Elder Nelson Visits Armenia, Germany, Italy, Russia
Contributed by By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer, and James Dalrymple, Church News contributor
More than two decades after meeting with a small group of Church leaders on a mountain overlooking the city of Yerevan in the Republic of Armenia, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles again visited the Eastern European nation for another historic day—to preside over the creation of the country’s first stake.
“It is literally a miracle—22 years ago there was not a Latter-day Saint living in the country of Armenia,” he said. “From that dedicatory prayer offered by Elder Dallin H. Oaks with me at his side, it has been built up now to a population large enough and strong enough to support itself. This stake will stand, and there will be other stakes here in the future.”
Elder Nelson was joined by Elder Per G. Malm of the Seventy and Second Counselor in the Europe East Area and Elder Arayik V. Minasyan, an Area Seventy, to form the new stake on June 16 in the capital city of Yerevan.
“Many memories came through my mind,” he said. “I thought of all of the missionaries and all of the people that have made this miracle happen.”
Remembering the day of the dedicatory prayer opening the country for missionary work, Elder Nelson said, “I asked [Elder Oaks] if he would give the dedicatory prayer. He had no warning, no notice, no advance preparation. He gave an eloquent, exquisite prayer of dedication for this country and its people opening the door—I think he used the word ‘unlocking’ the door—to the Restoration of the gospel in its fulness.
“We recounted on that occasion that this was the first country in all the world to make Christianity their religion. That happened in the year 300 A.D. and now in the year 2013, on June the 16th, we have a stake. And we have several wards, we have bishops, and we even have a stake patriarch.”
Although the creation of a stake doesn’t affect members in regard to their faith and the covenants they have made, it does represent growth, Elder Nelson said. Such growth in a short period of time shows that nothing is impossible to the Lord, he said.
“There is a great, special spirit in this country,” he said. “That spirit of Christianity has been here even though the gospel in its fulness has taken a long time to reach this country. They have now become part of the heart of the Church. This is stake number 3,025 in the Church. So you have 3,025 stakes in the ground holding the tent of the kingdom of God. And every stake is important; you can’t have a weak one or the tent will crumble.”
In addition to his travels to create a stake in Armenia, Elder Nelson, with his wife, Sister Wendy W. Nelson, visited with members and missionaries June 7–16 in the Europe and Europe East Areas of the Church in Munich, Germany; Venice, Italy; and Moscow, Russia. He also went to Ankara, Turkey.
Just a few days after flooding struck parts of Europe, Church members and missionaries in Germany gathered to hear the words of Elder Nelson during his first stop of the nine-day tour on June 7–9. Although the Church presence has been in Europe for many years, the visit gave Elder Nelson hope for the future of the area.
“The Lord’s work is prospering all throughout the world, and it will do so here in these countries of western Europe—Italy, Germany, France, and so on. The way will be a little different, … but there’s still a yearning in the human soul for knowledge about Heavenly Father, knowledge about heaven, knowledge about life after death; these are important questions about man’s search for happiness. They are going to be answered by this Church, and this Church is going to continue to grow and bless the lives of a lot of people in this country.”
While meeting with members and missionaries in Venice, Italy, on June 10, Elder Nelson said that although they met in a rented hotel, it was if he was walking into a chapel.
“It was quite an unusual feeling as we walked in,” he said. The people were quiet, and although it was not the most comfortable of circumstances because of it being a warm, crowded room, Elder Nelson said that the “great feeling of reverence was almost tangible.”
“The Italian people are very sensitive to the teachings of the Lord,” he said. “They aren’t the only ones in the world who are, but their faith is very, very evident. They love to sing. They love to pray. They love to know about the Lord. Our reception in Italy has been very great.”
Speaking of the temple under construction in Rome, Elder Nelson said that it is going to be “a very busy temple and the Church is going to continue to grow and bless the lives of the people in Italy.”
Elder Nelson’s ties to Russia began in 1985 when President Ezra Taft Benson gave him an assignment to be in charge of the Church in Europe.
“[He] charged me with specific responsibility to open the doors of the nations in Europe that were under the yoke of communism,” Elder Nelson recalled. “I didn’t know how to do that, but I had faith that the Lord would help me.”
Seeing the growth of the Church in Russia more than two decades after he first traveled there as an Apostle, he acknowledged the help of the Lord. He met with members in Moscow on June 14.
“In a matter of a few years the Lord did it. … To go from no one to recognition for the whole country in that short interval of time is again an evidence of the hand of the Lord.”