Trent Toone, Deseret News
Left, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, emeritus general authority, was named an honorary consul of Belarus for the state of Utah Thursday in a ceremony by Dr. Oleg Kravchenko, deputy foreign minister of Belarus, middle, and Pavel Shidlovsky, chief of mission, in the Belarus Embassy in Washington D.C.

SALT LAKE CITY — An emeritus general authority is helping to foster friendly diplomatic relations among an eastern European country, Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander, granted emeritus status in 2009, was named an honorary consul of Belarus for the state of Utah by Oleg Kravchenko, deputy foreign minister of Belarus, and Pavel Shidlovsky, chief of mission in the Belarus Embassy in Washington D.C., in a small ceremony at the LDS Conference Center Thursday.

"It means a great deal to me personally," Elder Neuenschwander said. "Belarus is an exceptional county. I've had extensive ties with Belarus since the beginning of the LDS Church there in the early 1990s. I've made several trips there, even had Belarus officials visit us in Frankfurt when we lived there. ... It's just been a very wonderful, warm relationship. And of course it's a part of the world where I have served for much of my life. This is another opportunity serve yet for a few years, as long as I have the health and energy to do so."

In this capacity, Elder Neuenschwander will help to facilitate relationships among Belarus, Utah and the LDS Church on a variety of levels, including projects that involve humanitarian aid, cultural, technological and educational collaboration, as well as economical and business opportunities.

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson traveled to Minsk on May 11, 1993, to dedicate Belarus for the preaching of the gospel, according to the LDS Church News. Today the church has some congregations and a humanitarian missionary presence in eastern European nation, Elder Neuenschwander said.

"Part of this is educating Utah to the beauties and opportunities in Belarus," Elder Neuenschwander said.

Both Kravchenko and Shidlovsky have visited Utah before and each man has felt a special connection with the state and its people. They are confident this joint effort will be successful and feel Elder Neuenschwander is the right man for this job.

"I am very happy that we now have Elder Neuenschwander as our honorary consul in Utah," Kravchenko said. "He is a very decent man, a special man, not just the right person to be in this position, but the person who has already become a personal friend of ours, which also speaks volumes because diplomacy is usually about being able to become friends with people, not in order achieve something, but to help them, to do something for which you are not paid."

Shidlovsky has visited all 50 states in the U.S. and what sets Utah apart is its ability to start and finish a project.

"Unlike other projects and other initiatives with other parts of the country, although they also work, Utah has next to 100 percent degree of success," he said. "Anything is possible in Utah. All areas are open for us."

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As part of their trip to Utah Thursday, the two Belarus officials met with Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, and Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, at the state Capitol; Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah; members of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development; and President Nelson and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The group also visited the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah and met with university administrators.

Before serving in the Second and First Quorums of the Seventy as well as the Presidency of the Seventy, from 1991-2009, Elder Neuenschwander served as a young missionary in Finland and developed an interest in languages. He went on to earn a doctorate in Russian literature and teach Russian at several universities. As a mission president in the late 1980s, he and his wife, the late LeAnn Neuenschwander, oversaw missionary work in several eastern European countries.