The impact of the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to every faithful, worthy male was not immediate in Ivory Coast as it was in some English-speaking African nations. Church literature in English had found its way to Ghana and Nigeria, for example, prompting people to ask the Church for missionaries. But for French-speaking Cote d’Ivoire, on the Gulf of Guinea between Liberia and Ghana on Africa’s west coast, the gospel entered through a different door.
The story of the pioneer Church in Ivory Coast is one of hardship and sacrifice, diligence and perseverance. Most important, it is a story of faith in and love for the Savior.
Ivory Coast citizens who have the means often leave their country to obtain an education in European universities. In the 1970s and 1980s a number of such Ivorian students were introduced to the gospel in Europe. Upon returning to their native land, these Latter-day Saints helped the gospel take root and grow.
One such Ivorian was Phillipe Assard. Phillipe left Ivory Coast for Germany in 1971 to attend engineering school in Cologne. While earning his degree, he met Annelies Margitta at a dance in her hometown of Remscheid. Before long, they married, Phillipe found employment, and the couple started a family.
In 1980 two full-time missionaries knocked on their door and presented the message of the Restoration, and the Assards quickly embraced the gospel. They were soon baptized and, in Brother Assard’s words, “overwhelmed with blessings.” Phillipe and Annelies were sealed in the Swiss Temple, and Phillipe found a new job that allowed him to better meet the needs of his growing family, by then consisting of a son, Alexandre Joseph, and a daughter, Dorothée Anne.
Yet despite the family’s improved economic conditions and increasingly comfortable life in Germany, Brother Assard began to feel drawn back to his native Ivory Coast. He realized the development his country needed most would come only through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he was determined to play a part in introducing the gospel to his country. An application to a company looking for engineers in Ivory Coast bore no fruit, but Brother Assard decided in 1984 to return to his homeland anyway during a vacation and assess employment opportunities. He was disappointed to learn that the company he had sent an application to was having financial problems. No other work opportunities materialized.
“I returned to Cologne, but I had total faith in the Lord because I had this dream that the gospel must be established in Ivory Coast,” Brother Assard recalls. “So in 1986, after many prayers and fasting with my wife, I decided to return to Ivory Coast to give what I had received, to improve the lot of my family and my people.”
Before leaving Germany, the Assards received their patriarchal blessings, returned to the Swiss Temple, and traveled to Frankfurt, where they met with members of the Europe Area Presidency—Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin and Elder Russell C. Taylor. After explaining their desires to go to Ivory Coast, the Assards “received blessings and encouragement from them,” Brother Assard says, “and Elder Wirthlin gave me a list of all known members in the country, which was only a handful.”
Brother Assard quit his job, and the family sold their house and belongings. On 10 April 1986 the Assards left for Ivory Coast. They moved in with his parents in a small village near Abidjan—the nation’s largest city and its industrial center, with a population of about two million inhabitants. Neither Sister Assard nor her children could speak any French. Nevertheless, Alexandre and Dorothée were placed in school while Sister Assard learned French from her in-laws and Brother Assard looked for work.
For an entire year Brother Assard fruitlessly sought employment while the strain of providing for his family weighed heavily upon him. He did not, however, let the difficulty of finding a job prevent him from moving the work of the Lord forward. He and Sister Assard sent letters to members on the list they had received in Germany. The Lucien Affoué family of Abidjan was the first to respond. The families rejoiced to know they were not alone. Other members in Ivory Coast also responded but were too remote to meet with them.
Brother Assard directed the growing branch until Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy visited the country in 1987. At that time, United States Embassy worker Terry Broadhead was set apart as the first branch president with Brother Assard as his counselor. When Elder Ashton dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel in September 1987, the country had 16 Church members.
Brother Assard later became the first native branch president in Ivory Coast. He also served as district president and then as a stake president. Sister Assard has been a branch Relief Society president, Young Women president and district Relief Society president. Her musical talent has proven invaluable in helping people learn Church hymns.
Temporal blessings soon followed the spiritual blessings. After being unemployed for a year, Brother Assard was hired by a European automobile manufacturer in Abidjan. His knowledge of French and German, along with his engineering degree, made a perfect match. He served as assistant technical director for the company until his retirement in 1997.
The Assards are eternally grateful for their blessings and for the guiding influence that directed them to Ivory Coast. Thanks to that influence, Brother Assard has seen the fulfillment of his dream that the gospel would be established among his people. Brother and Sister Assard continue to further the work of the Lord as they serve a temple mission at the Ghana, Accra temple. They will return to their home in Cote d’Ivoire in October, 2014.
Adapted from an article by Robert L. Mercer (Ensign, Sept. 1997)