June 5, 2011: (Bob writing)
This weekend KLynn and I witnessed the creation of the first LDS stake in Russia. Elder Russell M. Nelson came and organized the Moscow stake. KLynn and I feel very privileged to be here at this time. It is now a Russian Church in Moscow. It was an unforgettable experience.
Elder Nelson recounted how in 1985 President Benson assigned him to open the doors of the Communist countries for the preaching of the gospel. At the time, the Church was not well received, to put it mildly. Elder Nelson told how he and Elder Hans Ringer came to Moscow in 1987 and attempted to meet with the Minister of Religion of the Soviet Union. The Minister would not return their phone calls, so they went to his office and refused to leave until he finally agreed to talk to them as he was leaving for the day. The Minister of Religion said that to be registered the Church needed eleven members within a single political district. Elder Nelson asked if the Church could open a reading room or something of the sort to gain the required number of members, and the Minister responded, "No, you need to be registered to do that." Elder Nelson asked, "But how can we get the required number of members?" The Minister responded, "That's your problem." Elder Nelson and Ringer went to the Kremlin and sat down to think, but they couldn't see a way out of the "chicken and egg" problem. Then Elder Nelson told how the Lord accomplished it for them. Without going into the truly remarkable details, which are recorded in published histories, within a short time eleven people had joined the Church who lived within a single political district in Leningrad. This enabled the Church to establish a National Religious Association. The Vice President of the Russian Federation announced the registration of the Church at a concert by the Tabernacle Choir in the Moscow Bolshoi Theater in June 1991 - twenty years ago this month. Elder Nelson recalled other remarkable experiences he had in the early years establishing the Church in Russia. I took notes in my journal as fast as I could write. Elder Nelson's son, who was one of the first missionaries to Russia, came with him and bore testimony. Also present today was Elder Dennis Neunschwander, who was the former president of the Vienna Austria East Mission when the gospel was first being introduced into the Communist countries. The area covered by the Vienna Austria East Mission now contains 22 separate missions. Elder Neunschwander later became the Area resident of the Europe East Area. He is now an emeritus general authority, and he and his wife are serving an 18 month service mission preparing the history of the Church in Eastern Europe. Today was a faith promoting, exhilarating, and emotionally draining experience. KLynn did a beautiful floral arrangement for the podium, which added significantly to the meeting. There was a feeling of excitement in the air, as the members sensed this was a significant step in the advancement of the Church in this part of the world. As I looked at the large assembly of people gathered for the conference I thought of the hundreds of missionaries who have served here over the past twenty years, and the tremendous investment of time and resources to bring the Church to this point. There is much more work to be accomplished, but today was a great milestone.