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3 new LDS temples to be built in Ivory Coast, Haiti and Thailand, President Monson announces

SALT LAKE CITY — Jean Philippe and Marjorie Desius survived the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. They were engaged at the time, struggling to raise money to travel to the neighboring Dominican Republic to be sealed in the temple there.

"We both survived because I closed my eyes during the earthquake and begged for a chance to marry in the temple," Marjorie said.

Friends helped them pay for the temple trip and they were sealed on April 6.

Almost five years to the day, both husband and wife were seated in the Conference Center when LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson opened the Sunday morning session of the faith's 185th Annual General Conference by announcing plans for three new temples in Africa, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.

"The announcement means the world to us," Marjorie said. "I can't even begin to explain how the temple will bless Haiti and the Latter-day Saints living there."

The temples will be built in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and Bangkok, Thailand. Each will be the first LDS temple in that country, providing welcome relief to Mormons who today face long, expensive travel to reach temples in other countries.

On Sunday morning, Jean Philippe Desius was in the LDS Conference Center translating the conference session into Creole when President Monson made his announcement. As an interpreter, he had received the news about 45 minutes earlier but couldn't say anything until the announcement, which was difficult, he said.

Following the session, Jean Philippe greeted his wife with a long, emotional hug as their 2-year-old son Jaymie looked on from this stroller.

"I was overwhelmed with joy. The people have endured a lot, many lost family members (in the 2010 earthquake)," Jean Philippe said. "For the faithfulness of the members, this is a huge blessing."

The announcement brought tears of joy to church members in and from those countries and to missionaries who have served there.

"I did not know I could cry so hard," Jan Shelton Hunsaker wrote on Facebook.

Hunsaker served an LDS mission in Thailand with native Thai missionaries who did not have their temple endowment — generally required for missionary work — because it was too expensive to travel to the closest temple in Hong Kong. "After 27 years of praying and waiting for an announcement of a temple in Thailand they are going to get one."

Dane Watkins, bishop of the Victorian Village Ward in Idaho Falls, Idaho, was almost overcome with emotion to learn a temple would be built in Haiti. He served there with one of his best friends, Mike Dustin, from 1989-91, during a time of political turmoil and opposition to the church, including the burning of chapels.

"I never had the faith sufficient to think there would ever be a temple in Haiti, so this is very humbling, yet it also brings me such happiness and peace," said Watkins, who has returned to the island nation several times. "I can't describe how remarkable this is to me. It shows me how I know nothing about the workings of God and his tenderness. I never thought I would live to see this special day."

Charles Abouo, a former BYU basketball player from Abidjan, heard the news in Egypt where he is playing for a professional basketball club. He said his phone exploded with text and Facebook messages from close friends shortly after the announcement.

"I am very happy. We always hear about the new temples going up, and to hear that one will be built in the country where you are from is definitely a great experience," Abouo said in a Facebook message. "The church has grown significantly in the Ivory Coast since we moved in the '90s, and I know all the members there will really appreciate this announcement. It will definitely be a blessing in the lives of many people. Many members in certain parts Africa spend a lot of time and resources to get to temples. To be in close proximity to one will make a huge difference."

Tim Toone, of Hooper, Utah, served as a missionary in the West Africa countries Ivory Coast, Ghana and Sierra Leone. He was at home watching conference when the announcement was made. He excitedly told his mother and texted a mission buddy.

"I just felt grateful that they will get a temple. When I was there in 2004, they wanted one and prayed one day they'd be blessed with one. I knew they would get a temple one day," Toone said. "The people there were so amazing. They were faithful and strong. They would travel to Ghana a lot in order to go to the temple. I feel like a temple) will increase everyone's testimony and let them know that Heavenly Father hears prayers and sees how hard they have been working. It's hard to put into words how special this will be for them."

Eric Huntsman, a professor in the department of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, posted on Facebook that he let out an "audible yelp" from the Conference Center choir loft. He served as a missionary in Bangkok in 1985-86. He warned family and friends he is already planning a trip back for the dedication or at least a visit when the temple is completed.

MacKenzie Munns Ostler, of Asheville, N.C., served in the Thailand Bangkok Mission from 2007-08. She was making "conference crepes" with her family at the time of the announcement. When she heard the words "Bangkok, Thailand," she felt like she was opening her mission call again and tears flowed.

"I had to leave the room because I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude," Ostler said. "As the covenants of the temple have blessed my life so abundantly, I still cannot stop smiling or crying, knowing these eternal blessings are coming to that country."

President Monson said will continue to work to bring temple blessings closer to more Latter-day Saints.

"The process of determining needs and finding locations for additional temples is ongoing," he said, "for we desire that as many members as possible have an opportunity to attend the temple without great sacrifices of time and resources. As we have done in the past, we will keep you informed as decisions are made in this regard."

The announcement was additionally poignant because President Monson, considered a prophet of God by 15 million Mormons, demonstrated his own very personal appreciation for temple blessings.

"The blessings of the temple are priceless," he said. "One for which I am grateful every day of my life is that which my beloved wife, Frances, and I received as we knelt at a sacred altar and made covenants binding us together for all eternity. There is no blessing more precious to me than the peace and comfort I receive from the knowledge I have that she and I will be together again."

Sister Monson died in May 2013.

It had been two years since President Monson last announced a new temple, the longest lag between temple announcements in 25 years for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a deliberate decision. He declared a moratorium on new temple announcements a year ago so the church could focus efforts on completing previously announced temples.

At the time, he promised more temples in the future. Sunday, he fulfilled that promise.

He said the building of temples is "a very clear indication of the growth of the church" a day after the church announced membership had grown by about 290,000 to 15,372,337 at the end of 2014.

"We currently have 144 temples in operation worldwide," he added, "with five being renovated and 13 more under construction. In addition, 13 temples which were previously announced are in various stages of preparation before construction begins."

On Saturday, Elder Quentin L. Cook said the church has seen "a dramatic increase" in recent years in the number of temple-endowed members with a current temple recommend. Faithful Latter-day Saints receive an endowment — a bestowal of knowledge and understanding of gospel principles — in temples.

President Monson said five new temples are scheduled for dedication this year — Córdoba Argentina (May 17), Payson Utah (June 7), Trujillo Peru (June 21), Indianapolis Indiana (dedication, Aug. 23), Tijuana Mexico (Dec. 13).

He said the church anticipates rededicating two other temples this year after renovations are completed. One is scheduled — Mexico City Mexico (Sept. 13). The other rededication this year likely will be the Montreal Temple. Other temples under renovation are in Idaho Falls, Idaho; Suva, Fiji; and Freiberg, Germany.

Temples are central to LDS worship and doctrine, though they are not used for Sunday services like chapels or meetinghouses, which are open to the public. Once a temple is dedicated, only faithful Latter-day Saints may enter to be married and sealed to a spouse for eternity, to receive an endowment and to perform baptisms and other ordinances on behalf of those who have died.

Temple building and temple work have been hallmarks of the seven years of President Monson's presidency. He regularly has made new temple announcements part of his general conference talks.

On Sunday he said has enjoyed many blessings since February 2008, when he became the faith's 16th president, and "among the most enjoyable and sacred of these blessings has been my opportunity to dedicate and rededicate temples."

He taught Sunday that temple attendance can give Latter-day Saints strength and help them find peace in trial.

"My brothers and sisters, in our lives we will have temptations," he said; we will have trials and challenges. As we go to the temple, as we remember the covenants we make there, we will be better able to overcome those temptations and to bear our trials. In the temple we can find peace."

The last time Latter-day Saints saw more time pass without a new temple announcement was the six years between 1984 and 1990, a span that straddled the church presidencies of Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson.

In the 25 years since 1990, the church's membership doubled from 7.7 million members to more than 15.3 million.

Also during that time, the number of operating temples jumped from 44 to 144.

In April 2013, President Monson revealed plans for temples in Cedar City, Utah, and Rio de Janeiro.

Each of the new temples announced Sunday will make a major difference for Latter-day Saints in those nations.

Ivory Coast, which is in northwest Africa, has 22,000 church members. Those in Abidjan now face a 12-hour drive to attend the LDS temple in Accra, Ghana.

Church members in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, must take a day's journey across their Caribbean island to Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple. Haiti is home to 19,000 Latter-day Saints.

The nearest temple to Thailand is in Hong Kong, 1,000 miles away. The church has 18,000 members in 38 congregations in Thailand.