The 14 couples in our group are going to temples around the world. Some are on their 5th mission (and over 80 years old)! Many are learning new languages. Being a missionary changes the way you feel about yourself and the way others see you, as soon as you put on that name tag. Strangers want to stop and ask where you are going or what assignment you have, and we were treated more royally than usual in the temple.
We knew that Elder and Sr. Hicken, the Church Service Missionaries in charge of arrangements for our time in SLC, were cousins of Sue, although she had never met them. What we didn’t know is that as a young missionary in Germany, Sr. Hicken taught Philippe Assard. His conversion story is emblematic of the growth of the Church in West Africa.
Sr. Hicken and her companion found the name of the Assards in their area book one day, but the note said, “Don’t visit. Husband is black.” That was in the days prior to 1978 when the priesthood was not conferred on blacks. Despite the note, Sr. Hicken felt a strong prompting to visit them. The Assards were receptive to the gospel message, and when Bro. Assad was told that he could not yet hold the priesthood he said, “But if the gospel is true, then I need to return to my people and share the great message with them.” And that is what he did.
He and his wife returned to Ivory Coast to help establish the Church. In 1993 the first mission was created in the country, and in 1997 he was called as the first stake president there. Later he served as the first patriarch in the country, and last November he was called to serve in the temple presidency in Accra. We look forward to meeting him!
Today there are 9 stakes in Ivory Coast and a temple has been announced there, although ground has not yet been broken. The saints travel faithfully to the temple in Accra and usually spend a week at a time performing ordinances. Such is the faith of the members in West Africa and the remarkable growth of the Church there.