TRENCIN, Slovakia — Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve climbed a hill not altogether far from the city of his birth, and while overlooking the ancient castle of Tencin, prayed in a meadow of trees to dedicate the young country of Slovakia for the preaching of the gospel.
"I could see in the faces of all those who came from across the country to be with us that morning the love they have for the Lord and His gospel," said Elder Uchtdorf, who was born in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, in 1940. "They sensed the historical significance of the day and wanted to be there."
Since Elder Uchtdorf's visit and prayer of dedication of the land on May 12, members and missionaries have demonstrated new vigor and vitality for the work, said President G. Fred Yost Jr., of the Czech Prague Mission. From across the mission, members and missionaries are looking forward to government recognition of the Church.
It is a cumbersome project, said President Yost. But "these are the most dedicated members and missionaries anywhere, and we will be successful."
On the morning of the dedication, 56 members and missionaries accompanied Elder Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, as well as President Yost and his wife, Susan, and the Brno District presidency, to a hilltop overlooking the historic land of Slovakia shortly after sunrise.
The Slovaks are "a believing people," Elder Uchtdorf said. "They are close to nature. They are people who know the struggle for freedom. They relate to the gospel message of freedom, faith, unity and family.
"The Church may grow slowly, but I feel it will grow strong with a firm foundation."
The Slovak people have a history of being religious, he said, including those who were persecuted and martyred in defense of Christianity as recently as just before World War II.
"I feel that the Slovak people will see that what we are bringing is worth standing up for."
The Slovak culture is different from others in former eastern bloc countries who are often atheistic after years of communist rule, he said. "Slovak people are more believing in Christ."
Among those who attended were twin girls just barely two years old. The oldest in attendance was 74.
Slovakia was formed in 1993 when the two cultures of Czechoslovakia claimed their independence from each other by mutual agreement. The Velvet Divorce of 1993, as it is known, created the modern-day nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Tucked away in the heart of Europe, generally unknown to many, Slovakia borders Austria to the west and Hungary to the south. Inscriptions by Roman soldiers date the city of Trencin to A.D. 179, making it one of Slovakia's three oldest cities, including the capital of Bratislava and Nitra.
Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 following World War I when the Czech and Slovak people, who had often been ruled by other powers, were united.
Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated Czechoslovakia in 1927. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Twelve offered a prayer of gratitude in 1990, the year the Czechoslovakia Prague Mission was organized. The first missionaries from that mission were sent to the Slovakia area in 1992.
Sometimes perceived as the poorer of the two countries, Slovakia is a new member of the European Union, a beautiful country emerging as a modern nation, Elder Uchtdorf said. — Shaun B. Stahle