Author: Wilfried Decoo

I am a native of Belgium - the Flemish side. Born in 1946, I grew up in Antwerp. I obtained my B.A. from the Antwerp Jesuit University, my M.A. from Ghent University - both degrees in Romance languages. As a teacher of French and history I worked a few years in Central Africa for the Belgian Cooperation. Next I went to BYU where I finished a PhD in comparative literature. From 1974 on I spent most of my academic career at the University of Antwerp, as professor of applied linguistics and language education. In 1999 the department of French and Italian at BYU asked me to join their ranks, but I also retained an affiliation with Antwerp. I retired from BYU in 2011 and remain an "active emeritus' in Antwerp. I am a convert to the Church and have a strong testimony of the Restoration. My wife, Carine Decoo-Vanwelkenhuysen passed away in 2018, at age 58. We have one daughter, Ellen, born in 1988, who became a sociologist.

Two coalminers

Their story would have made an agreeable Ensign article were it not for that later development that ruined its beauty. Oh, believe me, I was tempted to censor the second part. But it would feel like cheating. Besides, the aftermath carries the morale of the story.

They govern themselves

A busy downtown intersection. No traffic lights, no road markings, no speed limits, no sidewalks, no pedestrian crossings. Cars, cyclists, pedestrians, all move on the same street level, side by side, carefully merging.

The dog

It happened in the back of the former living room we called our chapel. The church itself was an insignificant Flemish rowhouse. Thirty-six chairs crammed the room. Six rows of six. When half of them got filled, we boasted on the Church’s growth in our city.

No more foreigners

Our worldwide missionary effort is plurilingual. The Church has always been involved in outreach efforts to other tongues, now translating material into 185 languages. There are wards and branches, led in the local idiom, in 165 countries.

Missionary work versus religious correctness

When the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake were being announced, I remember how in our priesthood meetings in Provo exciting plans were forged to turn the event into a massive missionary opportunity: we would fill the streets with members passing out copies of the Book of Mormon and taking referrals.

Why I have a testimony

In my Belgian environment, I’m an oddity. A university professor who is a Mormon. Colleagues and students whisper about it. They can’t place me in the normal spectrum of the centuries old allegiances to our society. They wonder: how can this scholar believe the rigmarole of that foreign cult?

Love and a fence

They were all to their love. A silent, suffering love, eyes staring into eyes. Standing at a few inches from each other, the fence between them. A huge fence, of strong wire-netting that would not let a hand get through. Both were barely twenty years old.


– And, Brother Decoo, could you come in your native dress? It’s this time of the year again. Circus by the aliens. Officially it’s called Cultural Heritage Night, or International Fashion Show, or LDS WorldFest. Mormons love it.

Sweet spirit

I failed as a primary teacher. No, not in Belgium. Here in my Provo ward. But it cannot be said I did not try. Velcro, scissors, wax crayons, strings, glue, buttons, figurines. Scriptures and stories. We made the armor of God in cardstock, dressed King Lamoni’s sheep in wads of cotton, notched Nephites, laminated Lamanites, and did the Jaredite Journey Goose Game (“You are at the Tower of Babel. Can’t understand what they say. Lose 1 turn”). But at the end of each lesson, the little faces would look up at me and one would voice for all: – Do you have candy?


Sixty years ago the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. Behind the barbed wires, many of the survivors could not stand on their feet to greet the liberators. The average weight of an adult was 77 pounds. Emaciated, with hollow eyes, those breathing skeletons, covered with a thin layer of tensed skin, only experienced a shift in their nightmare, for the nightmare of their memories would last for the rest of their lives. More than one million people had been murdered in Auschwitz alone.


My parents died a few years ago, both in their nineties, after a fulfilling life and with the memories of having survived two world wars and sixty years of marriage on the Old Continent.

Opposed, if any?

The sustaining of the second counselor in the Relief Society Presidency in our ward was unanimous. The bishop, who asked the question for opposing votes, had just a quick glance over the audience, while gathering his papers to sit down. No opposing votes. Of course not. But again, I felt relieved.


Belgium, December 29, 2004. For days now I have been confronted with TV-images of bloated and rotting bodies littered along shores, of parents crying over the corpses of their children, of living children staring dumbfounded into a camera and holding up a note with their name and the question “Seen parents?” – while it is almost certain, after three days, they have become orphans. Thousands of orphans and they still cling to their note.

Dealing with Brother H.

I cannot remember when Brother H. came to our branch for the first time. Somewhere in the late seventies or early eighties. A middle-aged man, single, not too tall, graying hair, with lips drawn between an angelic and an ironic smile. Was he brought in by the missionaries or did he find us? I am not sure anymore. I tend to think the latter.

Part-Mormon couples

Married, but only one of the partners is Mormon. In the “mission field” such part-Mormon couples are numerous, probably more than in area’s where Mormons have lived for generations. Sociologists study this phenomenon among various affiliations. “Religious intermarriage”, “religious homogamy / heterogamy”, “interchurch / interfaith marriages” are some of the key words of this academic field of study.

On the left: pioneer ancestors and the International Church

To continue with the international perspective I was asked to give, here is one post that opens the door to some political debate… I hope it will not deviate too much from the questions asked at the end! Two items to set the perspective: 1) First, the vast majority of Mormon pioneers who came from Europe in the 19th century were people with leftist traits. Mostly workmen and craftsmen, dedicated to social justice, inspired by egalitarian dreams, they turned their back to an exploitative society. In Mormonism they found this galvanizing combination of religious conviction and communalist ideals (I said communalist, not communist). Letters and journals of the time testify to that outlook. Dirk Exalto, a Dutchman who converted to Mormonism in 1863, expressed it in these terms: “The lamentations of the workmen are crying out to God’s throne. The rich will moan and wail. But among the Saints in Utah is salvation. There equality reigns, there is love. There everyone is a workman!”

Primitive Church

The missionaries found me when I was 17. That was back in 1964 in Antwerp, Belgium. I read Joseph Smith’s history and Moroni’s promise. I knew it was true. Immediately, fully. The Gospel unfolded like the rising sun.