The Church is experiencing exciting, historical moments in the Europe East Area. Last summer, President Thomas S. Monson dedicated the area's first temple with the opening of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple. And three weeks ago, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the Russia Moscow Stake, the nation's first.
But even as the tens of thousands of members in the Europe East Area celebrate recent milestones, there is much to be learned from the region's LDS history. During his recent visit to the area, Elder Nelson took a few moments to pay tribute to the Church's pioneer past in eastern Europe. Such pioneers — including many who are still alive and laboring faithfully in the congregations and communities — played pivotal roles in helping the Church take its maiden steps in this area of the world.
After organizing the stake in Russia on June 5 (See June 11, 2011, Church News, pages 3-4), Elder Nelson traveled to St. Petersburg to preside over a district conference and meet with missionaries. While speaking to some 500 people in attendance at the district conference, the Apostle spoke of the Russian "pioneers" and their priceless, essential service and contributions. He recalled the joy he and other Church leaders felt in 1995 when Vyacheslav I. Efimov became the first Russian native to be called as a mission president, serving in the Russia Yekaterinburg Mission.
Elder Nelson met with President Efimov and his wife, Galina, when the couple traveled to Utah to participate in the new mission president's training seminar before they began their calling.
"We showed them the page proofs of the Doctrine and Covenants in the Russian language," said Elder Nelson. "President Efimov had never seen the Doctrine and Covenants in Russian, and when he saw it for the first time in page proof form, he and his wife wept for joy."
President Efimov died unexpectedly at a young age after fulfilling his mission. His passing saddened Elder Nelson and many others who had high hopes for President Efimov's continued Church service in Russia. The Apostle found comfort in knowing he was likely performing missionary work on the other side of the veil.
Elder Nelson then asked if Sister Efimov was in attendance at the St. Petersburg district conference. "And way in the back, there she was." He invited her to come forward and share her thoughts and testimony.
"Sister Efimov talked about how she and her husband are partners in missionary work," said Elder Nelson. "President Efimov is working on the other side of the veil, and she's working on this side of the veil. They are still united in missionary service."
As Sister Efimov shared her testimony, "there was not a dry eye in the place."
St. Petersburg is a special place for Elder Nelson. His granddaughter, Sister Lindsay Irion, is serving in the Russia St. Petersburg Mission — a mission presided over by native Ukrainian, President Gennady Podvodov. The Apostle — who has participated in the Church in Russia since its beginnings — takes pleasure in knowing his own granddaughter is serving in a mission presided over by a Russian-speaking priesthood leader.
"The dear Russian people who love the Lord can finally hear the truth of the restoration of the gospel in its fullness and receive the blessings of eternal glory in the celestial kingdom with our Heavenly Father," he said.
While in Russia, Elder Nelson also presided over an annual review of the Europe East Area. He was joined in his review by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy. They were joined in their travels by their wives, Sister Wendy Nelson and Sister Kathy Ann Clayton.
The Brethren reviewed the affairs of the Church in the area with members of the Europe Area Presidency, Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer and Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy and many of their associates. The third member of the area presidency, Elder Aleksandr N. Manzhos, an Area Seventy, was excused to participate in the marriage of his daughter in the Kyiv Ukraine Temple.
"The area presidency is doing a fantastic job managing the affairs of the Church," said Elder Nelson. "They are responsible for more than 40,000 members, 14 missions, two stakes, 25 mission districts, and deal with 10 different languages."
Elder Nelson returned to Church headquarters hopeful for the coming days and years for the Church in Russia and eastern Europe. "They are good missionaries. They joyfully share the gospel with their friends and family because they know what it's like to be without it. They enjoy great missionary opportunities."