When Elder Ronald A. Rasband meets with Latter-day Saints in Europe, he often reflects upon his own Church connection to the continent.
Six generations ago, several of Elder Rasband's ancestors from Denmark and England made a life-changing decision to be baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and become pioneers. Their choice to act in faith and embrace the gospel continues to bless lives almost two centuries later — including Elder Rasband and his family.
During his recent tour of the Church’s Europe East Area, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles promised that similar blessings await the progeny of Eastern Europe’s modern-day pioneers.
“I wanted to impress upon those ‘pioneers' that the decisions they are making today will impact future generations; I am a witness to that,” he said. “I told them that they are not only living their lives for themselves, they are living for future members of the Church that will come after them — members of their own families.”
Many of the Latter-day Saints that Elder Rasband and Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy visited May 22 - June 3 in the Europe East Area are Church converts.
Such first-generation members — hailing from nations such as Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Armenia and Georgia — share the same duty Elder Rasband’s pioneer ancestors faithfully fulfilled long ago.
“Much of what happens in the future in these countries rests on their shoulders,” he said. “Through their efforts, they will build a multigenerational Church…. We’re going to continue to grow and direct and bring souls to Jesus Christ.”
Elder Rasband and Elder Kearon — along with their wives, Sister Melanie Rasband and Sister Jennifer Kearon — met with thousands of members and missionaries in a variety of gatherings in eastern Europe, both in person and via live broadcast. The visiting Brethren also participated in the annual review of the Europe East Area in Moscow.
The Europe East Area is geographically vast, stretching across 11 time zones. Between the two of them, Elder Rasband and Elder Kearon ministered to Latter-day Saints in Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria and Estonia. They were joined at various locations by the Europe East Area Presidency — Elder James B. Martino and Elder Christoffel Golden, both General Authority Seventies, and Elder Alexey V. Samaykin, an Area Seventy.
At each gathering, the visiting leaders were introduced to Latter-day Saints devoted to the gospel in their respective communities. “The work of the Lord is moving forward,” said Elder Rasband.
Elder Samaykin said the visit of Elder and Sister Rasband was exceptional for members of the Church in Russia. Some members traveled overnight by train for the opportunity to hear and shake the hand of an apostle, the Area Seventy said. “Some members also felt that their prayers had been answered. That was indeed an uplifting experience which filled members with a spirit of hope, love and happiness. Everyone felt that we all belong to one eternal gospel family.”
Worshipping alongside the Eastern European members “was a wonderful — a very positive experience,” added Elder Kearon, who has frequently visited Russia during past ecclesiastical assignments.
Members and Church volunteers in Russia are jointly committed to their faith — even while observing the legal guidelines of the land.
“Within the framework of the law, our Church is operating in a wonderful way that builds faith in the Lord and teaches people the doctrine,” said Elder Rasband.
“Wherever the Church operates,” he added, “we are a Church that obeys the law. We enter the ‘front door’ and go in the right way… and then we operate the Lord’s Church. It’s working great.”
Both members and volunteers in Russia, Elder Kearon said, are “looking less at what we can’t do and more at what we can do.”
Connecting the youth
Protecting and developing the youth of the Europe East Area remains a top priority. The vastness of the region poses logistical challenges in getting young people together. But they are both resourceful and resilient. Leaders are utilizing social media and other technologies to connect young Latter-day Saints and organizing Young Single Adult gatherings wherever possible.
“They have got to have a way to meet, greet and talk,” said Elder Rasband.
Local priesthood and auxiliary leaders are also emerging across the Europe East Area and are guiding their fellow citizens and Saints. Elder Rasband points to men such as Minsk Belarus District Branch President Mikhail M. Davydik as evidence of the commitment and capacity of Latter-day Saints across the Area.
In each region visited, “we saw that leadership, especially among the younger generation,” Elder Rasband said.
Elder Kearon said throughout his travels, he met “excellent young couples who will lead the Church into the next 20 or 30 years.”
Follow the prophet
Even as Elder Rasband was traveling across Eastern Europe fulfilling his apostolic duties, he was also closely following the travels of President Russell M. Nelson during the Church president's recent Pacific Ministry Tour.
He drew upon President Nelson’s “10 teachings” to the Pacific Saints in his teachings with the Eastern European Saints.
He spoke about “God being our Father” and “Jesus Christ being His beloved Son.” He addressed the importance of agency and testified of paying tithes and offerings and serving in the temple.
“I told the Russian members not to get discouraged that they don’t have a temple in Russia right now,” he said. “The prophet has announced a future temple. Be assured, we are going to have a temple in Russia.”
Elder Rasband also shared key principles from the Articles of Faith — including the Ninth Article of Faith: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
That restored truth is being realized in the real-time direction of President Nelson, he said. “It’s happening in Russia (and throughout the Europe East Area) today.”
Wherever one lives — in Russia, in the Pacific, in Salt Lake City, or anywhere else — “there is safety in following the prophet of God.”
Both Elder Rasband and Elder Kearon met with several groups of Church volunteers and missionaries serving in the Europe East Area. They reminded the young elders and sisters to always obey the local laws while finding joy in their service.
“Then do everything in your power to find ways to contact people, legally and correctly,” Elder Rasband taught. “Know the law and abide by it. There are still many ways to teach the gospel.”
The Church continues to send missionaries and volunteers to nations throughout Eastern Europe and “parents need to know that we take very careful care of assigning missionaries to these countries,” he said. “We would not do it if it wasn’t safe for them.”
The Lord knows His children
“The Lord is gathering His elect across that massive and important area of the world,” Elder Rasband said after returning from the Europe East Area, acknowledging that people seeking Christ are being placed in the paths of prayerful members and missionaries.
“The Lord can do His own work, I saw that repeatedly during this trip,” he said. “He knows who His children are and who will listen. The Lord will make it happen.”
It is uplifting witnessing the Eastern European members write their maiden chapters of local Church history, Elder Kearon said. “We’re still seeing the early days of the unfolding. We’re still finding our feet. But it’s wonderful to see what is happening and to get a glimpse of what may yet happen in that part of the world.”