March 8, 2016
Just over 25 years ago, Elder Russell M. Nelson rededicated Russia for the preaching of the gospel and the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the country. Of Russia’s 147 million residents at that time, alone 156 were members of the Church.1 Today the Russian Federation holds more than 22,000 members, spanning seven missions and 95 congregations.2
The Church in Russia
As BYU-Pathway expands throughout the world, it touches and influences the hearts and fortunes of Saints in many different cultures — even where the established Church is relatively young. Russia is one of these places, and the strength and sacrifice of these members is a boon for the gospel and the BYU-Pathway community alike. They are modern-day pioneers.
PathwayConnect In Russia
Nikolai, 29, is one such member. He joined PathwayConnect only a week after his baptism for reasons that stand as a testament to many of PathwayConnect’s less tangible benefits — the sense of community and the companionship of the Spirit that PathwayConnect offers. When asked by the service missionaries why he wanted to take part in PathwayConnect, he simply said, “I just want to be with good people.”
PathwayConnect in Russia
To be among like-minded Church members is not a privilege many Saints in Russia have, and the burden Nikolai bore for this simple wish was great. While no handcart was required of him, like pioneers of old, the 200-km (120-mile) journey north to St. Petersburg from his home every week by train asked more of him, his wife, and his small business than is asked of many participants in PathwayConnect. Nikolai would travel to St. Petersburg for the Thursday-night gathering and then stay at a friend’s house before returning home the following morning.
“I am so grateful to Heavenly Father for making it possible for me to be a part of PathwayConnect,” shared Nikolai.“This program had a huge positive impact on my life,” Nikolai said. After he completed PathwayConnect, his wife decided to join the Church, and Nikolai began serving as a branch president in his hometown. He has since moved to Minnesota, USA, with his wife and young son and is studying computer science at Southwest Minnesota State University. The young family was sealed in the St. Paul Minnesota Temple in December 2014.
The first Church congregation in Russia was created only 25 years ago, and stories like Nikolai’s are not uncommon where multi-generational-Church-member families are rare and there are few members across the large stretches of the Russian Federation. These faithful Saints stand as a new generation of pioneers, raising stakes of Zion in lands that were once closed to the Church.
Elena is another PathwayConnect pioneer from St. Petersburg. She is newly married and has been a member of the Church since she was 13. She did not have to travel far like Nikolai and many other PathwayConnect participants, but she too made many sacrifices to attend PathwayConnect.
“I decided to quit my previous job and find a new one with less working hours so I could fully participate in PathwayConnect and fulfill all the assignments on time,” Elena said. “My husband and I are planning to have at least three kids, so I will probably combine my academic goals with taking care of our babies. Then later, I want to try and work from home as a web designer/developer so I can contribute to our family income.”
The way the people of Russia have embraced PathwayConnect is an example to Church members all across the world. One stake president demonstrated his support of the program by joining PathwayConnect at the same time as his daughter. His leading example to his stake and family displayed the importance of what PathwayConnect has to offer.
Many others have sacrificed much in support of those attending weekly gatherings. One mother of a PathwayConnect attendee traveled two hours each week to look after her two grandchildren so her son and his wife could attend the gatherings together.
Employees at the BYU-Pathway Home Office and Brigham Young University-Idaho are humbled by the efforts and sacrifices of so many throughout the world who go to great lengths to participate in PathwayConnect. For this reason, new solutions are being considered to ease the burden of long-distance travel to gatherings.
For example, a virtual PathwayConnect pilot is currently taking place in Eastern Europe. By holding the gathering online instead of in person, those living in areas where large distances or legal restrictions limit their opportunities to learn and enjoy the blessings of PathwayConnect have found an answer to their prayers. The hope is that this pilot program may one day be available throughout the world to others who face similar restrictions.
Showing the faith of the Church’s pioneer heritage, these Russian PathwayConnect students are forging an example of self-improvement and sacrifice that not only benefits the Church, but also their larger communities as they improve their English, build life skills, and gain a greater appreciation of the gospel.
“The deep knowledge of the gospel that I gained through PathwayConnect helped me to serve better in my calling as a branch president,” Nikolai said. “I improved my English, so I have now been invited to work as a tutor at the writing center of my university.”
PathwayConnect participants in Russia, new and old, are growing and progressing through the program as they continue to serve the Lord. These are some of the Church’s modern pioneers.