Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve was welcomed to Samara, Russia, on Oct 23 with the traditional bread and salt ceremony presented by a group of members dressed in native costume while singing folk songs. He was accompanied by Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer of the Seventy and a counselor in the Europe East Area Presidency, and his wife, Jo Ann Schwitzer. They spent two days in Samara. Earlier, they visited with and addressed members in Voronezh on Oct. 20 (Please see Growth of Voronezh Branch is story of faith) and Nizhniy Novogorod on Oct. 21. (Please see Wondrous history)
In Samara, Elder Nelson met with the 70 full-time missionaries serving in the Russia Samara Mission. "Why does the Lord use a young man or young woman to teach the gospel?" he asked. "The Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible. That is His pattern," he said.
He left them with a blessing of health and safety, a desire to be obedient, to have joy in their work and rejoicing in the privilege of teaching the gospel to the Russian people and success in their labors.
Sister Nastia Bykuzina said, "I am the only member in my family. It will be nice to have a home of my own where it isn't unusual to have family prayer and have pictures of Christ on the walls of my house."
During a Saturday evening session of the weekend conference, Elder Nelson asked that the people of Russia have one night a week to have a happy family time, to teach the children to pray and to have family scripture study.
"Something amazing happened today," said Paulina Zolotova. "It was a miracle. I found answers to my questions today. I learned how I can help my children to be stronger and exactly what to teach them and what to talk to them about. Elder Nelson told us about the challenges his family overcame to have family scripture study, and we have the same challenge. It was nice to be reminded that it can work."
Another sister said, "There are only two of us in the Church. It is very hard to stay active. But when I was listening to Elder Nelson, I thought that everything that is happening to us in our daily lives is much more important than we think."
During the Sunday morning session of the conference in Samara, Elder Nelson said that even though there are no temples in Russia, "we have been encouraged by the prophets of today to establish the temple of the Lord as a symbol of our faith and membership in the Church."
The Church will continue to grow here, he said while admonishing the members to be worthy of temple recommends.
The Russian members were grateful that Elder Nelson and several other leaders shared brief testimonies in Russian. One sister responded, "It testified to me that they love us and want to know our language. They want to understand us."
Sister Julia Ermakova said, "I loved Elder Nelson's Russian. Everything was right." Sister Lusine Badalyan said, "I felt the Spirit the moment I entered the room, and I still feel the Spirit even after the meeting is over." Sister Kateya Bukholtzeva said, "I will never forget these two days. I loved these days. I don't want to leave!"
Samara is a city of more than 1 million people set along the banks of the beautiful Volga River. It is the center of city life, and the former center of the Russian space program.
Four branches of the Church are organized in Samara. In Toliatti, a large neighboring city along the Volga, there are another three branches.
Missionary work in Samara is going extremely well due to faithful members who are actively engaged in finding and teaching with the missionaries, said President Randall Bennett of the Russia Samara Mission.