Gates to the future
Members in Yekaterinburg welcome first member from First Presidency
By Vaselina Novikova with Sister Donna McEvoy
Published: Saturday, June 6, 2009 - LDS Church News
"Photo courtesy of Europe East Area
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf greets throng of members who gather to shake his hand following a member meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia, May 31. President Uchtdorf is the first member of the First Presidency to visit Russia's third largest city.
Six-hundred faithful Saints gathered here from throughout the Ural region of Russia on Sunday, May 31, 2009, to hear President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This historic event marked the first time a member of the First Presidency has visited Yekaterinburg. Members traveled from as far away as Surgut, 1,000 miles by train, in order to attend.
Pavel and Tatyana Kulakovy drove with their children eight hours from Ufa. Brother Kulakovy, baptized in 2002, was unable to go to Moscow when President Gordon B. Hinckley visited that year. "I knew this would be a great opportunity and I was determined I wouldn't miss out again."
Yekaterinburg, situated at the Ural Mountains on the border of Europe and Asia, has served as the industrial, administrative and cultural center of the Ural region. The third largest city in Russia, the population exceeds 1.5 million.
The first missionaries opened the city for the preaching of the gospel in 1993 when four elders from the Russia Novosibirsk Mission were sent from Moscow. The Russia Yekaterinburg Mission was created in 1995 and, since that time, more than 2,500 Russians have joined the Church.
Members were eager for President Uchtdorf's and Elder Andersen's visit and prepared well. Sisters Sofya Arefyeva and Vera Terentyeva of Miassky Branch said their branch president, Elder Georgi Mizin, encouraged them to prepare spiritually. "We have fasted and prayed much that everything would work out." They were grateful they were able to bring their wheelchair-bound friend.
The congregation rose as President Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, and Elder Andersen and his wife, Kathy, entered the room. "As we walked in the door, I felt the Spirit of the Lord in great force," Elder Andersen remarked.
Elder Wolfgang Paul of the Europe East Area Presidency said, "One of the expressions of [the apostles'] love is that they came here." Ilya Druzhkov of the Botannichesky Branch Presidency said, "It's very precious to have the attention from the First Presidency for us."
President Uchtdorf noted that the Ural Mountains are sometimes called The Gates of Siberia. "You are the gates to the future of the Church," he said. "You are true pioneers in the best sense of the word, and others will follow. Generations to come will praise your name because you are not ashamed of the gospel, and you did not have fear."
Members came with high expectations, hoping to be strengthened and encouraged. They left amply satisfied. "It's hard to be a member [in Russia] as it is, but it's even more trying at a time of financial difficulties," said Vasylina Novikova, a branch Relief Society president. She was struck by President Uchtdorf's comment, "Let's go slowly, step-by-step, spoon-by-spoon, because the Lord doesn't want us to be disappointed."
"This is important," Sister Novikova said, "because so many people get worn out when they try to do too much and feel overwhelmed. I felt happy to be a member of the Church. I thought, 'Here is a man of God.'