This is a post by Witteafval, who served a mission in the Netherlands from 1998-2000. He made frequent use of what he learned during his mission while pursuing a history degree at BYU. His LiveJournal blog, On My Mind, is followed by seven readers. Please go visit his blog and make it eight.
The Church’s introduction to the Dutch-speaking part of the world (the Netherlands and northern Belgium) took place over several decades of the nineteenth century. The first missionary to visit the Netherlands was Orson Hyde, who visited Rotterdam and Amsterdam in 1841 while en route to Jerusalem. During his stay, he met with some local Jewish leaders and wrote a letter to the Jewish people of those cities, which he then had translated and published in Dutch. This letter became the first non-English publication produced by a leader of the Church, though my own research has failed to uncover any copies of it.
Missionary work in the Netherlands began in earnest in 1861, when Elders Paul Augustus Schettler and Anne Wiegers van der Woude began sharing the restored gospel in the provinces of Friesland and North Holland. The first branch was organized in Amsterdam the following year, and missionary work among the Dutch was initially administered by the German-Swiss mission. An estimated 21,000 Netherlanders joined the Church during its first hundred years in that country; most of them emigrated to America.
The gospel was introduced to Belgium in 1888 through the efforts of Hungarian-born Mischa Markow, who had been baptized in Istanbul a year earlier and traveled throughout Europe, sharing the gospel with anyone willing to hear his message. Converts came more slowly from this predominately Catholic country, and the harsh conditions Belgians suffered during both world wars made it especially difficult for the Saints to remain there in any significant numbers.
Three different men who would become apostles served as missionaries in the Netherlands: Alonzo A. Hinckley, Sylvester Q. Cannon, and LeGrand Richards. Elders Cannon and Richards each served a second mission as mission presidents; the former assisted in translating the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price into Dutch, and the latter presided over the Dutch mission at the outbreak of World War I, when local members had to assume the burden of filling missionary roles as international tensions kept new American elders from entering the country.
Despite the evacuation of American missionaries from Europe before World War II, Dutch priesthood leaders had received enough training to keep missionary work alive during the war. Indeed, local missionary efforts brought in new converts at a rate similar to pre-war levels. But five years of no contact with the Church’s leaders in America took its toll on the Dutch Saints, as a number of apostate practices crept into various branches during the war years that required varying levels of correction and discipline when leaders from Church headquarters returned.
As Ezra Taft Benson led the Church’s efforts in rebuilding a devastated Europe, he suggested that the Dutch Saints could become welfare producers as well as recipients. They responded by growing potatoes wherever they could plant them. While they anticipated their first harvest in 1947, Walter Stover, president of the East German mission, petitioned the Dutch mission president for help on behalf of his starving members. The Dutch Saints chose to give their crop, 70 tons of potatoes, to their fellow Saints in Germany. A year later they gave 90 more tons of potatoes and 60 tons of herring to the Germans. David O. McKay later said it was the greatest act of Christian charity ever brought to his attention.
President McKay was the first prophet to visit the Netherlands, where he met Queen Juliana in 1953. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir toured the country soon afterward for the first time, and the Church became legally recognized by the Dutch government in 1955.
The 1960s began with a spike in convert baptisms, as Dutch missionaries saw three consecutive months of 111 baptisms in a year when more than 700 Netherlanders joined the Church. The Holland Stake was organized in 1961, the first stake in mainland Europe, as well as the first non-English speaking stake in the Church.
Two general authorities have originated from the Netherlands and Belgium. Jacob de Jager, originally from the Netherlands, joined the Church in Canada, partly through the efforts of Thomas S. Monson and his wife when they presided over the mission in Toronto. Charles Didier, from the French southern half of Belgium, served in the Presidency of the Seventy.
Elder L. Tom Perry formally dedicated the Netherlands for the preaching of the gospel in 1992, and Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated Belgium in 1998.
Construction of a temple was announced in 1999, to be built close to The Hague. At that time, Dutch and Belgian members comprised 1/6 of the patrons who visited the Frankfort Temple in Germany, but they provided
1/4 of the names for which ordinance work was done in that temple. After working through some negotiations and red tape, The Hague Netherlands Temple began construction in Zoetermeer a year after its announcement, and was dedicated in September 2002.
Western Europe has become a gathering place for people from many nations. Immigrants from eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Suriname have all come to the Netherlands, and Belgium has seen an influx of people from Africa and the Middle East as well. This demographic change presents new opportunities for the Church’s growth, allowing many who could not learn of the restored gospel in their homelands the potential of doing so in their adopted land.