Elder Christofferson Visits Growing Church in Eastern Europe
By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
- Traveling through Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine in June, Elder D. Todd Christofferson remarked on the growth of the Church and testified of the Lord’s hand in the spreading forth of the gospel throughout the world.
- In Moscow on June 14, Elder Rasband announced the release of Eastern Europe Area President Gregory A. Schwitzer, who has received a new assignment as a member of the Church Temple Committee, effective July 1, 2012.
- Former Europe East Area First Counselor Larry R. Lawrence has been called as the new Area President, with Elder Randall K. Bennett (former second counselor) as first counselor. Elder Per G. Malm of the Second Quorum of the Seventy was called as second counselor.
“The East Europe Area is vibrant. The Church is still in its early stages, but there’s an excitement . . . and a degree of confidence [and faith.]” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently spent 10 days visiting members, missionaries, Church leaders, and government officials throughout the Europe East Area. Other Church leaders, including Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy and Presiding Bishop Gary L. Stevenson also accompanied Elder Christofferson.
After spending time in Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, Elder Christofferson remarked on the growth of the Church in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where the Church is relatively new.
“We’re seeing the bud beginning to form, and soon [we’ll see] the flower unfolding,” he said. “It’s a deep privilege [to be here] when the Church is prospering, when the Church is reaching places we didn’t think it would during our lifetime.”
In each country, Elder Christofferson testified of the Lord’s hand in the spreading forth of the gospel throughout the world and encouraged members to strengthen their testimonies and the testimonies of others.
“I believe we really have to be all the way in,” he said. “If we are going to be a part of [the Church], we need to immerse ourselves fully in the work. We won’t be able to keep up with it if we’re not wiling to invest fully.”
Arriving in Kiev, Ukraine, on June 8, 2012, Elder Christofferson, Elder Rasband, and Bishop Stevenson met the following day to address priesthood leaders from Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Armenia.
Elder Christofferson mentioned the rapid progress he observed in Ukraine, where the Kiev Temple was recently dedicated. In a meetinghouse on the Kiev Ukraine Temple grounds, Elder Christofferson spoke of the power of the temple.
“The power of the temple is manifest in the lives of people individually, but it has a wider influence as well, strengthening the stakes and leading to the creation of more stakes,” he said. “I hope you individually are in the temple as often as your circumstances permit. … I feel like the Lord has things He wants to reveal to you there.”
He expressed gratitude for the missionaries of the Church and reminded leaders that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the “pearl” within the “box” of the Church. Eternal families and the gift of the Holy Ghost are part of that pearl, Elder Christofferson taught.
“Pray for the gift of the Holy Ghost,” he said. “Pay attention to the messages that come from the Holy Ghost, and then you will be magnified in your calling. God will transform peoples’ lives through you.”
Elder Christofferson blessed the leaders in attendance and thanked them for their service: “You serve because you are consecrated; you serve willingly because of your faith. … And I want you to know we thank you. [God] is grateful,” he said.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Elder Christofferson and his wife, Kathy, met with members of the St. Petersburg Russia District on June 10, 2012. Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer, President of the Europe East Area, was also in attendance.
St. Petersburg is the place where Russia was originally dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. Near Peter the Great’s Summer Garden, Elder Francis M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated Russia for the preaching of the gospel on August 6, 1903. Nearly 700 members filled the building, which the district uses as a meetinghouse. The district is working toward becoming a stake.
“This was a wonderful district conference … filled with hope and testimony,” wrote Elder Brent L. Adams of the Russia St. Petersburg Mission. “[The building was] filled to its full capacity; some members found themselves seated in the hallway. I was deeply touched to see how many of the infirm and handicapped had been brought by the faithful members of the branches. The room was filled with smiles and a generous warmth of spirit.”
Following addresses by Elder Schwitzer and his wife, Joann, as well as by Sister Christofferson, Elder Christofferson spoke on individuals cultivating Christlike attributes in themselves and their families.
Elder Christofferson said that the best thing he did in his family was teach his children to read the scriptures. Serving one another is one of the best ways to hold up the light of Christ before the world, he continued, and our homes are the place where we can give the greatest service.
Elder Christofferson concluded by blessing the members with the gifts of the Spirit—“faith, pure love of Christ, knowledge, judgment”—and the faith to face their challenges with confidence. He then invited the children and youth present to come forward to shake his hand.
Following the district meeting, Elder Christofferson held a Sunday evening fireside with nearly 100 local young single adults.
Elder Schwitzer spoke first, calling those present the “hope of the Church in Russia.”
He encouraged those in attendance to strengthen their personal testimonies by studying the scriptures and praying, by following the prophets, and by seeking personal revelation.
Elder Christofferson then spoke and offered more counsel on the topic of personal revelation. Revelation, he said, comes through the promptings of the Holy Ghost and can be more powerful than even an angelic visitation.
Elder Christofferson emphasized that God wants to bless His children. God knows us better than anyone, he said, and will never abandon us.
On Monday, June 11, 2012, Elder Christofferson visited the missionaries of the Russia St. Petersburg Mission. After he and Sister Christofferson greeted and shook hands with each missionary, he instructed the missionaries on their calling.
In answering a question one missionary asked—“How can we help bring about a stake in St. Petersburg?”—Elder Christofferson encouraged missionaries to influence the depth of conversion of all members, old and new. He also reminded missionaries that only the Spirit of God can convert, but that they can create a setting where the Spirit can exist.
Elder Daniel Harps was present to hear Elder Christofferson and remarked on the atmosphere of the meeting. “It was reaffirmed in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that Elder Christofferson truly is an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and that all of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency are prophets, seers, and revelators,” he said.
In a small building used as a meetinghouse in Istanbul, Turkey, a few dozen members of the country’s only branch gathered to hear Elder Christofferson speak in a devotional on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
Elder Christofferson expressed his gratitude for the faith of Turkey’s Saints. “The Spirit seems especially attentive to those who are the pioneers of the Church wherever it may be growing,” he said.
Two senior missionaries and four full-time missionaries from the Bulgaria Sophia Mission have been proselyting in the country since February of this year.
In the devotional, Elder Christofferson testified of the three main responsibilities of an Apostle: to take the gospel to all the world, to feed the Lord’s children, and to “be special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” (D&C 107:23).
Elder Christofferson ended with his witness of the Savior. “I know that Jesus Christ lives today,” he said. “I know He was literally, physically resurrected. He stands at the head of this Church today. He is an active, personal leader of the Church. His grace is sufficient to forgive all of our sins and to sanctify us. I testify that He knows each one of you, that He sees each one of you. He sees you here this evening, and He rejoices over you. His love for you is infinite.”
On Thursday, June 14, 2012, Elder Rasband and Presiding Bishop Gary Stevenson met with Church employees in Moscow, Russia.
Elder Rasband expressed to those present the love of President Thomas S. Monson. He then announced the release of Elder Schwitzer as Area President. Elder Schwitzer has received a new assignment as a member of the Church Temple Committee, effective on July 1, 2012.
Elder Larry R. Lawrence, former First Counselor in the Europe East Area Presidency, has been called as the new Area President, with Elder Randall K. Bennett (former Second Counselor) as First Counselor. Elder Per G. Malm of the Seventy was called as Second Counselor.
Following the employee devotional, missionaries from the Russia Moscow and Russia Moscow West Missions participated in a historic meeting. Present were an Apostle, Elder Christofferson; a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Rasband; the Presiding Bishop of the Church, Bishop Stevenson; the current Area Presidency; and two mission presidents—Kenneth M. Woolley (Russia Moscow West Mission) and Stephen J. Sorenson (Russia Moscow Mission).
Elder Christofferson answered questions from those in attendance and shared his testimony of the Atonement. He ended by blessing all those present and expressing his confidence that each would go forward and continue the work of the gospel, despite challenges.
After another meeting with priesthood leaders on Saturday, June 16, Elder Christofferson met with members of the Moscow Russia Stake—newly created in June 2011—in an adult session and general session of stake conference.
“When I go back to Salt Lake City next week, I can give a good report of the Moscow Russia Stake,” he told the Saints. “Already I see that you are spiritually mature. … This stake is a light; it’s a great example to others. It’s also a place of defense and refuge and safety. People who seek the blessings of the Lord … will know to come here when they see your example.”
In both sessions, Elder Christofferson testified of the importance of the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon.
“The Book of Mormon is the strongest written witness that exists that Jesus is the Messiah,” he said. “It is another witness that everything the Bible teaches is right. If we’ll read it each day, it will help us to know how we should conduct our lives.”
He also spoke on modern-day prophets, from Joseph Smith to President Monson. Of President Monson, he said, “He has much work to do … but I have noted that in his reports, there’s always something about a personal ministry. It seems like each week he has visited someone in the hospital, or he has made a phone call to someone he knew was lonely. … He follows the promptings of the Holy Ghost. He knows he cannot personally reach out to everyone who has a need, but he does what he can.”
He asked members to follow President Monson’s example in helping individuals: “Will you look after each other? Will you help each other? Will you pray for each other? Then you will be a great light to others.”
Following the general session on Sunday, June 17, Elder Christofferson shook hands with all the young people present.
Eastern Europe Overview
Elder Christofferson shared his thoughts as he concluded his visit to the Europe East Area.
“The Europe East Area is vibrant,” he said. “The Church is still in its early stages, but there’s an excitement … and a degree of confidence [and faith.]”
He commented on several challenges Saints in the area face, such as long distances between Church buildings and economic issues. He credited the strong spirit of Eastern European Saints to their patience, thoughtfulness, and faithfulness.
In Moscow, especially, he noted the spiritual maturity of the Church.
“In the year since [the creation of the Moscow Russia Stake], they have progressed,” he said. “Most importantly, though … the members are focused on the things that matter at home, on following the Spirit, on learning the gospel, on studying the scriptures, and on being examples. … They talk about the things that truly matter.”
He concluded with a testimony of the Savior’s love for all of His children.
“It’s been reaffirmed to me … that His love, His interest, His care, is individual,” he said. “Each one is known to Him … and that makes all the difference.”