members April 19. Elder Richard P. Lindsay of the Seventy and president of the Africa Area had met only a few hours earlier with the Minister of Interior who signed the document making the Church official in the Ivory Coast.
Elder Lindsay said, "What has taken place today is important to the future of the Church in the Ivory Coast, but what is more important is the spirit in the hearts of the members." He encouraged the members to remain faithful and said, "I promise that you will see great and marvelous things in this country, a great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, if you place first in your lives your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."The Ivory Coast is the center of French West Africa and a leader among its African neighbors. The recognition of the Church here should facilitate recognition in other French-speaking African countries, according to Church leaders here. In September 1987, when Elder Marvin J. Ashton came to dedicate the Ivory Coast for the preaching of the gospel, there were 16 members here. Today, there are more than 600.
At present, there are only two missionary couples in the Ivory Coast, Elder Willis D. and Sister Beverly L. Waite, and Elder Pierre A. and Sister Bluette N. Schutz. The Ivory Coast has had only three other missionary couples over the past three years; growth of the Church has been by member referral.
The first missionaries to serve in the Ivory Coast were Elder Barnard Stewart Silver and Sister Cherry Silver of Salt Lake City, who arrived in April 1988. The LDS Church was one of 77 other religious groups awaiting official government recognition. Elder Robert M. and Sister Lola Walker arrived in April 1989 from the Africa Ghana Mission. Although the Walkers, from Morgan, Utah, spoke no French when they arrived, they were successful in having close to 100 people baptized. Elder Scott H. and Sister Lou Ciel Taggart arrived in May 1989; he is now president of the Zaire Kinshasa Mission.
Elder Lindsay said that with the recognition of the Church by the government of the Ivory Coast, more missionaries will be serving here and they will be able to proselyte.
He quoted D&C 64:33: "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
Elder Lindsay told the members, "We will see miracles performed if we are faithful. Be faithful brothers and sisters and the blessings of the temple will follow."
It was a joyous occasion that some members have waited for years to happen. Among the first members here were Philippe Assard and his wife, Annelise Noetzel Assard, and their two children, Dorothee Anna and Alexandre Joseph Assard. Brother Assard, an Ivorian, joined the Church in Germany, where he met his wife; they were married in the Swiss Temple.
He felt a need to return to the Ivory Coast and share the gospel with his countrymen. Making a great financial sacrifice in leaving Germany, the Assards came here on faith with no prospects for a job.
The Assards arrived in Abidjan on April 10, 1986. It took almost four years, the complete exhaustion of the Assards' financial resources and many hours of fasting and prayer before Brother Assard acquired the professional job he has today as manager of the service department of an automobile dealership. During those years of financial problems, he moved his family to Abobo and to an area called Zone Quatre (Zone Four). In each location, there is now a thriving branch of the Church.
Before the Assards left Germany, they were given the names of a few Latter-day Saints known to be in the Ivory Coast. Upon their arrival, the only members they found were Lucien Yapi Affoue and his wife, Agathe, and their children, Patricia, Clarisse and Geoffrey. The Affoue family, who joined the Church in France and were sealed in the Swiss temple, had been holding Church meetings as a family in their home.
The first sacrament meeting with the Assard and Affoue families was held in the village of Ahoutuoe, where the Assards were living. After more members came to Abidijan from Europe the meeting location was changed to that city.
Elder Russell C. Taylor, then of the Seventy and a counselor in the Europe Area Presidency, came to Abidjan in January 1987 to approve the first house used as an LDS meetinghouse.
In September 1987, when Elder Ashton came to dedicate the Ivory Coast for the preaching of the gospel, he set apart Terry Broadhead, an American working for the U.S. Embassy, as unit president.
Further progress was made a short time later when Brother Affoue, in moving his family for a job transfer, helped start another unit of the Church in Bouake, about six hours by car north of Abidjan. At first, the Affoues were the only Latter-day Saints in Bouake; there is now a branch of more than 50 members.
The first Church district in the nation was formed in October 1989, with Douglas Arnold, an employee of the U.S. State Department, as president and Brother Assard and Victor Awhwireng as counselors. In September 1990, Brother Assard was called as district president; he was succeeded in January 1991 by Brother Awhwireng.
Brother Assard is now president of the branch in Zone Four. His daughter, Dorothee, is Primary president and Sister Assard is her counselor.
With the recognition of the Church, Brother Assard sees the accomplishment of another milestone in his homeland.