President Freeman, Sister Dennis see future leaders of the Church in Eurasia

Visit to Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan shows how small groups of Latter-day Saints are part of the gathering of Israel

While many visits to meet with Latter-day Saints in different parts of the world take place with entire stakes or with missions that have hundreds of missionaries, some visits by leaders from the Church’s general organization presidencies are with much smaller groups.

For 10 days, March 8-17, Young Women General President Emily Belle Freeman and Sister J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, participated in some of these smaller meetings as they visited and ministered in Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan — all part of the Church’s Eurasia Area.

President Freeman, accompanied by her husband, Brother Greg Freeman, said she felt like she was a witness to the gathering of Israel as she saw the Church in its early stages of growth in the region.

“We walked into one Church building, and lying on the table is the Book of Mormon in all the languages that they spoke over there,” she said. “To see them spread out on a table, that was my first inclination that the gathering is happening there.”

For example, in a sacrament meeting in Georgia, the hymns were sung in three languages at the same time. The hymn numbers were displayed for three hymnbooks — Georgian, Russian and English. And in the last meeting she attended, President Freeman said, members and friends of the Church came from nearly a dozen countries — including from Asia, Europe and Africa.

Sister Dennis said their first day in Georgia they attended a meeting of 150 women on International Women’s Day.

Sisters gather in a meetinghouse in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a women's meeting on International Women’s Day, Friday, March 8, 2024. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The little chapel was filled,” she said. “The women were so grateful to have us there.”

When Sister Dennis and her husband, Brother Jorge L. Dennis, served as mission leaders over the Ecuador Guayaquil West Mission, they worked with hundreds of missionaries over three years.

“But in Kazakhstan, they have six missionaries,” Sister Dennis said. “They build relationships in the communities where they serve.”

President Freeman thought about the future for those missionaries after meeting with them.

“One day when they are praying to Heavenly Father and looking for answers to questions, I hope they look back on this time and remember when He trusted them to help the Church grow in an entire country,” she said.

President Freeman and Sister Dennis met with 30 members of the Church from the one branch in Almaty, Kazakhstan — a city of nearly 2 million people.

President Emily Belle Freeman, center left, and Sister J. Anette Dennis, center right, meet with sisters to listen to their stories and experiences, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church has only had a presence in Kazakhstan since 1997. But President Freeman said the energy and excitement of the members was clear to see.

“To watch everyone working together to keep the momentum — I have never witnessed anything like that.”

They heard repeatedly during their visit that the members know that gathering itself won’t produce testimonies.

In Armenia, Sister Dennis said she was impressed by the testimonies expressed by the members there despite the years of war and conflict the region had faced.

“We shared messages of hope with them,” she said. And a branch president shared with her that their visit was comforting and healing.

She said Church members in Armenia have challenges in going to the temple but they live in such a way that they are worthy to attend a temple at any moment. “They pray for a temple in their country one day,” she said.

Sister J. Anette Dennis, at the pulpit, teaches in a leadership training for sister organization leaders in Yerevan, Armenia, with Russian and Armenian translators.
Sister J. Anette Dennis, at the pulpit, teaches in a leadership training for sister organization leaders in Yerevan, Armenia, on March 16, 2024, with Russian and Armenian translators. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sister Dennis said she could see a strong future for the Church in the area as youth and young adults embrace the gospel.

“I believe people are coming to this country [Armenia] who are going to be Church leaders,” she said. “There is a group of such good young adults who are bringing their friends and building the Church together. It was just amazing.”

“There is a deep respect for religion in that entire land,” President Freeman said, as she looked back on her 10 days in three countries.

As Church missionaries serve in the area, President Freeman said, they have felt inspired to sit and listen to those who have feelings they wanted to share.

She said the missionaries “recognized they are in a place of unrest and brought those they listen to to the One who gives rest.”

President Freeman and Sister Dennis agreed that seeing members of the Church working hard to help their friends and family know that the gospel has been restored was inspiring.

“It was just amazing,” Sister Dennis said. “Their faces just lit up, and they are so happy to be members of the Church.”

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