New knowledge leads to new life

Because of his courageous exploits while serving in the Belgian and French underground during World War II, Joseph Troffaes became a legend in his homeland.

He once escaped from a Nazi prison camp in Germany and returned to the underground. Captured a second time, he was sentenced to death. He survived only because the war ended and his captors were defeated.But the wartime experience left him seared spiritually. After the war, he said, "I continued with my life, but I was not close to the Lord. I did not believe in God, either during or after the war.

"I just went my own way and, in fact, I had a pity for people who had a belief."

The Book of Mormon changed that. After reading the book many years later, he gained a testimony that God does live.

After his baptism, he became an active member missionary and later served as the first district president in Belgium. He is known as a stalwart of the Church in this city.

The story of Joseph Troffaes is a classic account of how God's love for man can heal wartime wounds.

"I was 19 years old when the war started," he explained. "Three days later I was ordered, with six or seven other young men, to go to France to resist the Nazi occupation. I really hoped I could get to England, but it didn't happen."

Soon France fell and Belgium was occupied. The people openly wept, but that was only the beginning. Food shortages followed, enemy troops patrolled in the streets, and hardships abounded. Many resistance soldiers put aside their uniforms and guns and retreated to hide in their homes. Troffaes, though, stayed to fight. He worked in the underground, and his efforts brought disruption to the Nazi war machine.

So valiant were his efforts that he was recognized by the French people in July 1940. But conditions grew worse and some Belgians responded to the Nazi promise of work and food. During this period, Troffaes moved about the country where he secretly mapped the military placements and strongholds.

He was successful in his efforts, but failed to elude the Gestapo and was arrested and jailed. Worse yet, his maps were found.

Troffaes was sent to a prison camp in Germany, but he knew his future was at best uncertain. Through trickery he managed to escape. He obtained a change of clothing and was given a captured bicycle by sympathizers. He rode the bicycle into Stuttgart, Germany, undetected. There he managed to acquire a suitcase that contained a Nazi youth uniform. Dressed as a Nazi youth, and with some skill in the German language, Troffaes made his way to Kehl and then across the Rhine River into France. With another change of clothing, he made contact with the French secret service.

"They accepted me," he said. "I was given a pass with which I hoped to go to Spain. The plan did not work, and again I was arrested and again put in prison. This time it was a death camp. I kept a list of names of Belgian people who were put to death."

Troffaes survived long enough for the war to end. With his freedom he returned immediately to his home in Antwerp.

"I lived a busy life, working hard to provide for my family. One evening my doorbell rang. I was expecting some people, but found two young men at the door. They simply said, `We would like to talk to you about Jesus Christ.'

"I was taken aback and responded with a curt, `I don't know what you can tell me." '

"You would be surprised," the missionaries answered.

"I let them in, but only until my expected guests arrived. In that short time, they gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon. I listened to their message. For some reason I promised I would read the book, and they promised to come back in a week," he explained.

When the week passed, Troffaes had read only 36 pages and he was embarrassed when the missionaries called. He made another promise, "Come back in a week and I will have the book read," he said.

"This time I kept the promise. I read the book. It was a book of history written in many styles, but I couldn't see that it was a book of God."

The elders challenged him to pray about the Book of Mormon, to ask God if it was true, and said they would return in three days.

"I locked myself up and found courage to pray," said Troffaes. " `I don't know you, and I don't know if Jesus Christ is your Son, but if it is so, let me know,' I prayed. Nothing happened. I had the book in my hand, but nothing happened."

He was soon to leave for a business trip and thought that would be a good opportunity to break away from the missionaries. He asked his wife to return the book to them and explain that he had gone far away.

"She thought I should face the elders, but finally accepted, and I left on my trip."

It was while he was driving and thinking about the events and his prayer that the answer came. The impressions were so strong and the feelings so vivid that he stopped his car and went to the nearby trees to pray.

"I knew then that God was real," he said with tears in his eyes. "I knew the Book of Mormon was true, and I knew that Jesus was the Savior of the world. I knew I had to change my life and give up all the bad things I had been doing."

Joseph Troffaes became a member of the Church in March 1969.

Since that time, he has been as dedicated to the Church as he was to his country during the war. He became a leader in the Church and a friend to the missionaries over the years. Indeed, he has been a great missionary himself, using his skill in five languages to share his testimony with many people.

"I have seen many, many missionaries and I remember them," he said. "Some have returned with their wives and children to visit.

"Our Belgian people have accepted the gospel over the years, and our branches have grown until we have wards and a stake. My testimony has grown too. The gospel is wonderful."

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