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Pioneers

in Every Land

“This Piece of Stone Come to Us Now”

Saints in Togo See Daniel’s Stone Rolling through Own Land

Elizabeth Maki

Dieudonné Attiogbe was working for Togo’s embassy in London in 1989 when he met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At first, he didn’t feel open to considering any faith outside his Catholic upbringing. But after reading the Book of Mormon, he embraced the restored gospel and was baptized. So far as he knew, he was the only Church member from his land. 

“When I got baptized, the first day, the following morning, when going to my job, I cried a lot,” Attiogbe recalled. “I cried—for almost the whole day I cried. When I’ve been crying, I’ve been thinking about the people of my country. … When I’ve been baptized, my first intention is to spread this gospel in Togo. To bring it back to my family first and to my friends as well.”1

A Return Home

The Church had been established in West African nations such as Ghana and Nigeria for more than a decade by the late 1980s, but when Attiogbe returned home to Togo, he was on his own in his new faith. And he felt the lack keenly.

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Dieudonne And Philomen Attiogbe Family

“I missed the church a lot,” he said. “I don’t know where to go because I put the church into my daily life and I’ve been missing something and I start searching.”

Not knowing what to do on his own, Attiogbe visited established congregations in neighboring Accra, Ghana, as well as further west in Côte d’Ivoire. Attiogbe said he went “just to feel the spirit of the Church over there,” but his visits proved fruitful for another reason. In Ghana, Church leader Emmanuel Kissi encouraged Attiogbe to pursue his dream of seeing the Church organized in Togo by contacting the Church’s African headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa, to request help.

“He asked me to write a letter to them,” Attiogbe said of Kissi. With Kissi’s encouragement, Attiogbe felt less alone. “He would be behind me pushing, so that we can do something in Togo. And he said as far as you can speak English, a little bit of English, and French, you can help the church to grow in Togo.” The prospect of bringing the Church to a country of nearly five million must still have been daunting, but Attiogbe took fresh courage. “OK, let us try,” he told Kissi. “Why not?”

Connecting and Gathering

As it turned out, Attiogbe had not been as alone in Togo as he had feared. In response to his efforts, the Church office in Johannesburg sent Attiogbe a list of several Togolese people who had been baptized abroad, along with their addresses. Attiogbe wrote letters to each of them, and in time met with them to discuss the gospel.

Along with Koffi Afangbedji, who had joined the Church in Denmark, and Agnon Didier, Attiogbe formed a small group of Latter-day Saints in Togo around 1996. The group met in a small room Attiogbe secured in the village of Nkafu, sometimes with as many as three people sharing a chair and the hymns accompanied by Attiogbe’s son on a toy piano.

Yet Nowah Afangbedji, who was just a child at the time, has fond memories of the earliest days of the Church in Togo.

“We enjoyed it,” he said. “It was quite very nice; when I just remember those times, ah, it’s something.”

Organizing the Church

With Kissi’s help and the help of Ghana Church leader John Buah, Michel Avegnon—a Togo native who had joined the Church in Ghana in 1991 and served a full-time mission there from 1993 until 1995—found Attiogbe in early 1997 and helped the group organize.2

African Area President James Mason officially organized the Lomé Togo group in July 1997, with Didier as presiding elder and Avegnon as assistant group leader responsible for missionary efforts in Togo.3 But by the time Avegnon started his assignment, Attiogbe already had investigators lined up. The first baptisms in Togo took place a few months later, September 20, 1997, at a hotel swimming pool.4

“This time was a special time for us,” Attiogbe remembered. “We prepared our families, the families of those who had been baptized. And then the missionary came and we teach them the lessons for the baptism and then we prepared them. They had been fourteen for the first baptism service. And when we went there it was a very special day for us.”

For Nowah Afangbedji, who was one of the 14 baptized, it was a day he said he will never forget.

“That was marvelous,” he said. “The feelings I got, the washing power I felt, and the spirit of the Lord that went through my soul, and the whole congregation—the joy that we had that day was special, quite special.”

For Attiogbe, it was the culmination of several years of dreams and effort.

“On that day, it was a great joy because I think about how I received the gospel,” he said. “It was not easy when they talked to me about the gospel, but when I received it, I received it fully, and my intention was to share it with my fellow Togolese when I got back home, because I was so excited. And that very day I remembered that it was the day, and I feel a great joy in myself that what I think, is happening now. People are getting baptized, and … it was just the beginning, and everything will go the right way with the blessing of the Lord.”

The Kingdom Rolls Forth

Less than two years later, Togo came under the Ivory Coast Abidjan Mission, and a missionary couple, Demoine and Joyce Findlay, began missionary work in the country in February 1999. The Lomé Branch was formed that same month, with Dieudonné Attiogbe as its first president.

That day, “the excitement of the members was evident by the fact that most were in their places more than one hour early,” Joyce Findlay wrote. “Adults and children sat reverently, listening to taped church music in the new facility which was recently acquired and superbly prepared by the Temporal Affairs department of the Africa West Area Office. The joy that the new leaders felt was evident in their testimonies. Dieudonné Attiogbe, the newly called Branch President, commented, ‘I told everyone that one day the church would be in Togo and here we are today.’”5

Years later, in 2009—just two weeks after Nowah Afangbedji returned from a full-time mission in Nigeria—the first district in Togo was created.

“Now I can realize that those little things we were doing then were a strong foundation for the great work that we are enjoying now,” Nowah said. “The second week when I came from my mission the district was organized and I saw the whole congregation, the four branches together and singing and I felt, no—we were just some years ago some few groups in a small room. How can we be so great, big group now? And I felt something within me that, really, no unhallowed hand can stop the work of Heavenly Father to progress.”

For Attiogbe, Togo’s Church membership of more than 1,500 today6 is a fulfillment of prophecy that he’s had the privilege to see unfold firsthand.

“Today, I know that the gospel … spreading in Lomé here … is just a part of the stone about what Daniel talked in the Bible,” Attiogbe said. “This piece of stone come to us now. This is what I feel. I feel like that the Prophet Daniel’s prophecy is coming true in my own country right now and I feel very happy for that.”7

Footnotes

[1] Jill Johnson, “Togo,” part 3, Africa Pioneers: Benin, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire (DVD), prod. Jill Johnson, Church History Department, Salt Lake City.

[2] Michel D. Avegnon oral history, interviewed by Clinton D. Christensen, 2005, 25–26, James Moyle Oral History Program, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

[3] Michel D. Avegnon oral history, 26; “Facts and Statistics: Togo,” Newsroom, mormonnewsroom.org.

[4] Johnson, “Togo,” part 3.

[5] Joyce Findlay, “First Unit of the Church in Togo,” DeMoine and Joyce Findlay mission papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

[6]Facts and Statistics: Togo.”

[7] Johnson, “Togo,” part 3.