WARSAW, Poland — The past several weeks for Ukrainian Latter-day Saint Irina Rudenko have been defined largely by fear, displacement and separation from loved ones. Those emotions are not likely to go away anytime soon.
But Sunday, April 10, offered a few hours of light and hope for Rudenko, her family and dozens of other Latter-day Saint refugees from Ukraine. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and himself a two-time refugee, presided over a devotional for Ukrainian refugees who have found temporary refuge in Poland.
Spending the Sabbath day with Elder Uchtdorf, and his wife, Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf, made for an unforgettable day of rest for many of the Ukrainian Latter-day Saints.
“I feel today like God loves us,” Rudenko told the Church News following the devotional. “Today I felt like God opened His windows to bless us, the Ukrainian people. We were in Church, and we didn’t feel sad.”
Her fellow Latter-day Saint, Irina Kolivatyh, added: “This day has been beautiful for us. It has helped my soul.”
Elder Uchtdorf’s counsel Sunday to the Ukrainians was imbued with kindness and love.
“We admire you and pray for you every day,” he said.
The Europe Area leadership, he assured them, is doing all they can to effectively minister to the refugees while helping to care for their emotional, temporal and spiritual needs.
Read more: Amid Europe’s difficulties, Elder Uchtdorf spends a few minutes of quiet remembrance in Germany
Of the visit, Elder Uchtdorf told the Church News his heart is filled with “a deep sadness for the suffering” of Latter-day Saints and others in war-torn countries, but also with gratitude.
“These individuals and families have strengthened and lifted us with their goodness, trust and faith in and for the Savior and His divine purposes. Harriet and I were hoping to be strengthening and comforting to them, but they brought heavenly light, hope and comfort to our hearts,” he said. “We were blessed to meet with amazing individuals and families from the Ukraine, and especially with children and youth, whose goodness and shining images will always be in our hearts and treasured memory.”
When Elder Uchtdorf opened the devotional by asking the refugees if they had any questions for him, one woman raised her hand and asked a direct question: “What can we do to feel the Spirit” at a challenging, exhausting moment.
“There is great strength in the family,” assured Elder Uchtdorf. Family prayers, gospel study and daily religious behaviors, he added, “bind us” to the Lord.
“All these things bring us closer to God,” he said.
Even though many of the Latter-day Saints refugees living in the Warsaw area have been separated from those they love in their homelands, nothing can separate the Lord’s disciples from the love of Christ.
“Know that the Savior loves you,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “He knows of your suffering. He will humbly embrace you in His arms.”
The spirit and resiliency of the Ukrainian Latter-day Saints and their fellow countrymen and countrywomen is a light to the nations. The refugees who gathered Sunday at the Warsaw meetinghouse are also examples of goodness and determination to follow freedom’s path and stand up for what is right, he added.
In brief remarks, Sister Uchtdorf reassured the Ukrainian Saints that they are not alone.
“We are the children of God because we do whatever we can do — and we give our all,” she said.
Following the Ukrainian member devotional, dozens posed with the Uchtdorfs for photos outside the Warsaw meetinghouse.
Sunday marked something of a Warsaw homecoming for Elder Uchtdorf. In 1991, he accompanied then-Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to dedicate the building where the meeting was held.
A historic sacrament meeting
Sunday morning began with a sacrament meeting for the Polish members and their Ukrainian guests and friends.
In his remarks, Elder Uchtdorf noted the generosity of the Polish Latter-day Saints for their new Ukrainian friends leaves him “amazed by what is happening here and how you reach out and open your hearts to those in need.”
The Church is small in Poland — but Elder Uchtdorf promised it would “continue on and grow and become a multi-generational Church.”
There is presently much darkness and fear in Europe. Ukrainian refugees are displaced and living far from their homeland. “But you are not alone,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “There are always people around who are willing to help.”
Unity, he taught, comes from being “one in Christ.” Most important, all must find personal unity with the Lord. “We need to open the door to let Him in and invite Him to be in our presence. Then, we have no need to fear.”
Not long ago, Elder Uchtdorf believed war in Europe was the sole claim of history. Instead, the realities of the day are unexpectedly grim. But hope can come through Christ, he said.
The Church leader then shared a timeless promise found in Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
God knows each of His children who have become refugees in recent weeks. “He loves you and He knows you. You are our brothers and sisters and we love you.”
Even amidst the divisions of the day, there are opportunities to extend forgiveness and fellowship, added Elder Uchtdorf. “If there was ever a time when we needed to be united and love one another. … It is now.”
Enemies of the past, he said, can become friends in the future. “Let’s choose peace. Let us be peacemakers by finding and talking to each other.”
In her sacrament meeting remarks, Sister Uchtdorf expressed her admiration for the Polish Latter-day Saints and their selfless ministering. “You are sharing love for the Lord and His Church.”
The promise of youth in Eastern Europe
The Uchtdorfs also hosted a youth devotional for young people from Poland and Ukraine on Sunday, April 10.
During his remarks, Elder Uchtdorf pulled from his pocket his temple recommend and a folded copy of “For the Strength of Youth.”
“I carry these close to my heart,” he said, holding both items high.
Have faith in the Lord, he taught. Listen to the Spirit. Say your prayers — and then enjoy the journey. “Look in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘I am a daughter or son of God.’”
Several youths raised their hands when Elder Uchtdorf asked who was from Ukraine. Better days await, he assured them. “Trust the Lord that things will come around.”
And then find friends who support your Christ-centered standards and beliefs. “You can receive friends by being a friend,” he said.
Sister Uchtdorf challenged the young people to follow the Savior’s example by “increasing in wisdom and stature.”
Study hard in school, learn to enjoy learning and “increase the good things in life,” she added.
“You all have amazing talent, including talents you may know nothing about.”
Prior to Sunday’s meetings, Elder and Sister Uchtdorf visited several memorials in Warsaw dedicated to the memory of the millions of Polish Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.