Church membership in the Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) has grown from one family in 1984 to five stakes and one district today.
On November 28, 2010, political and civil unrest broke out in the Ivory Coast after Laurent Gbagbo, the President since 2000, was proclaimed the winner of the Ivorian election of 2010, the first election in ten years. The opposition candidate, Alassane Ouattara as well as numerous countries, organizations and leaders world-wide claimed that Ouattara had won. After months of attempted violence and sporadic violence, the crisis peaked as Ouattara’s forces staged a military offensive in which they quickly gained control of most of the country. Numerous humans rights violations were reported and even the United Nations undertook its own military action to protect civilians.
A significant step in ending the crisis occurred on April 11, 2011 when Gbagbo was captured and arrested in Abidjan by pro-Ouattara forces supported by the French army.
This period of unrest and civil disturbance was known as "the crise.” Tensions escalated to the point where in late March 2011, the stores were closed for a full month.
Thousands of people were inconvenienced and had to search for food. One of the Stake Presidents, Marcel Guei and currently a mission president, related that his family had set aside food reserves that would provide for the family for at least seven months because of counsel from President Hinckley to set aside food storage. During that month, the Gueis fed not only their family, but also neighbors and members of their stake, never having fewer than 20 people at their table.
Also in late March 2011 just prior to the stores being closed, 98 Ivorian saints led by the Cocody Stake President, Zahui Dekaye, went to the Ghana Temple for an excursion. Not planning to be away for longer than a week, these Saints learned that the boarder of Ivory Coast was closed upon their departure and they were not permitted reentry. The Ivorians were provided assistance to live in the Ancillary Housing of the Temple while they continued to attend each day it was open until they were permitted reentry into Cote d'Ivoire on April 24, 2011.
President Dekaye was also the Ivory Coast mission president under call, set to begin his service on July 1, 2011 Of particular note about this group was the fact that President Dekaye and his wife were joined by the senior leadership of the stake for this trip. The entire stake presidency, most of the bishops, many of the high council and their wives were in attendance. While they were in attendance on this trip, the stake was reorganized due to the call of President Dekaye, and the man selected to be the next stake president was Marc Sahy, currently serving as one of the two mission presidents in the Ivory Coast.
Among the modern day miracles of missionary work in Africa, is the story of the Cote d'Ivoire d’Abobo Stake. Due to the concern for safety particularly within the boundaries of this stake, missionaries were not permitted to reside or work. They were however permitted to work with in neighboring stakes. Undaunted by this limitation, member missionaries in each of the wards taught and baptized hundreds of people. One ward recorded 79 convert baptisms in one year. As a result of this effort, the stake was split not long after the crisis.
One particularly historical noteworthy experience in the Stakes occurred on August 27-28, 201l. Elder Curtis was sent to preside over a Stake Conference in the Cote d’Ivoire Toit Rouge Stake. He was the first General Authority permitted to enter the Ivory Coast after the civil disturbance and what he discovered was remarkable. As a side note, this was also Elder Curtis’ first stake conference in Africa. The armed conflict was over, but the effects of the war were still present. President Lavry, the stake president, who was a professor of economics at the university, reported that the university had not yet reopened nor would it for the foreseeable future. One of his counselors worked for the Ivorian Air Force, but it was an Air Force without planes because they had all been destroyed by the French.
The war had divided the people along ethnic and political lines. Elder Norbert Ounleu, who accompanied Elder Curtis to the conference said that if Elder Curtis gave him any name of any member, he could tell Elder Curtis which side of the dispute that the person was on. This aspect of the debate placed members of the Church on both sides of the dispute in a very personal way, especially in Abidjan, which is melting pot attracting members from throughout the Ivory Coast. Some members supported President Gbagbo’s party and some President Ouattara’s party. Some would describe the cause of the dispute as being the unwillingness of the defeated incumbent refusing to vacate his office whereas others would say that the French had intervened too early, and should have left it to the courts to decide who had won the election. Not only were members of wards split on this issue, but in some cases even husbands and wives were on opposite sides from each other.
Sensing this sensitivity, Elder Curtis felt impressed in the priesthood leadership session of stake conference to lead a discussion on how as members of the Church, we could help the country heal from the civil disturbance. The brethren in attendance responded by recommending that they reach out in love to those on the other side of the issue, that they should live the gospel more completely and have charity for all. One brother said “we need to live so that we can have a temple here, because the Lord will bless us with peace if there is a temple here.”
Elder Curtis then reported that the following day at 9 a.m. (August 28, 2011), the stake held a new member and investigator meeting in the chapel. New members along with 182 investigators filled the center section. This was remarkable in that due to the crisis, missionaries had not yet been assigned to that stake and those investigators remained in the chapel for the General Session of stake conference. It is interesting to note that only two cars were in the parking lot for stake conference of those, one belonged to the mission president who had driven Elder Curtis. (personal correspondence from Elder Curtis, May 30, 2015)
In recent years the Ivorian Saints’ faithfulness has been particularly manifest in their family history and temple work. Three of the five Cote d’Ivoire stakes are among the top 25 in the Church in the percentage of adults who submitted family names for temple ordinances during 2012. Of all the stakes in the Church, the Cocody Stake, the group that was stranded at the temple during the "crise," has the highest percentage of adults who have, at one time or another, submitted names for temple work. (July 2013 Liahona, "Elder Cook Addresses Members and Investigators in Ivory Coast)
|Stake Presidents and Mission Presidents in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, May 2015|
The progress of the Church in Africa has been compared by Elder Bednar to the early days of the Church. Perhaps the experience of the 98 Ivorian leaders stranded at the temple for a month is not unlike the experience of Zions Camp, out of which came many future leaders of the Church. The Ivorians are not slow to remember the hand of the Lord in their lives. They are totally converted to following the words of living prophets as manifest by their commitment to having food storage. Although many of the leaders have not been members long, the Church is Ivory Coast is led by men of great faith and commitment. Such faith was recently recognized by the recent revelation/announcement in April 2015 to have a temple in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.