Two apostles visited five European countries this September — addressing members and missionaries, creating stakes in two major cities, holding an area review, presiding at a seminar for 32 European mission presidents and their wives, meeting with government and faith leaders and checking on the status of temples under construction in Rome and Paris.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, and Elder M. Russell Ballard, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, traveled to Europe Sept. 6 to Sept. 16. They were accompanied by Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Nancy Maynes, and Bishop Dean M. Davies, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, and his wife, Sister Darla Davies, and members of the Church's Europe Area Presidency.
Elder Ballard said it is a great privilege to serve as a witness of the Savior Jesus Christ. "To be able to go out into the world and declare that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is the most marvelous privilege," he said after returning home from Europe. "To be able to be part of this work, in trying to bring the light of the gospel to the people of the world, is a great blessing."
Priesthood leadership meetings, held in Leeds and Manchester, England; Madrid, Spain; and Paris, France, served as bookends to the trip, during which the wives of the General Authorities also taught women leaders from the cities close by. In the special stake conferences that followed, Church leaders addressed some 12,000 Latter-day Saints from dozens of stakes.
"The Church is alive and well and progressing impressively in Europe," said Elder Oaks.
The trip marked Elder Ballard's fourth assignment in Europe in the last 90 days. Still, he was grateful to return to the British Isles, the area where he served as a young missionary that is rich in Church history. "The British Isles has made a contribution to the bringing up of the Church worldwide, which to me is a very significant thing that always needs to be recognized," he said.
Speaking of the priesthood leadership meetings in Leeds and Manchester, Elder Oaks noted that both cities are home to a "great multi-generational base of the Church. We met some converts, but we also met people who are third- and fourth- generation members of the Church," he said. "The Church is strong and mature."
Still, he said, Church members face many challenges in Europe, where the general trend is that religion is considered to be less and less important. "[Members] have worldly pressures bearing upon their youth and their families," he said.
Elder Ballard said in many countries members are bombarded with pornography, addictions and attacks on fundamental values and religious freedom. "All of these things destroy the possibility of men and women having faith in God and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ."
In several member meetings, Elder Ballard asked the full-time missionaries to come to the front of the congregation. In Rome, for example, some 50 full-time missionaries came forward.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to the problems in Europe, he explained, asking members to help the missionaries find people to teach.
Today "we have the greatest number of missionaries in the history of the Church," he said. "We all have to rally around this great work now. We all have to be missionaries. They have come here to teach the great message of the restoration."
Elder Ballard told the European members that the whole Church needs to "recognize the Lord is hastening His work of salvation and that we all have to be engaged."
The 30 mission presidents and two MTC presidents that attended the mission presidents seminar — held Sept. 10 to Sept. 13 in Versailles, France — are helping their missionaries learn how to teach, said Elder Ballard.
Elder Oaks said Church leaders also learned from the mission presidents some of the challenges they are facing, especially as they absorb a large number of new missionaries into their missions. In addition, they discussed the "special challenges we face with the many worldly influences in Europe and how do we respond to those challenges," he said.
Still the growth of the Church in Europe is evident.
"The increasing strength of the youth in Europe is remarkable" Bishop Davies shared after participating in stake conferences in York, England, and Brussels, Belgium. "They reflect the light of Christ and are fervent in their testimonies. They will be future leaders."
Elder Oaks said a "very exciting part of this trip was for Elder Ballard to go to Rome and to organize a new stake in Rome, where a temple is under construction, and for me to organize a new stake in Paris, where a temple will soon be constructed."
The stake in Rome is the second in that city. The creation of the stake in Paris, the third in the city and its surroundings, set in motion realignments that resulted in the absorbing of the last mission district in France. "Nine stakes and one district in France became 10 stakes covering all of France," said Elder Oaks, noting that local members were excited about this milestone in their country.
Elder Maynes, who assisted Elder Ballard with the creation of the new stake in Rome, said he was "very impressed with the experience and spiritual maturity" of the priesthood leadership in the country.
Elder Maynes said one of the primary assignments of the trip to the Europe Area was to attend and participate in an area review. "This is an opportunity to discuss the challenges and progress of the Church in Europe," he said. "Those attending the meeting included the visiting authorities, the Europe Area Presidency and key temporal affairs personnel. One of the highlights of the meeting was learning that sacrament meeting attendance in Europe has never been higher."
During the trip, Elder Oaks also had the opportunity to meet with government and faith leaders.
In London, he met with three different members of British Parliament.
"We had discussions about religious freedom," he said.
He also met with and discussed religious freedom with five Muslim leaders. "We talked at great length about the importance of religious freedom and the things that we have in common," Elder Oaks said. "What we have in common with the responsible leaders in the Muslim world is a great deal larger than our differences."
Elder Oaks said the work of the Church will move forward in Europe, thanks to a "loving, diverse and faithful" membership with great spiritual strength.