Spiritual pilgrimage accomplished through sacrifice and faith


In the midst of a growing blizzard on Nov. 23, 1992, a group of Latter-day Saints boarded an old bus and set out on the first organized trip from Ukraine to the Freiberg Germany Temple.

There to see them off were Ukraine Kiev Mission President Howard L. Biddulph and his wife, Sister Colleen C. Biddulph.

"A few Russians, Estonians and at least one citizen of Ukraine had already individually received temple blessings, most of whom were departing full-time missionaries," said Brother Biddulph, who returned with his wife for the Kyiv Ukraine Temple open house, which concluded Aug. 21, and its dedication, which takes place Aug. 29. They served in Ukraine 1991-94. (The first missionaries to Ukraine arrived earlier in 1991, under direction of then-Austria Vienna Mission President Dennis Nuenschwander.)

Ukraine Saints previously traveled to the Freiberg Germany Temple.
Ukraine Saints previously traveled to the Freiberg Germany Temple. | Courtesy Howard Biddulph

Brother Biddulph, who spoke with the Church News and provided written reports, explained that the costs for traveling to the Freiberg temple were enormous for the average Church member. Yet "these spiritual pilgrims were able to find sufficient funds through great faith and sacrifice, combined with some real miracles," he said.

He told, as an example, of "a beautiful old widow," who lived in a one-room flat, which she rented out for one year, cash in advance, to obtain the necessary funds to travel to the Freiberg temple. She moved in with her adult son in his one-room flat during that year.

The Ukrainian government had to approve what its officials called the "Mormon Pilgrimage."

"Each Ukrainian traveler also had to receive a personal invitation from the Church in Germany before the German Embassy would issue visas," Brother Biddulph said. "Each family on the trip was required to carry one week's food, medical supplies, sleeping bags and other provisions with them on the bus because of the inconvertibility of Ukrainian currency."

The route to the temple took the group across Ukraine, Poland and eastern Germany, a distance roughly comparable to the pioneer trek from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake, Brother Biddulph noted, but instead of travel by covered wagon, these modern pioneers traveled in an old rented bus. The round-trip distance was more than 3,500 km (about 2,175 miles), two days and nights to get there, two days and nights at the temple, and two days and nights to return to Kiev.

Brother Biddulph said that when he and Sister Biddulph went to see the members off, they thought that the travelers' provisions were quite meager for a weeklong journey. "A solemn prayer and blessing on its occupants launched the old bus into a steadily growing blizzard. The historic journey had begun."

En route to the temple, the members sang hymns, prayed together, bore testimonies, read and discussed scriptures. They focused upon the blessings of the temple. They determined before they left Ukraine that they would shun sightseeing and shopping in Germany.

Arriving in Freiberg after midnight on the second day of travel, the Kiev Latter-day Saints were elated when they saw the temple's lighted spire above a low-lying fog.

"Spontaneously they cried out, thanking and praising the Lord," Brother Biddulph said.

Next door to the temple stood the first LDS meetinghouse that any of them had ever seen. German Latter-day Saints greeted the weary travelers and provided them food and bunk beds.

Early the next morning, Nov. 25, 1992, this first group of "spiritual pilgrims" from Ukraine entered the Freiberg temple. A "wonderful feeling of heaven" and of the "presence of the Savior" were some of the ways they later described their impressions upon entering the temple. The Germans watched their Ukrainian brothers and sisters pause as they approached the temple, kneel and pray, and reverently touch the outside masonry as they entered.

After the temple work of the second day was completed, the Ukrainian "pilgrims" boarded their bus to return to Kiev, traveling through two nights and two days to reach home. The return journey was one of rejoicing in the blessings and promises of the Lord.

Brother Biddulph said that during 1993 and 1994, the number of temple trips from Kiev to Freiberg dramatically increased. By mid-1994 (the end of the Biddulphs' mission) nearly 300 Latter-day Saints in Kiev had received their temple blessings, and about 50 had attended the temple more than once.

Meanwhile, the first temple trips from Donetsk, Kharkov and Odessa in Ukraine occurred in the autumn of 1994.

"This rapidly growing temple attendance by Ukrainian saints, as well as by Church members from Russia, Belarus, the Baltic States, Moldova and the Trans-Caucasian states, has occurred in spite of the deep economic crisis in these lands," Brother Biddulph said.

On Sept. 21, 1991, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve offered a prayer of blessing upon Ukraine, praying that "there will be an outporuing of the Spirit of Elijah, that the names will come forth, the records made available, and the ordinances performed for [Ukrainians of past generations] in temples in other lands, and in due time in temples in this land."

The East Slavic peoples are among that number, Brother Biddulph declared.

A few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian independence of 1991, the preferred spelling of this capital city became "Kyiv." "Kiev" is used in this article for references to the city and Church units in Ukraine prior to the 1990s.

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