This article transcribed from the Millennial Star of 6 November 1919, 712-714, is posted in conjunction with Hubert Huysecom: “I Did All I Could”:
The Liege Branch During the Great War
It is a satisfaction and comfort to read a report like that which follows. To observe the manner in which the saints have been cared for during the great war, right in the midst of it, is most interesting. Surely the Lord has not been unmindful of them in their forlorn condition, left as they were like sheep without a shepherd, by the sudden withdrawal of missionaries from Zion, to assume the responsibility and take care of the abandoned flocks; and they have most nobly done so. Not only at Liege in Belgium, but in other places where the war compelled the missionaries to withdraw. It is a splendid testimony to all that, under whatever circumstances, the Latter-day Saints are in the special care of our heavenly Father, who does not forsake them. It is His work, and He will take care of His people. The whole history of the Church is proof of this. Its wonderful vitality, by which it has survived every conceivable onslaught and continued its steady growth, overcoming every obstacle and foe, should be evidence to the world of its unconquerable divinity.
The local priesthood of the Liege and Seraing branches are to be congratulated for their faith and devotion to the work. The showing they make of holding the congregation together and increasing their number by baptisms is most praiseworthy. The same good report comes from other parts of the mission. We must acknowledge the mercy and loving-kindness of the Lord in thus preserving His scattered and sorely tried people. Brother Horbach writes as follows:
“On the sixth day of August, 1914, the day of the bombardment of the city by the Germans, the missionaries (according to the information I could get at the American consulate) took the train at 7 p.m. to a calmer country.
“They had suddenly abandoned all that was here in Liege, only informing some members they saw by chance.
“For a fortnight and more we lived in terror of the Boches, who bombarded the forts, burned the houses, and plundered and shot the inhabitants. Ah! how we missed the missionaries during that time, and how the members would have been happy to meet to pray and hear the comforting words of the gospel! But for ten months we could not meet together; we were not even allowed to go in our meeting-room. Renting the hall by the month, and the last rent having been paid until August 31st, the furniture and other things lying there were considered by the landlord as belonging to the missionaries; consequently we could take nothing out of that room; and for ten months the landlord left all in place, expecting the return of the missionaries.
“Liege branch was thus left amidst a very incredulous people, with only one teacher, who was Hubert Huysecom, and two deacons, Brothers Charles Devignez and Arthur Horbach. The Seraing branch had two deacons called Maximilien Renard and Michel Pleger. One elder, Victor Pirotte, and one priest, Joseph Dieu, completed the local priesthood; but they dwelt so far in the country that they could only help us from time to time.
“At last, after ten months deferred hope, the members of the local priesthood, considering that the minds of the people were calmed, and that it was bad for them not to meet, decided to do the missionary work, even though they had never done so before; being too busy with their occupations of the day earning their living. Now that nobody worked, owing to the German occupation, it was possible for them to go and visit the members, to exhort and even distribute tracts and make propaganda.
“A member lends his house where we hold the first meeting, but the following Sundays, all the members being notified, that house is found to be too small and its location is not convenient for the members of Seraing, who came to meet with the members of Liege, as they found themselves in the same condition. After a mutual agreement, we meet Sunday after Sunday at the teacher’s, whose house is between Liege and Seraing. One year later we return, after many parleys, to our former meeting room, to the great satisfaction of the members in general: and take possession of the books and records of the Church to the great satisfaction of the priesthood in particular. Brother Horbach, who had been appointed secretary and treasurer, and who was the only member knowing English, undertakes the bookkeeping of the Church; while Brother Devignez had the charge of the Sunday-school lessons for the Theological department. The education of the kindergarten department was committed to Sister Belleflamme.
“It was in this way that we came to have meetings, Sunday-schools and Theological classes every week, in which we have felt always the Spirit of God. Besides, the members of both branches can testify they have always been highly favored amidst the other Belgians. The love of the gospel is at the bottom of their hearts, in spite of some weaknesses and some enmities that arose between them. That was inevitable, considering the conditions in which everybody lived. The best characters being irritated because of the want of everything. That is easily understood by us, who have suffered the same as all members. Misery and hunger change men into beasts. Happily the Lord’s Spirit always helped us, who have lived through those awful incomparable years. Study the lives of every one; we can testify that, in spite of the sufferings and misery, which reigned over the people, the Mormons always showed themselves better than the rest of the population. they have kept their faith living, while thousands of other persons have given themselves up to superstition or incredulity.
“During this terrible war we have seen the power of the Almighty manifested many times. The sick were healed by the laying on of hands, and while epidemics decimated the non-Mormon families, our members maintained health. In spite of all vicissitudes and difficulties, tithing has been paid by the greater part of the members. The Lord’s Spirit assisted us in our misfortunes. When two brothers were angry with each other, the moral influence of our religion reconciled them. We also made progress; the branch statistics give us the highest number of members. We baptized fourteen people, but unhappily we had nine deaths during this period of warfare.
“Actually, the branches are in good condition, but we long for the return of the missionaries. Here in Belgium, and especially in the Liege country, the missionaries were much loved by the people. They were indeed the spoiled children of every one. I think that no one of the elders that have now returned to Zion will say that Belgium is a country where they were badly received.
“It is not possible for us to give an appreciative account of the Brussels branch, being too short a time in connection with it.
“If this little summary can be of any use, we shall be very well satisfied. For the local priesthood,
“R. HORBACH, Secretary of the Belgian Mission.”
It will be most interesting and welcome to our readers if officers of other outlying branches, which have passed through peculiar periods of stress such as these have, will send briefly such narratives as the above. Let them be concise, and state only facts of significance.
J[unius]. F. W[ells].