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BYU Religious Studies Center
"Mission President or Spy? The True Story of Wallace F. Toronto, the Czech Mission and World War II Spy" is by Mary Jane Woodger.

"MISSION PRESIDENT OR SPY? The True Story of Wallace F. Toronto, the Czech Mission and World War II" by Mary Jane Woodger, BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, $21.99, 235 pages (nf)

Provided by Covenant Communications
Mary Jane Woodger

When he was 20, Wallace “Wally” Toronto was called to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany. Less than a year into his mission, he was reassigned to serve as one of the first missionaries in the newly opened Czechoslovak Mission. In “Mission President or Spy? The True Story of Wallace F. Toronto, the Czech Mission and World War II,” Toronto’s experiences in what is now known as the Czech Republic and Slovakia make for inspirational reading.

At the young age of 29, Toronto moved his young family to Czechoslovakia while he presided over the church’s mission. Their stay was cut short by World War II and they had to return home to Utah. Less than 10 years later, Toronto’s call to preside over the area as mission president was extended. Now, with a much larger family, they became firsthand witnesses to a country’s freedoms cut short by communist dictators. Eventually, all the missionaries and the Toronto family were suspected of being American spies and ultimately forced to leave as the country closed its doors to outsiders.

Comment on this story

Reading about the Torontos’ experiences is a wonderful way to learn about a time in history at a microlevel rarely recounted in standard history books. Author Mary Jane Woodger does a great job focusing on the important aspects of the Czech mission; she also gives highly interesting details such as how the move affected various members of the Toronto family that really help give this book a heart many biographies lack.

“Mission President or Spy?” is a clean nonfiction book. While some of the atrocities of World War II are recounted, they are done in a classy, yet historical manner. There is no romance and less-than-stellar language is limited to one quoted crudity.

Woodger is a BYU professor of church history and doctrine. The recipient of many awards, she resides in Utah.