Estonian freshman overcomes communist legacy

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BYU freshman Karolina Rohesalu (now Jones) converted to the Church and moved from Estonia to marry a former missionary who had taught her. (Triinu Sepp)

Everyday life in 1980s Estonia under the Soviet Union was one of oppression and hardship. BYU freshman Karolina Rohesalu — now Karolina Jones — recalled her parents’ grim experiences as the Red Army occupied their lands.

“My mom had lace on her wedding dress only because my grandma worked in a theater, so she took the lace from one of the costumes,” Jones said. “My mom’s zipper for her wedding dress is yellow, not white, because you couldn’t find a white zipper. You couldn’t get anything.”

It wasn’t just clothes that proved hard to come by in Soviet Estonia. Communist ideals suppressed even basic religious values and traditions, making it illegal to have a Christmas tree at home. Jones said her parents would cover their windows during the winter months to put up festive ornaments in defiance of the Soviet decree.

“They always had to have curtains closed because someone would walk by and tell people that, ‘Yeah, this person has a Christmas tree,’ and they would get in trouble,” Jones said.

The stories get worse, from standing in line for hours on end just to get a carton of milk, to being denied other basic foods altogether.

As the early 1990s dawned, so did the long-awaited independence of the Estonian people. Jones was able to grow up in a free nation, although much of the culture — especially religious views — were still influenced by communistic ideals.

Jones was first introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2010. She listened to her LDS school friend, Triinu Sepp, whisper about the Church on the back row of a school Christmas concert.

Sepp invited Jones to several Church events over the next few months, but Jones was unable to attend. “I wanted to go to the events she invited me to, but something always came up and I couldn’t,” she said.

Jones and Sepp grew closer as the months passed, sharing a mutual love for the pop boy band sensation One Direction. “One might say this band is really the reason I’m in this church today,” Jones said.

After numerous invitations and some friendly nagging from Sepp, Jones made the time to attend church. “I was nervous about what to wear; I wasn’t sure about how I was supposed to act,” she confessed.

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Steven Jones said his wife has handled all the change and uncertainty surrounding her future and her country better than he would have. (Triinu Sepp)

It wasn’t long before her nerves dissipated and she began to feel at home as local members welcomed Jones with open arms. She left church that day with a CD, doctrinal pamphlets and the phone number of the local missionaries.

She read the scriptures and prayed for months and decided she wanted to join the Church. She was baptized on Dec. 22, 2012.

Little did Jones know that becoming a member of the Church would be just one of many life-changing decisions she was about to make over the next few months.

The first couple of decisions centered around her heart and education. Jones found herself in a difficult situation as her final year of high school came to an end.

Her closest friends were going to room together as they attended a local university in Estonia. But Jones had fallen in love with one of the former missionaries who had taught her the gospel. He lived in the United States, so Jones began to entertain the idea of attending BYU. The choice was far from an easy one, but with the announcement of her engagement and subsequent acceptance to BYU, Jones decided to attend.

“My greatest fear was that I would have no friends, that I would know no one, that I would be lonely despite the fact that I was married because all of my friends stayed there in Estonia,” Jones said.

Her decision to move from Estonia was reaffirmed when she heard Russian troops had forcefully annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. The level of fear and panic heightened as Russia then made unsanctioned invasions into mainland Ukraine. “Everyone was scared because Putin’s claim is that ‘we are protecting Russians,’ and one third of the Estonian population is Russian … we definitely felt what Ukrainians might be feeling,” she said.

BYU freshman Karolina Rohesalu (now Jones) converted to the Church and moved from Estonia to attend BYU. (Triinu Sepp)
BYU freshman Karolina Rohesalu (now Jones) converted to the Church and moved from Estonia to attend BYU. (Triinu Sepp)

Jones’ greatest fear was that Russia would move into Estonia, preventing her from seeing her family again. This was a sad realization many Estonians faced at the beginning of the previous Russian occupation. Jones’ husband, Steven Jones, said his wife has handled all the change and uncertainty surrounding her future and her country better than he would have. “She’s gone through it without ever showing any doubt in what she believes or feeling sorry for herself,” he said.

Karolina Jones’ best friend, Sepp, never worried about her not being able to cope with all the changes that would come with uprooting her European life and moving halfway around the world. 

“Karolina is strong. She is strong in the gospel; she is strong in her beliefs. She is physically strong, and she is mentally strong. I knew she had to move to the States to follow the love of her life. She deserved happiness,” Triinu said.

After a desperately needed assurance of protection from Pres. Barack Obama in his recent trip to Estonia, Karolina Jones felt a lot more comfortable about being away from her parents and younger brother. Having now lived in America for longer, she and her husband have an optimistic view for their future.

Joshua Moffat, another former missionary who taught Karolina Jones, talked about how much of an impact the gospel has had on her life. “I feel like when I first met her she was still a good girl because of her strong family. I definitely saw her light and good spirit. As time has passed, I have seen the gospel fully complete her life, and it has added onto her previous family values,” Moffat said.

Karolina Jones now enjoys married life as a freshman and studies elementary education. She has shoes that are the right size, can walk into The Creamery on Ninth and buy milk in less than a minute and enjoy her first Christmas with her husband, a world apart from the life her parents led under Soviet rule.

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