I was checking my usual websites this morning, among them being deseretnews.com. One of the big headlines was the organization of the first stake in Russia, which immediately caught my eye. Knowing a guy back at SVU who served in Siberia (literally) and another who is heading to Moscow at the end of the summer to serve his mission, it was a joyous announcement that has been on my mind much of the day.
I’ve heard from several returned missionaries and other friends who have spent time in Eastern Europe how lovely and dedicated the members there are, and it makes me so happy to know that they now have an actual stake! There are 2,926 stakes worldwide, and the Moscow Russia stake consists of six wards and three branches. I can’t help but think of how much I love my stake here in Hartford and all that we do as a unified congregation: youth activities and events, gatherings of the young single adults, conferences and firesides with our leaders, a whole calendar filled with activities and opportunities to fellowship.
When I was younger, “stake dances” would be casually mentioned in conversations with friends in the hopes that they’d be interested enough to accept the invitation to come with. That was after the explanation of what a stake is (“well, you know how the Catholic church has a bunch of congregations, then it has a big diocese for the area? Kind of like that… No, we’re Latter-day Saints… No, we’re not Catholic… Yes, we dance. It’s a stake dance… It’s a bunch of Mormons from all over the Hartford area… Yes, boys can dance with girls… No, it doesn’t mean we’re going to convert you. It’s supposed to be fun… No, we don’t listen to weird music… Yes, I’m sure we’re allowed to dance…”).
I’m excited that the Russian youth will soon have opportunities like this. I love the feeling of a ward. It feels like you have a bunch of loving brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles. So oftentimes, going to stake events is like a giant family reunion with all the extended cousins, great aunts and uncles and great-great grandparents. There’s a familiarity that creates a special type of atmosphere you don’t often find.
I find it interesting how Russia has long been important in the grand scheme of the Church. Joseph Smith knew how important Russia would be in the Kingdom, despite the difficulties that members would have there. The first members, the Lindlof family, were imprisoned and deported for their singular beliefs (‘singular’ referring to the fact that in the early 1900s, they were the only members in the country) after the Bolshevik Revolution. They faced adversity the likes of which most of us will never experience due to their faith, and yet remained strong, becoming poignant examples of enduring to the end.
The Church wasn’t recognized formally as a centralized religion until 1998, despite the fact that missionaries were allowed entrance and the first branch in St. Petersburg/Leningrad was formed in 1990. Initial recognition followed a year later. I realize how much growth has happened over the past few decades, but none so clear as the increase in missionary work.
My generation talks about receiving mission calls to China. Any big announcement at General Conference has us holding our breath and crossing our fingers in the hopes that China will be opened to missionaries and we sigh when the announcement does not come. But just a generation ago, Russia was like our China. Seemingly impenetrable in terms of full-time missionary work, relying on the members to spread the Gospel and praying each night that the area would be opened to our missionaries soon.
It’s one of those things where you realize that time flies by (in retrospect), but seems to drag on slowly. That’s the Lord’s time for you. All things in their own time, each has its season.
When I think about the opportunities the organization of this stake brings, and the changes it will spur, I can’t help but get excited to see the Church grow, and know that one day it will be like nations in the Western Hemisphere – growing so quickly, sometimes when you’re standing still, it’s hard to catch up. :)