It was the perfect way to end her mission.
After laboring for 18 months as a full-time Mormon missionary in Moscow, Russia, Kelsey Jones and others gasped and cried in late May when their mission president, Stephen J. Sorenson, announced that Elder Russell M. Nelson was coming to organize the first stake in Russia.
“It was a huge shock,” said Jones, now back in Utah. “We all broke down in tears. This is what we have been working for, for so long. What an amazing blessing.”
Elder Nelson, of the Quorum of the Twelve, traveled to Russia and met with more than 1,100 people gathered inside Moscow’s Amber Plaza Auditorium to organize the Moscow Russia Stake on June 5. The stake includes six wards and three branches. Yakov Mikhaylovich Boyko was called to preside over the stake, and Vyacheslav Viktorovich Protopopov was ordained as the first stake patriarch. At the end of the conference, Elder Nelson shared his testimony in Russian.
Jones said church membership in Moscow was under the impression the stake would not be formed until spring 2012. Then President Sorenson called a special meeting a few weeks before Jones was scheduled to come home and surprised the mission with the news. In preparation for the event, Jones and other missionaries were asked to deliver letters to branch presidents, who then shared the news with members.
Jones said one branch president stopped speaking when he realized what he was reading.
“People were looking around like, ‘Did he really just read that?’” Jones said. “People started crying and hugging. It was an emotional scene. The second counselor, who was conducting, had to wipe his eyes before he said, ‘What a blessing, what a miracle.’”
What will a new stake mean to church members in Russia? The country will now have all the priesthood leaders — a stake president, bishops, high priests and a patriarch — required to direct the local affairs of the church. Previously, a patriarch traveled to Russia a few times each year to give numerous blessings. A bishop’s storehouse can now be established with a full range of resources for the members. Leaders hope young members will remain in Russia and contribute to further growth.
Many church members and former missionaries who have served in various locations around Russia since the 1990s continue to react to the news.
Travis Hansen, a former BYU star who plays professional basketball in Moscow, said the news impacted the members. He and his family feel blessed to be part of it.
“They know that with a stake and more growth comes more responsibility and more opportunities,” Hansen said in an email. “They all have thoughts of a temple one day.”
Chad and Bethany Packard, a senior couple serving in Moscow, said via email that the organization of the stake was the happiest moment of their mission. Having an ordained patriarch will be a mighty blessing, Packard said. "No need to wait years and years to receive a patriarchal blessing," he said.
Darren Jex served in St. Petersburg, Russia, under President Thomas Rogers from 1995 to 1996. The mission was only three years old. His first branch in Moskovski Prospect had fewer than 15 active members. He played the top hand on the piano at church meetings. He recalls riding the train to Vyborg to see construction of the first ward building. He said the LDS church was relatively unknown in Russia then.
“I think about my time there so very often and reflect on the sacrifice members made to go to church in rundown buildings and have baptisms in the river,” Jex said. “There were times where we took turns standing guard during sacrament meetings because of threats made to members at that time. The members are so faithful and would let nothing deter them from saving any money they could for the chance to attend the temple out of the country.”
Nathan Toone served in the Russia Moscow Mission under President Glenn Beus from 2005-2007. Rather than meeting in the magnificent Russian Orthodox Temple down the street, often members traveled by bus for hours to meet in a rented upstairs office space where Book of Mormon pictures lined the walls.
“That's faith,” Toone said.
Toone said President Boyko helped him learn the language, and he also associated with the new patriarch, Protopopov, who previously served as a branch president.
Toone recalls being present when the Moscow district was divided into two districts. Church leaders considered creating a stake then but decided to wait.
“How exciting that the time has finally come,” Toone said.
President Mark Rupp, recently called to preside over the Salt Lake Granger North Stake, served in the Moscow South Mission from 1997 to 1999. He recalls members talking about the day when a stake would be created in Russia almost 15 years ago. Before the Kyiv Ukraine Temple was dedicated last year, members sacrificed and made expensive trips to attend the temple in Stockholm, Sweden. Now he longs for the day when a temple can be built in Moscow.
“The members were so excited when the Kyiv temple was announced in 1998,” Rupp said. “I loved reading and watching as members all over the former Soviet Union celebrated as that temple was dedicated. I look forward to the day when there will be a temple in Russia and when I can return and serve there again.”