In 1830 the French invaded Algeria. They eventually conquered it in 1847 and then immediately colonized it. Over the next century thousands of French Europeans emigrated (or in some cases, were exiled) to Algeria. Europeans from other nations emigrated to Algeria as well.
When Algeria’s struggle for independence began in 1954, it had over one million French citizens of European descent living within its borders. Algeria declared its independence on July 3rd, 1962, and before the year was over 80% of them had been evacuated back to France.
The mainland French were not very welcoming towards them and began referring to them pejoratively as the “Pieds-Noirs” (Black Feet). By 1970 only 5% of French citizens of European descent still remained in Algeria.
Henri Pichot was the president of the North Africa Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist during that time and had chosen to remain in Algeria where he refocused our denomination’s work on ministry to the indigenous Algerian nationals who were mostly of Muslims of Berber descent. He had become a Seventh-day Adventist in his early 20s and had responded to the call to pastoral ministry shortly afterwards. He eventually became president of the Algeria Conference in 1945, then president of the North African Union in 1958 and served in that capacity until he died of an illness in 1966.
Some of his lineage can be traced back to the Waldensians. They had become known for the way they preserved, copied and distributed the Bible during the Roman Catholic persecution of the middle ages. In accordance with that tradition, during his life he treasured the Bible above all ther wordly possessions, holding God’s Word as a source of truth, wisdom and guidance that was unsurpassed by any other human document ever produced.
Marcel’s father, Paul, was the “third” of Henri Pichot’s 4 children—all boys. He was the “oldest” of the two youngest children, who were twins. Wanting to avoid joining the French army and fighting against Algeria during its struggle for independence, he traveled to the U.S. in 1957 and attended Atlantic Union College. There he met and married Edith Mentzer. They had 3 children, Eric, Marcel and Jackie.
At Atlantic Union College, then at Andrews University, Paul pursued a degree in Theology, then a Masters in Education and School Administration. When Marcel was 3, his parents got divorced and Paul married Diane Unsell with whom he remained married until 1992 when she died in a car accident. In the process of getting divorced, Paul had lost his job as a church school principal. After a few years of work as an interpreter, in 1971 he accepted a call from the General Conference to be a mission school director in Madagascar. From that time until his retirement in 2008, he worked for the church alternatively either as a Pastor or as a School Director. He presently lives in Tennessee where he is involved in his local church and still does some translation work for the General Conference.
Marcel was raised by Diane who was his stepmother. Diane’s father, Thomas Unsell, was a medical doctor whe eventually became a psychiatrist. At one point during her late teens she lived in Ethiopia with her family as her parents served as denominational missionaries.
Diane became a grade school teacher. Even though she didn’t know a word of French, she bravely followed her husband to Madagascar, Cameroon, and eventually Zaire. While she helped Paul out with various school responsibilities, her primary focus was on homeschooling her 4 children. Marcel was 18 years old when he found out that she was not his biological mother. At the time of her death, she was teaching all 8 grades the one-classroom/one-teacher Grayling Adventist Church School near Camp AuSable in Michigan. She is still dearly missed.
Marcel’s biological mother, Edith, was the daughter of Henry and Alice Mentzer who immigrated from Germany in the early 1920s. She pursued a degree in nursing at Atalntic Union College and spent her life working as a nurse. Shortly after Marcel discovered that she was his biological mother, Diane organized a trip to the U.S. for Marcel to visit her in 1985. But it wasn’t until years later, after he had graduated from college and was serving as a pastor, that he really connected with her in 1994. He has been in touch wih her ever since.