“Tiny Branches Bear Fruit in Mascarene Islands,” Ensign, Feb. 1986, 79–80
Alain and Danielle Chion-Hock might reasonably have felt a bit isolated when they returned home after completing their university studies in France.
The young couple had been baptized into the Church in Montpellier, France, in 1969. But back on La Reunion, their island home in the Indian Ocean, they were the only Latter-day Saints in a population of approximately half a million.
The faith of the Chion-Hocks was not to be overcome by simple isolation, however. Brother Chion-Hock recalls a talk he gave in Perpignan, France, in 1970, in which he spoke of the course he and Danielle had chosen for their lives. It was the same course Joshua urged for the ancient Israelites: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15.)
That is a commitment that has only deepened through the years, says Alain Chion-Hock, now president of the St. Denis Branch on La Reunion and, a professor at the teachers’ college on the island. Danielle, a pharmacist, agrees. “The Church has meant everything to me,” she comments. When one knows the truths of the gospel, “there is no other way to live.”
The Chion-Hocks, along with a handful of immigrants from France, were instrumental in helping the Church gain a foothold on La Reunion.
The volcanic island, located east of Madagascar and near the southern edge of the Tropic of Capricorn, is an overseas departement of France. It was settled in the 1660s as a layover station for French ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope bound for India. Today, its economy is almost entirely dependent on the export of its sugar and sugar products. Those who come to know La Reunion’s delightful people, tropical beaches, magnificent mountain vistas, and primitive forests come to love the place.
The Chion-Hocks were not alone for long as Church members on the island. Within a few years, there was a handful of faithful Saints drawn there from France by occupational opportunities or assignments—people like Raphael Amourdon, Pierre Riviere, and Max Payet.
It was not until 1975, however, that La Reunion had its first baptism—the Chion-Hocks’ oldest child, Catherine, now a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
The Chion-Hocks, with the permission of the International Mission, held the LDS group’s sacrament meetings in their home at St. Gilles for several years. The group grew as members reached out to those around them, trying to share the joy of the gospel. Rose Thia Soui Tchong (Alain Chion-Hock’s sister) and her two sons were baptized in 1979, Andre and Lucile Payet and their family in 1980, the Bobeche and Savigny families in 1981.
It was in October of 1979 that Brother and Sister Joseph Edmunds arrived, sent as representatives of the International Mission, following a request for missionaries by the Saints on La Reunion. On December 30 of that year, the St. Denis Branch was organized with Alain Chion-Hock as president.
Through the past six years, several other couples have served on the island as representatives of the International Mission, lending strength and leadership to the Church organization and making friends for the Church. Currently, Max Wheelwright, a former mission president in France, and his wife, Ann, are serving there, along with Glen and Mable Barlow.
The introduction of full-time proselyting missionaries in January of 1984 helped boost the number of baptisms on La Reunion to twenty-five in 1985. Growth made possible the formation of a second branch, at St. Pierre, in 1984, and a third one, at St. Paul, late in 1985.
Through the workings of the Spirit of the Lord, the way was also opened not long ago for missionary work on nearby Mauritius, a small independent island nation that is a member of the British commonwealth. Stephen and Margery Hatch are serving there as representatives of the International Mission; Brother Hatch is also a former mission president. There are now thirty-five members in the branch on Mauritius. Along with the branches on La Reunion, it is part of the 128-member Mascarene District of the International Mission. Brother Wheelwright is district president.
The membership of the branches reflects the ethnic mix found in the area—French and other European stock, Chinese, Indian, African, and Malagache (from Madagascar). The Saints of the district enjoy the special closeness often found among Latter-day Saints where they are a small minority. And they try very hard to set an example of Christlike living for those around them.
Nelly Lycurgue, the first person from La Reunion to receive a mission call, is now serving in Paris, France. But across the thousands of miles that separate them, her work touches her family.
“Nelly’s influence as a missionary is felt by all of us,” says her mother, Marie-Rose Lycurgue. “It’s wonderful to see the change in my girls’ lives and to feel the Spirit in our home.”
Jacky Thia Soui Tchong is another young Latter-day Saint whose influence is felt among his peers. “The only work that really interests me is that of the Savior,” he says. “My greatest ambition is to be totally obedient to God.”
Philippe Rifosta’s sentiments speak for many other Saints in the Mascarene District: “I have searched for the gospel all of my life, and after fifty years I have finally found it. What a blessing!”
Correspondent: Max Wheelwright