Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently told members and missionaries in Europe that they live and work among “fine people who need the values and teachings of the gospel, and when they are taught well, they will embrace its truths.”
Aware that some missionaries serving in Europe fear they are not likely to baptize, Elder Ballard declared, “With faith and courage, we can find those who will embrace the gospel. No missionary should go with any preconceived notion that teaching and baptizing are beyond the realm of possibility. … They should go into the mission field believing they can build the Church.”
During a visit that began on August 17, 2006, Elder Ballard conducted seminars with the 50 mission presidents from the Europe West, Europe East, and Europe Central Areas, challenging the notion that Europeans won’t join the Church. Seminars were held in Birmingham, England; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Dresden, Germany. He also addressed many missionaries and members in these areas, as well as other members meeting in Ukraine, Armenia, and Switzerland.
“Members need to draw close to full-time missionaries and learn ways to share the gospel with more people,” he said. “Members should encourage missionaries to go with faith, knowing they can find the honest in heart, to teach and baptize them.”
Accompanying Elder Ballard were Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Jon M. Huntsman Sr., Area Seventy. Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy also accompanied Elder Ballard in the Europe East Area.
“Missionaries are working hard,” said Elder Tingey. “They are well schooled. They are teaching and serving as directed in Preach My Gospel. New members are grasping their religion, as demonstrated by traveling long distances to attend the member meetings.”
Among the highlights of the visit was meeting Armenia’s president Robert Kocharian in his palace in Yerevan. The president is a longtime friend of Elder Huntsman, a friendship nurtured during the past 18 years as Elder Huntsman made extensive humanitarian contributions to rebuild the country following the devastation of the 1988 earthquake, which killed, injured, or left homeless more than one-third of the country’s three million people.
The one-hour visit to the presidential palace drew national press coverage as Elder Huntsman updated the president on plans for a cancer hospital to be built in the capital city.
The Church leaders were hosted by the Armenian Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, who met them upon arrival. He accompanied Elder Ballard and the others during their stay, which included a visit to the city of Gyumri, where schoolchildren greeted the Church leaders and showed their appreciation for the donations from Elder Huntsman that helped build their school. The Church leaders also visited high-rise apartments that were built and donated by the Huntsman family. Elder Huntsman, his son Peter Huntsman, and associate David Horne began humanitarian work in Armenia in 1988. Their efforts helped lead to the recognition of the Church in 1994.
Approximately 800 of the 2,000 members of the Church in Armenia were able to attend the member meeting with Elder Ballard and Elder Tingey.
Elder Neuenschwander, then President of the Europe East Area, said: “The Church is doing well in Eastern Europe. We just completed an incredible summer of activity for the youth and young single adults. In the 15 years since the gospel has been established in Eastern Europe, membership has grown to include 26 districts and a stake.”
Armenia has long been considered a Christian nation. Armenian Orthodox Church members trace their heritage to the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, who preached the gospel there in the early Christian era.
Members of the Orthodox clergy invited Elder Ballard, Elder Tingey, Elder Neuenschwander, and Elder Huntsman and his son to visit their holy shrine, where Father Ktrij Devijian led a tour of the grounds and buildings, noting that some foundations are believed to date to A.D. 304.
Adapted from Church News, Sept. 16, 2006