I can say, as Nephi said, that I was “born of goodly parents” (1 Ne. 1:1). During World War II my father was captured by the Germans when they invaded Belgium. He escaped and disappeared into the underground (an opposition group). As a young child, I remember seeing my father only once or twice. He made very short visits, then disappeared again into the underground, where he was a radio operator.
Even when the war was over, he didn’t come home right away but went to Germany with the Belgian army. Then he was assigned to another city in Belgium. Fortunately, my mother was a very strong and faithful person. When my father was away, she was the head and the strength of the family.
We were not Latter-day Saints, but I have always had faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That has never been in doubt for me. I don’t know where my faith came from. I grew up in a typical European home. We did not go to church, and we never prayed in our home. Yet as a child, I knew. I had faith. It was a spiritual gift I could never deny.
As a teenager, I lived with my family on a hill in Namur, Belgium. We often noticed missionaries pushing their bicycles slowly uphill or riding swiftly back down. One day they came to our house. Knowing they were Americans, we were curious and invited them in. It was 1951, and I was about 16 years old.
When the missionaries started talking about religion, we four children were not too interested, but my mother listened and kept inviting them back. As they taught her, she gained a testimony of the Church. Then came the question of baptism. My mother’s parents didn’t want her to be baptized, and my father was in Germany in the army. He came back only once a month for a two- or three-day visit. My mother got his permission, however, and was baptized. But he insisted that we children wait and make our own decisions when we were older.
In the meantime, we attended church with our mother. I went mostly because I wanted to perfect my English. I participated in the youth activities. It was a very good experience because I learned how to sing, dance, and act in the theater. I became acquainted not only with the Church but with the missionaries. I was getting closer to them in age, and we became good friends. They were in our home at least two or three times a week.
When I turned 21, I attended college in Liège, a city about 65 kilometers from home. The missionaries challenged me to be baptized, and I had to make a choice. It was a matter of testimony. I had questions about the Book of Mormon. I was 95 percent converted, but I needed a spiritual confirmation. The missionaries helped me find it by teaching me to pray, praying with me, and helping me recognize the answers I received. I was soon baptized. Since that time in that small branch, I have continued to grow in the gospel.
My faith helped me when I experienced peer pressure. I was the only member of the Church in college and later in Belgium’s air force. To resist temptations, I had to turn somewhere. I could not just turn to a magazine or a book. I had to have the internal strength that comes from a testimony of Jesus Christ. Once you have faith and rely on it, you will be strengthened even more. Faith becomes your determining factor in making decisions and moving forward.
My father never did join the Church, but he was a fervent supporter of it because he could see its blessings in the lives of his wife and four children. (My sister and two brothers were also baptized.) Prior to his death, he asked me to give him a priesthood blessing, and I did. We had a very special conversation, and he confided in me for the first time that he had faith. Coming from him, this was a major step.
With age, physical challenges are starting. At the end of last year I suddenly had a serious back problem. I was unable to move or to function normally. Through a priesthood blessing and my faith in the Lord, my back got better.
I think faith is our “homework” as Latter-day Saints. When you go to school, you have a textbook, but unless you do the homework each night, you don’t progress. The scriptures are our gospel “textbook,” but we have to do our homework. Our faith needs to be practiced. Faith without works is dead (see James 2:17).
My message to you children is to listen to your parents and follow their teachings. I had a foundation in my life from the teachings of my mother and my father, who were great examples. They were not perfect and your parents may not be perfect either. But if you can separate their problems from the true principles they teach and follow by faith, you will be blessed for it. If you will turn to your parents and to the Lord, it will make a big difference.