President Russell M. Nelson’s announcement that a temple will be built in Russia is “life-changing” for Mormons in Russia, according to members who have lived there.
The announcement is an example of what Tony Brown, a Russian professor at Brigham Young University, said is President Nelson’s “personal commitment” to supporting members in Russia and the growth of the church.
President Nelson has had a long-standing relationship with Eastern European countries since his call to be an apostle in 1984. He helped pave the way for establishing the church in Eastern Europe.
“He has a personal connection to that part of the world and long has wanted to see the church flourish and prosper there,” Brown said.
The announcement came as a surprise to many people, considering the proselyting restrictions placed on missionaries serving in Russia since 2016. Brown, however, was unsurprised and sees the announcement as a natural response to the restrictions.
“It seems to me that just at the time when we’re seeing enormous government resistance to religious freedom in that part of the world, we’re seeing an equal and opposite response on the part of the kingdom rolling forth over there,” Brown said.
BYU student Kelby Gatrell, who served in St. Petersburg from 2012 to 2014, expressed a similar idea — that rather than deter growth in the church, missionary restrictions have positively impacted members in Russia. Gatrell said his former mission president told him the restrictions have motivated members to do missionary work themselves.
“He said that it was actually one of the best things that ever happened to them. They were able to really strengthen to the point that I think the Lord and the church were able to see that they were really ready for that next step,” Gatrell said. “It’s kind of cool to see how it’s all come together.”
Brown and Gatrell agreed that a temple in Russia will change the lives of members of the church.
Other professors with personal connections to the country said they were “jumping up and down” with joy after the announcement. One professor said she appreciated the way President Nelson “savored the moment” of the announcement.
Gatrell had a similar response to hearing the announcement.
“I shot up immediately and I was just screaming, and then after about 10 minutes I was crying,” Gatrell said. “I was just on cloud nine for the rest of the day.”
Gatrell said the members in Russia are “very strong” and often use their vacations to travel to the temple in another country.
“They really believe in the gospel and they want to be just as strong as we are here (in America),” Gatrell said. “They really believe in the temple; they have to make great sacrifices to travel to other countries.”
Gatrell said he believes a temple in Russia will accelerate missionary work exponentially.
“(Russian members) cannot contain their joy so they are going to be getting out there talking to everybody,” Gatrell said. “You’re going to see member missionary work like you’ve never seen before.”
BYU student Bogdan Mukhametkaliev is from Izhevsk, Russia and has been a member of the church for two years. He was sitting in the Conference Center with his friends, several of whom are also from Russia, when the announcement was made.
Mukhametkaliev said he hadn’t even imagined the announcement of a temple in Russia, but when it happened, he and his five Russian friends began crying.
“I don’t know if we were supposed to clap or applaud in the Conference Center, but I started clapping and I was going to stand up but my friend just held my chair,” Mukhametkaliev said. “I just couldn’t imagine it; I just wanted to stand up and give (President Nelson) a hug.”
Mukhametkaliev said this was an incredible announcement for Russian members. He said for Russians, President Nelson is not just the prophet — he is the person who opened the country for proselyting, allowing the church to exist there.
Brown said the prophetic announcement is a way of “galvanizing” members.
“An announcement like this, I think, sends a beacon of hope to those members, that they’re not alone, and that their prayers are being heard, and indeed the time will come and they will not only be able to worship as they please, but also be able to go to the house of the Lord in their own country,” Brown said. “If you want to bolster faith, I can’t imagine a better way.”