On March 17, 1993, with his back to the Baltic Sea, Elder James E. Faust, of the Quorum of the Twelve, dedicated the country of Latvia in Eastern Europe for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was in front of a small gathering of missionaries and new members.
Sixteen years later, on Aug. 29, 2009, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve, became the second apostle to visit Latvia. Elder Ronald A. Rasband, senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy, and Elder Wolfgang H. Paul of the Seventy and president of the Europe East Area, accompanied Elder Perry on this visit. Also in attendance were Sister Barbara Perry, Sister Melanie Rasband and Sister Helga Paul.
Accompanied by Baltic Mission President Douglas L. Dance, they began their visit to Latvia by going to historical, architectural and religious sites in the capital city of Riga. Seeing evidences of some of the tragic sacrifices for freedom, Elder Perry commented on the great spirit of the Latvian people and their preparedness to hear the message of the gospel.
Latvia was a pawn in World War II and a former Soviet Union satellite country. Because it is on a key east-west trade route it has been invaded and controlled by outside powers for centuries. Desires for freedom and self-rule cost the lives of many Latvians, particularly in the 20th century. Latvia experienced a brief period of independence in the early 20th century; but it was not until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 that a democratic and independent Republic of Latvia was again re-established.
With this independence, Latvia joined the first opening wave of the gospel in Eastern Europe. The first missionaries arrived in Riga on June 17, 1992. A few months later, Elder Faust unlocked the doors of Latvia to the preaching of the gospel. Since that day, almost 50 Latvian young men and women have served, or are now serving, full-time missions throughout the world. More than 800 members of the Church gather in six branches that are led by Latvian priesthood leaders and sisters. Elder Gvido Senkans, one of the first members in Latvia, now serves as an Area Seventy. The Church has constructed two meetinghouses in Latvia, one in Riga and one soon to be dedicated in Liepaja. Families are being sealed and their children are receiving baptism. Second-generation members are joining recent converts to establish the Church in Latvia.
During his historic visit, Elder Perry, along with Elder Rasband and Elder Paul, met and taught missionaries from the Baltic Mission in Riga. In the morning they instructed the missionaries to tap into the hearts of the people by using the Book of Mormon, to always find people to teach through asking for names from everyone, and to take advantage of the power of their companionship and become master teachers.
Later that day, a meeting was held with members and investigators. Forty-five minutes prior to the meeting, more than 400 members from all three of the Baltic States had gathered in Riga. Many of them had traveled for hours by train, bus or automobile. They were excited that, for the first time in their lives, they would have the opportunity to receive counsel from an apostle and other servants of the Lord in their own country.
One couple, baptized in July 2008, felt such a strong desire to attend that they prayed for two weeks that a way might be opened for them to do so. Oskars Straupmanis learned that he would have to work that day and their car was not running. Their prayers were answered when first, a co-worker offered to work for Brother Straupmanis, and second, a relative loaned them his car in exchange for help in fixing it. Brother Straupmanis bore a touching testimony of the blessing of being able to attend and hear the counsel of Elder Perry. His testimony of the power of prayer has been strengthened and he is more confident that, through prayer and fasting, they will receive needed help in solving their problems.
Elder and Sister Paul, Elder and Sister Rasband, and Sister Perry taught and testified of Christ's gospel. Then, following performance by a young single adult choir, Elder Perry taught the members that when a person is baptized, he or she becomes a member of the great family of the Church. He taught that Christ built the Church for time and all eternity. Elder Perry promised the members that if they will bring their friends and neighbors, and if they will remain faithful, the windows of heaven will be opened and blessings will be poured out upon them. He testified that Thomas S. Monson is the prophet chosen by the Lord in this day and that the Savior leads this Church.
Elder Perry told the members that they are preparing Latvia for those who will come after, children and grandchildren. He counseled, "Reach out and establish the Church that will grow into wards and stakes."
Henrihs, Vera and Lidija Spalvens traveled to Riga from the city of Daugavpils, Latvia. After the meeting, Sister Spalvens stated, "I know that Elder L. Tom Perry was called by God. I know that those simple words about our life and growth of the Church have great, great depth. This meeting assured me that our small branch will soon grow to be part of a stake."
Brother Spalvens added, "During the meeting and after it, we were filled with a special spirit. Our hearts were open to every word, to every gesture of the apostle. His eyes radiated streams of love."