TBILISI, Georgia The first branch of the Church in the republic of Georgia was formed here June 9 with six missionaries and 50 members of the Church. Elder Robert F. Orton of the Seventy and second counselor in the Europe East Area, and President Marvin Beckstrand of the Armenia Yerevan Mission organized the branch in this former Soviet Republic.
A relatively small country located in the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Georgia is a beautiful country known for its climate and agriculture. It is located at the crossroads of much commerce and has been fought over for centuries. There are currently 5 million people in the country with 1 million in the capital city of Tbilisi.
Growth of the Church in Georgia has been steady since it was dedicated in March 1999 by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.
The first humanitarian missionaries taught English and organized relief supplies for orphanages and other facilities for the needy. First meetings were held in the home of the couple missionaries, Elder Phillip and Sister Betty Reber, until facilities were rented in the Mitskevich Street building.
Because the Church was not recognized by the government, proselytizing was not allowed. Preaching the gospel was limited to those who made requests to hear the missionary discussions. Elder Vazha Natroshvili, who joined the Church several years earlier in the Netherlands, was the first member in Georgia. He accompanied the humanitarian service couples to teach the missionary discussions.
The first baptisms were a Georgian family, Bagrat and Manana (Gigauri) Mamasakhlisi and their children, Nana and Zura; and also a young adult from Armenia, Hike Bagdasaryan. Baptisms were held Sept. 25, 1999, in Armenia.
The brethren were also the first ordained to the priesthood. The first Primary was held Aug. 8, 1999; the first meeting in the Mitskevich Street building was held Sept. 15, 1999; the first priesthood and Relief Society meetings were held Feb. 22, 2000; and the first Young Women meeting was held March 5, 2000. Andrew Umurshadian was the first to graduate from Primary and be ordained a deacon.
By March 2000, there were 14 members in Georgia. With the baptisms of Rima and Rita Astvatsaturova, and Liola Ashotovna, membership grew to 30 by June 2001.
During this time, the free English lessons taught by the humanitarian service missionaries proved popular and were a means of making many friends among all classes of society. President Beckstrand organized the first group of the Church on Sept. 22, 2001.
Elder Blaine Wilson, humanitarian service missionary, was called as branch president, with Vazha Natroshvili as first counselor, and Victor Katsevich as second. Elder Sergai Umurshadian was called as elders quorum president.