Church Grows in Russia as Members Live the Gospel Joyfully
By Laurie Williams Sowby, Church news contributor
- Boris Leostrin of St. Petersburg, Russia, is a tour guide, a husband, a father, and a counselor in the St. Petersburg stake presidency.
- His enthusiasm for his city, St. Petersburg, gives Boris opportunities to show by example the joy the gospel has brought to his life.
- The St. Petersburg stake holds a special missionary fast quarterly and hopes to see 60 new converts this year.
“[People] come to the Church because of other Latter-day Saints they’ve known.” —Boris Leostrin, counselor in the St. Petersburg stake presidency
ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Boris Leostrin stands out in a crowd, and not just because of his 6-foot 2-inch height. His whole countenance reflects joy in the gospel as he speaks of raising his family in the Church.
Brother Leostrin, second counselor in the St. Petersburg Russia Stake, was born and grew up in the sparkling port city on the Baltic Sea. The 35-year-old manages and arranges tours, guides, and transportation for tourists, but he revels in showing visitors the city’s gems himself—gems such as palaces of the czars and the gloriously restored Hermitage with its world-renowned collection of art. “St. Petersburg is my city, and I love it!” he said.
Although he cannot openly share the gospel with tourists, the opportunity to be with them in the city’s many famous churches leaves him free to “bear my witness that these are Apostles of Jesus Christ” as they view paintings and stained glass scenes from the Bible. His facility with the English language comes not from classes or study, he explains, but from speaking it.
LDS tourists get a bonus visit to the Summer Gardens, where Elder Francis Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated Russia for the preaching of the gospel in 1903. Registration of what was then the Leningrad (later St. Petersburg) Branch of the Church was approved by the government effective September 13, 1990. Earlier in the year, on April 26, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve had offered a prayer of rededication for the land of Russia. He returned to create the St. Petersburg Russia Stake—Russia’s second stake, after Moscow in 2011—on September 9, 2012.
Brother Leostrin—who had previously taught institute classes and served as a branch president, member of the district high council, and counselor in the district presidency—was called to serve in the stake presidency as second counselor, along with President Andrey V. Klimash and first counselor Meruzhan R. Bagdasaryan.
The past two decades have been significant to the Church in Russia and to the Leostrin family in particular. Brother Leostrin happily notes that his three children are third-generation members of the Church.
He tells how his mother, Tatyana Leostrin, had been “searching for something” in the early 1990s, attending various churches as she tried to make sense of the hard times that followed the fall of communism. An illness that put her in the hospital also introduced her to the first Latter-day Saint she’d ever met. After accepting her roommate’s invitation to a branch family home evening where no coffee or tea was served, her interest was piqued.
“She asked to see firsthand,” said her son, who accompanied her to an LDS service, and “liked being there.” Missionary sisters visited their home, offered his mother a Book of Mormon, and found 15-year-old Boris joining in the discussions. Mother and son were baptized three weeks later, on January 9, 1993. Boris’s father, Aleksey Leostrin, long an atheist and communist, joined the Church six years later.
His teenage years were aided by “being in good company” in the Church, said Brother Leostrin. He and his future wife, Alexandra, also a convert, were friends from the time he was 16. Both served missions in their native land—he in Rostov, she in Novosibirsk—before their civil marriage in November 2003 and sealing four days later in the Stockholm Sweden Temple. (That temple trip by train and ferry has been made much simpler and shorter with the dedication of the Helsinki Finland Temple, across the Gulf of Finland, in 2006. Members in St. Petersburg are able to drive to it.)
The Leostrins have three children: daughter Victoria, 9; son Gregory, 7; and daughter Stanislava, 3. Like many in their part of the world, the family lives in an apartment building. They enjoy camping, picnics, winter skiing, canoeing, an occasional visit to a museum or the zoo, and “just being together as a family.” Church activities can take half a day for a two-hour activity because of the distance many must travel—usually at least an hour to the ward building. “But if members get really involved,” Brother Leostrin noted, “it turns out much better.”
The 2,200 members of the stake attend six wards and three branches. The Leostrin family is in the Shuvalovsky Ward, which meets in an apartment building remodeled as a stake center. Sister Leostrin serves as Primary president. Although serving in the stake presidency creates challenges for his family with all the time he must spend away from them, Brother Leostrin sees how much they enjoy the “waiting time” at the chapel after Sunday meetings, when they can visit with other Primary children their age.
“The gospel is our life,” he declared. He sees growth in membership coming as missionaries become trusted and people “come to the Church because of other Latter-day Saints they’ve known.” Members need to realize that they do not have to proselyte, he said. “Being a good example and bearing a simple, 30-second testimony is what will help.”
He told of a recent birthday party for his 9-year-old daughter, where nonmember friends and their parents were invited to the Leostrin home and had a great time. “We hope our friends see what we do at home, including the fact that we celebrate without alcohol, and will be drawn to the Church,” he said.
Twenty years after his baptism, Brother Leostrin acknowledges, “The gospel is not a pill for all problems, but the gospel helps me look at things more positively.” It also helps him and Alexandra decide the priorities for their family. “We are not so stressed about fancy stuff,” he said, adding that they strive to live within their means. He and others in the stake presidency desire to see members employed in jobs that provide a sufficient income. One of the greatest challenges, said Brother Leostrin, is in helping members “really trust in the Lord” and realize that “conversion is a lifetime process.”
The stake holds a special missionary fast quarterly and hopes to see 60 converts join the Church in St. Petersburg this year, working in conjunction with President N. Warren Clark of the Russia St. Petersburg Mission. The mission is the smallest geographically of the seven in Russia, reaching just beyond the borders of the city of 5 million.
Brother Leostrin said his fear of leaving his native St. Petersburg has evaporated as he has developed roots within the Church family. “I am confident that wherever we go, because of the gospel, we will be able to give the best to our kids.”