When his plane touched down in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 25 August 2003, Elder Russell M. Nelson became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to set foot in central Asia. During his visit he met with Church members and dedicated two nations where the Church is young.
Accompanied by Elder Douglas L. Callister of the Seventy, Europe East Area President, Elder Nelson also visited with government and community leaders and was interviewed on a local television station.
More than 90 members and friends of the Almaty Branch gathered at their recently rented meetinghouse to hear Elder Nelson’s testimony and counsel. He spoke of families and of the blessings that come from living the gospel.
Members living in remote cities traveled by bus for as long as 13 hours to attend the meeting, with one member coming from neighboring Tajikistan. The meeting was the largest gathering of Church members ever in Kazakhstan, a land where the Church was officially recognized just three years ago. The Almaty Branch was organized in July 2001 by Elder Callister.
Early the next morning, Elder Nelson, with Elder Callister and local Church leaders, climbed to the top of Kok Tobe (Kazakh for “Green Hill”), a prominent landmark in the city. There in the shadow of the snowcapped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains, with the city of Almaty spread out below, the group met in a grove. From this location, the group could see the site of the first baptism performed in Kazakhstan in November 1999, as well as the current Church building.
Elder Nelson dedicated the country, saying that in Kazakhstan, “a fresh spirit has sprung forth, laden with hope, merged with a hunger for enlightenment.”
As the prayer concluded, the first rays of sunlight were breaking on the city. A new age had begun for the nation of 15 million people.
Elder Nelson and Elder Callister then traveled four hours by car to Bishkek, the capital city of the neighboring Kyrgyz Republic, a nation of 5 million. During a recent visit to Salt Lake City, the foreign minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, Askar Aitmatov, had invited Elder Nelson to participate in the 2,200-year anniversary celebration in August of the birth of the Kyrgyz nation. Elder Nelson’s itinerary included meetings with the nation’s president and prime minister as well as with the mayor of Bishkek and the governor of Chui Oblast.
During their visit, Elder Nelson, Elder Callister, and others met in Friendship Park in the center of Bishkek to dedicate the Kyrgyz Republic. They met in an area surrounded by evergreen trees with a bright blue sky overhead and the sound of the morning birds. In this sacred setting, Elder Nelson offered a prayer. Included in the prayer was a petition that “orchards and vineyards may be blessed to yield their fruit, that flocks and herds increase, and natural resources of this land provide for the needs of its people.”