Elder Russell M. Nelson pronounced blessings upon the lands and for the people of six nations in Southeastern Europe, Sept. 6-9.
After attending and participating in the dedication of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple on Aug. 28, Elder Nelson went to Rostov-na-Donu and Moscow, Russia, Aug. 30-Sept. 2; Stockholm Sweden, Sept. 3-4; and Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 10-13. He met with area leaders and members in each of these countries. (Please see related article on this page.)
In the midst of his travels, he went to six nations in the Balkans of Europe where he offered prayers of blessings on the lands and for the people of Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosina-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.
The blessings Elder Nelson offered upon these lands and for their people were in partial fulfillment of the Lord's declaration in 1843 to His servants: "And again, verily I say, whomsoever you bless I will bless.…" Doctrine and Covenants 132:47).
Elder Nelson said, "This is the order of the Church. In the 112th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says the Twelve are to go out and open the doors of the nations for the gospel, which will bless their lives.
"The significance is that we turn the key so that the forces of righteousness can begin to flourish, to bless the people so they can learn the commandments of God and prosper in the land. We leave blessings of peace and harmony.
"This message is especially significant in this part of the world that has known war, devastation and destruction through the centuries, even as recent as in the 1990s."
The nations in Southeastern Europe that Elder Nelson blessed were once part of the Soviet Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from the republic; by 1995, other nations had seceded. In 2003, the Yugoslav federation was replaced with the union of Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegro became independent in 2006.
During his travels in Southeastern Europe, Elder Nelson was accompanied by his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson; Elder Erich W. Kopischke of the Seventy and president of the Europe Area and his wife, Sister Christiane Kopischke; and Brother Johann Wondra, who serves in the Europe Area, and his wife, Sister Ursula Wondra. Slovenia/Croatia Mission President David H. Hill and his wife, Sister Dana Hill, accompanied him in Croatia and Slovenia.
Elder Nelson spoke of the history of the Church in the former Yugoslavia. "When he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Thomas S. Monson dedicated Yugoslavia in November 1985. In the dedicatory prayer that he offered, he blessed the people of that nation," he said.
"Since Yugoslavia has been dissolved, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve felt it was proper now to go to the individual components of that former country and bless the people in the current political configuration."
The first apostolic prayer Elder Nelson offered in the Balkans was on Monday, Sept. 6, in Zagreb, Croatia. "This was the city where President Monson dedicated Yugoslavia in 1985," Elder Nelson said.
Elder Nelson offered the prayer on Croatia at sunrise, 6:25 a.m., in the Relief Society room of the LDS meetinghouse in Zagreb. Twenty-six people were present, including Elder and Sister Nelson, Elder and Sister Kopischke, Brother and Sister Wondra and President and Sister Hill.
Elder Nelson said that typically prayers to dedicate lands are held outdoors, on a hillside, in a park or some other suitable location. "Usually, we dedicate a country where we don't have any chapels, but on this trip, two of the countries already have LDS chapels. We felt it was symbolic to offer the prayers in these buildings."
On the afternoon of Sept. 6, Elder Nelson offered a prayer on the nation of Slovenia and for its people. "Again, we met in a Relief Society room, this time in an LDS meetinghouse in Ljubljana."
In addition to Elder Nelson's official party, 24 others attended.
"We had a devotional that night for members of the Church, friends and neighbors in the Ljubljana chapel."
On Tuesday, Sept. 7, Elder and Sister Nelson, Elder and Sister Kopischeke and Brother and Sister Wondra went to Montenegro, where they were met by James and Michele Fowler, an LDS couple who live Podgorica. They and a small group of members in Podgorica assembled at the ruins of Doclea, remnants of a Roman Empire civilization dating back to the year A.D. 1.
"At those ruins I knelt in prayer to bless the land and the people of Montenegro," Elder Nelson said.
Later that day, Elder Nelson and his party went to their next stop, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he offered a prayer of blessing on that land and for the people.
"They like to call that 'the Olympic City,' because that's where the Winter Olympics were held in 1984.
"In Sarajevo we were met by two Latter-day Saint couples, Gary and Audra Sombke, and Ed and Brooke Rowe. The Sombkes live in Sarajevo, and the Rowes live in Banja Luka. We had an evening devotional at the Sombke home, with 35 people in attendance. We have no chapel there."
On Wednesday, Sept. 8, at sunrise, 6:15 a.m., Elder Nelson dedicated Bosnia- Herzegovina in the Vraca Memorial Park in Sarajevo, overlooking the city.
He and his group then traveled to Pristina, Kosovo, where they we were met by Richard and Wendy Sweeney, who live there.
"I knelt in prayer in a grove of trees in Germia Park," Elder Nelson said. "The trees were beautiful and it was so silent. I offered a special prayer on the land of Kosovo and for its people."
Elder Nelson and those traveling with him then went to the last of the six countries on his itinerary, Macedonia.
In Skopje, they were met by Sam and Andrea Juncker. "We had a nice gathering with 21 people at their home that evening," Elder Nelson said.
"On Thursday, Sept. 9, at sunrise, on Mount Vodno, we met in Kristovar Park. The evening before we had observed from our hotel room a large Christian cross on the top of the mountain overlooking the city. I looked it up on Google and found that this was the largest Christian cross on earth. We thought that was a perfect spot for a dedicatory prayer."
He noted with interest that Alexander the Great was born in Skopje, as was the Catholic humanitarian, Mother Teresa. "There is a rich heritage of history in Skopje," Elder Nelson said.
Elder Nelson said he was deeply impressed with the friendliness of the people of the Balkan nations. "It was a privilege to be of service to them," he said.