Elder Nelson Retraces His Footsteps During Visit to Eastern Europe

Contributed By Gerry Avant, Church News editor

  • 15 June 2015

Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom traveled on assignment to the Europe East Area from May 19 to June 2. At a luncheon in Moscow, Elder Nelson, left, visits with Russian Orthodox Priest Father Georgi.  Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Nelson was able to visit many places in Eastern Europe that he had opened to the preaching of the gospel.
  • Over the years Elder Nelson was assigned to create all four of the existing stakes in the Europe East Area: St. Petersburg Russia, Moscow Russia, Kyiv Ukraine, and Yerevan Armenia.
  • He was able to revisit the site where he dedicated Bulgaria for the preaching of the gospel on February 13, 1990.

“My impression overall is that there are some wonderful Latter-day Saints in the Europe East Area. Many live under difficult conditions, yet they are converted Latter-day Saints who are devoted to the gospel and are spiritually prospering because of it.” —Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy

When Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles retraces Church history in Eastern Europe, he often walks in his own footsteps.

President Ezra Taft Benson, president of the Church from November 1985 to May 1994, assigned Elder Nelson to open the doors of the countries of Eastern Europe to the preaching of the gospel.

Elder Nelson and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy traveled on assignment to the Europe East Area May 19–June 2. They were together May 26–27 in Moscow, where they conducted an area review, participated in a member devotional broadcast to several locations, addressed employees at the Church’s area headquarters, and attended a luncheon to which were invited several clergymen, academics, journalists, business leaders, and others.

Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy and President of the Europe East Area and his counselors, Elder Randall K. Bennett and Elder Jörg Klebingat, both of the Seventy, were with Elder Nelson and Elder Hallstrom for the area review and at various places during their travels, which included meetings with priesthood leaders, members, and missionaries.

In addition to Moscow, Elder Nelson’s travels took him and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, to Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, both in the Siberian Federal District of Russia; and Sofia, Bulgaria. Elder Hallstrom and his wife, Sister Diane Hallstrom, went to Kyiv, Ukraine; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Yerevan, Armenia.

“This was my first trip to the Europe East Area,” Elder Hallstrom said. “One of my assignments is to assist Elder Nelson in the area.“

Over the years Elder Nelson was assigned to create all four of the existing stakes in the Europe East Area: St. Petersburg Russia, Moscow Russia, Kyiv Ukraine, and Yerevan Armenia. I presided over conferences in two of those stakes. Although we were together only two days, it was a great learning experience for me to be tutored by him about the area.

“My impression overall is that there are some wonderful Latter-day Saints in the Europe East Area. Many live under difficult conditions, yet they are converted Latter-day Saints who are devoted to the gospel and are spiritually prospering because of it.”

From left, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, Elder Randall K. Bennett, Elder Bruce D. Porter, Elder Jörg Klebingat, and Elder Russell M. Nelson. Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.

Elder Nelson said one of the highlights of his recent travels to the area was revisiting the site where he dedicated Bulgaria for the preaching of the gospel on February 13, 1990.

“I looked for a suitable place to offer the prayer,” he said. “I came across a park in Sofia with the name of Na Svobodata, which means ‘Liberty Park.’ I thought, ‘This is a communist country and they have a Liberty Park. This is a good place.’”

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the beginnings of the Church in Bulgaria, Elder Bennett and his wife, Sister Shelley Bennett; Bulgaria Sofia Mission President Michael S. Wilstead and his wife, Sister Denise Wilstead; and a few others went with Elder and Sister Nelson to the site. “They gathered around while I read that prayer again,” Elder Nelson said of the occasion.

On May 29, 2015, Elder Russell M. Nelson went with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, to the park in Bulgaria where he dedicated the nation for the preaching of the gospel. Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.

In the past quarter century, Elder Nelson has seen the Church go from no Latter-day Saints in Bulgaria to meeting with some 500 members in a hotel ballroom on Saturday afternoon, May 30, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Church there.

“We shook hands with each of the members at that meeting,” he said. “They are fine people who came from all over the country.”

Some 500 members met on May 30 for a special meeting commemorating the 25th anniversary of the dedication of Bulgaria by Elder Russell M. Nelson. Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.

Speaking with the Church News, he reviewed some of his initial experiences in Bulgaria, including when he spent nearly an entire day on the telephone with a bilingual operator trying to find someone in the government he and Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy could talk to about receiving permission for the Church in Bulgaria. Finally, on the next day—October 31, 1988—they “had a nice conversation” with one of the government officials. “We received permission for the Church in Bulgaria in 1990,” Elder Nelson said.

When President Benson gave Elder Nelson the assignment to open Eastern Europe’s doors to the Church, Elder Nelson knew it might be difficult, but not impossible. He knew it was an assignment from a prophet of the Lord.

“We got the job done,” he said, and then hastily added, “Actually, the Lord did it. We watched Him. We did everything we knew how to do and then the Lord started to bring converts into the Church.”

At the Kyiv Ukraine Temple are, from left, Kyiv Ukraine Stake President Kirill Pokhil’ko, Kyiv Ukraine Temple President President Frank V. Trythall, Sister Nancy Trythall, Ukraine Kyiv Mission President Kenneth B. Packer, Sister Cari Packer, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, Sister Diane C. Hallstrom, Sister Shelley Bennett, and Elder Randall K. Bennett. Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom speaks at the St. Petersburg Russia Stake Conference. Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.

The Europe East Area’s office is located in Moscow, a short distance from Red Square. Photo courtesy of Elder Russell M. Nelson.