SALT LAKE CITY — Two Latter-day Saint volunteers detained for nearly three weeks for allegedly teaching English without a license in Novorossiysk, Russia, have left for the United States and their families are rejoicing and expressing relief.
Elder Kole Brodowski, 20, was near the end of his volunteer service and is returning home to Garden Grove, California. Elder David Gaag, 19, will be reassigned to serve as a church missionary in a different mission.
Brodowski's father exulted in a Facebook post, saying, "God is there, our prayers were answered" and "Hallelujah it's over."
"It’s finally over!" Kyle Brodowski wrote. "Kole is headed home, and his companion will receive another call. I want to thank the thousands of people worldwide that prayed for him/us and sent messages of comfort and support. There were many people I’ll never meet that worked day and night for the past three weeks to free these young men. Thank you to all."
He used the term superhuman heroes to praise President Eric Ottesen, president of the Russia Rostov-na-Donu Mission, and his wife, Elizabeth, for their efforts to help the young men since they were arrested on March 1.
"Each day they drove six hours round trip to the detention center to visit and provide support to our boys, also calling and emailing Laura and I daily, in addition to dealing with many other worried parents," Brodowski wrote, adding, "To be half a world away and helpless, with many dark and empty nights, President and Sister Ottesen were our ministering angels!"
Gaag's father, Udo, released a family statement on Wednesday morning, saying the family learned about his released in the last few hours.
"We are so relieved and happy about this news," the statement said. "We spoke with David and he is healthy and in good spirits. He is happy that the detention is over but sad to leave his Russian friends. It is clear to us that he enjoyed his experience serving the Russian people and truly grew to love them."
Gaag remained positive and optimistic during his detention, the family statement said, and Udo Gaag said his son is excited about his pending reassignment to another mission.
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed the news Wednesday morning.
Eric Hawkins said Brodowski and Gaag were treated well in detention and maintained regular contact with their families.
"The church is closely monitoring conditions in Russia for all volunteers and will continue to fully comply with Russian law," he added.
In July 2016, Russia implemented an anti-terrorism law that included a provision banning public missionary work. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints immediately complied, redesignating its young missionaries as volunteers and directing them to follow the law's provision that all proselytizing take place in houses of worship.
The Gaag family also thanked those who helped to create a resolution to the situation.
Udo Gaag previously said local Russian authorities in Novorossiysk accused the two volunteers of teaching English without a license. Brodowski and Gaag said they simply were conducting a regularly scheduled game night in English.
"While we still have questions about the reason for our son’s detention," the Gaag family said in its statement, "we are so thankful for his release. We look forward to understanding more in the coming weeks."
Several Utah political leaders also expressed joy at the release of Brodowski and Gaag.
"Very pleased that Russia has released the two church volunteers, and that they are now returning home to their families," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wrote on Twitter.
"I am happy and grateful to hear this wonderful news," Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said in a statement. "We have all been praying for their safety. I'm sure their families and friends are relieved that the situation was resolved successfully. I appreciate the work of Russia Rostov-na-Donu Mission leader Eric Ottesen and his wife, Elizabeth, for their efforts."
"I am pleased to learn of the safe release of these two young men," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah said in a statement. "I admire their willingness to serve their fellow man and wish them the very best. I am also proud to come from a place where the spirit of volunteerism and missionary work is so interwoven into the fabric of our youth."53 comments on this story
"Prayers have been answered with the return of these two elders serving in Russia," Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a statement: I am grateful for their release and may God continue to bless them and their families."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted that he and his wife were thankful for the news.
"Jeanette and I are so grateful to hear that these volunteers have finally been released from a three-week detainment in Russia," Herbert wrote. "We wish them well as they continue to serve and return home."