“Prophecy Fulfilled and Blessings Bestowed” could be the title of a new chapter in Church history that opens when Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve offered a blessing upon the land of Ukraine and continues through Aug. 29, 2010, with President Thomas S. Monson dedicating the Kyiv Ukraine Temple.
The chapter would cover a span of less than 20 years in which unprecedented events unfolded. Except for the early years of the Restoration, there has been no nation in which a temple has been built within two decades after the Church was introduced.
Elder Packer and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve and 41 other people gathered shortly before 7 a.m., Sept. 12, 1991, on a hillside overlooking Kyiv and the Dnieper River.
Elder Packer, in an interview with the Church News, said, “We met near the top of a hill in the center of the city near the base of the statue of Prince Vladimir who brought Christianity to what is now Ukraine 1,003 years earlier (in A.D. 988). He ordered that pagan images be removed and destroyed. Christianity spread from Ukraine to other lands in the region.
“It is interesting that on the same day we stood near Prince Vladimir’s statue to offer a blessing on the land of Ukraine, the statues of Lenin, who was the image or symbol of communism, were being pulled down.” (Elders Packer and Oaks walked a short distance from their hotel and witnessed the tearing down of one of the statues.)
In offering the prayer of blessing upon the land of Ukraine, Elder Packer said, “We are gathered here as missionaries and as members, a small group. This gathering is prescient of the tens and the hundreds and the thousands and the hundreds of thousands that will yet join Thy Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in this land. We see the day when there will be scattered in the villages here and there a member and yet another member and then a gathering and then a branch and, in due time, stakes of Zion set firmly and permanently upon the fertile soil of the Ukraine. And in due time, the spires of temples will be seen across this great land.”
Further, Elder Packer prayed: “As we dedicate this land, our Holy Father, we remember those who have lived here in generations past and now are gone. We pray that this moment might be the beginning of an emancipation of their spirits in the world beyond through the sacred sealing ordinances of the work for the dead that thou hast revealed. We pray that there will be an outpouring of the Spirit of Elijah, that the names will come forth, the records made available, and the ordinances performed for them in temples in other lands, and in due time in temples in this land.”
Less than 20 years later, prophecy is being fulfilled and prayers are being answered with the dedication of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple on Aug. 29.
Elder Oaks said that the dedicatory service began with the group singing “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning.”
Although he and others described it as “a beautiful day,” it was, in fact, raining. “We bowed our heads and closed our eyes,” Elder Oaks told the Church News. “When the prayer was finished, we looked up and saw a radiant light; the clouds parted and the sun was shining down on our little group.”
The brightness was reminiscent of the hymn Elder Packer referred to in the prayer as he noted the oppression of the people during a time when Christianity was suppressed and the clouds of darkness were so thick and palpable that “men and women hardly knew which way to walk. Now as we meet this morning … ‘The morning breaks, the shadows flee, Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled. …'”
Howard L. Biddulph and his wife, Sister Colleen Biddulph, had begun their assignment in Ukraine under the Austria Vienna East Mission on July 1, 1991, just slightly more than two months before the land was dedicated. In 1992, he was called to preside over the Ukraine Kiev (now spelled “Kyiv”) Mission. He conducted the meeting on the hillside.
Of the blessing offered by Elder Packer, Brother Biddulph told the Church News: “We saw all of those things happen to a dramatic degree during our mission of three years and then since. I’ve had occasion in capacity of working for BYU of coming to Ukraine with students and watching what has transpired. This is not only a temple for Ukraine, in less than 20 years, but the first stake in eastern Europe is also here; that was organized by Elder Russell M. Nelson in 2006.”
As did Elder Oaks, Brother Biddulph noticed the parting of the clouds as Elder Packer concluded his prayer: “Rays of the early morning sun were shining magnificently on the river and on the city below, as if to proclaim: ‘The morning breaks on Ukraine, the shadows flee. Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled in this ancient land!’ ”
He spoke of the progress of the Church in Ukraine, saying, “Elders Ivan Stratov and Brian Bradbury began Latter-day Saint missionary work in Kiev in October 1990. (Both were present when President Packer dedicated Ukraine.) By September 1991, approximately 70 citizens had been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The application to the government for official recognition of the Church in Kiev was granted on Sept. 9, and the number of full-time missionaries receiving visas to serve in Kiev rose to 20.
“By the close of our mission assignment in mid-1994, one Ukrainian Mission had become two, and more than 4,000 converts had been baptized in Kiev, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Makayevka, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, and Simferopol,” Brother Biddulph said.
On a return assignment to Ukraine on March 20, 1994, Elder Oaks spoke in a combined conference of the three districts in Kyiv. He said of his address to that conference: “While on my feet, I felt impressed to say to these people that at the rate of growth they had established and with the remarkable people they are, … if they remained faithful, they were likely to see a House of the Lord, a temple, in Ukraine in their lifetime. I told them to pray for that day, and the sister who offered the closing prayer began that tradition.”
Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, then of the Seventy and a member of the area presidency, said it was an overwhelming experience to be with Elder Packer and Elder Oaks on that historic morning of Sept. 12, 1991.
He said that for a number of years he worked with the Church Family History Department. In that capacity, he attended an archives international conference in Helsinki where a Russian man commented, “Genealogy — a western sickness.”
Elder Neuenschwander explained why the man had made that comment: “Most Russians and Ukrainians were not interested in family history. I wondered how in the world — with all that had happened in those countries — that members of the Church could be expected to do family history and genealogy; how could records have been kept safe through all that destruction and people being displaced. I thought perhaps the Lord would excuse the eastern Europeans from this responsibility.
“In direct fulfillment of Elder Packer’s promise, the Slavic people — Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Russians — are family and temple oriented. It has not been easy. They have been going to the Freiberg Germany Temple. Some have to sign up a year in advance to get a place on the bus to go to the temple.”
A new day, indeed, has dawned in Ukraine. A new chapter begins. Prophecy is fulfilled, blessing are bestowed.