MOSCOW -5 June 2009 -Amid their meetings with members and missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia and Ukraine this week, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles paused for a tour of a historic Baptist church in Moscow that hosted another senior Church leader nearly 50 years ago.
On Tuesday, 2 June, President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen visited the Central Baptist Church, a 200-year-old structure located near Moscow's Red Square. The two leaders were escorted through the historic building by Vitaly Vlasenko, director of external relations for the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists of Russia, and Pastor Sergey Zolotarevsky.
It was in this same church in 1959 that Ezra Taft Benson, then the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and a member of the Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke to a standing-room only crowd of worshippers. Elder Benson would eventually become president of the Church, serving from 1985 to 1994.
"Fifty years go fast, and lots of things have changed. But the desires of the heart have not changed," President Uchtdorf said to Pastor Zolotarevsky. "And we appreciate very much that Apostle Benson could come here and talk about Christ as you still do here, and as we try to do."
Elder Benson's visit to Soviet Russia was covered by U.S. News & World Report. The apostle's simple yet powerful testimony to the people gathered in the church was detailed in the magazine's 26 October 1959 issue:
"Mr. Benson began to talk, drawing on his experiences as one of the leaders of the Mormon Church in America. Watching the Russian congregation, you could see tears welling up in the eyes of people as the Secretary's words were relayed to them through a translator."
Mr. Benson continued, "I know that God lives. He is our Father. Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the World, watches over this earth. He will direct all things. Be unafraid, keep His commandments, love one another, pray for peace and all will be well." The magazine reported open weeping and muffled sobs in the church, with the article's writer adding, "It turned out to be one of the most moving experiences in the lifetime of many of us."
President Uchtdorf noted that Elder Benson's witness of the Savior on that day came at a difficult time in Russian history, but that the message of Jesus Christ is needed by people of all faiths just as much now as it was then.
"Our friends from the Baptist church were very kind, very friendly. They invited us to come. We met with them in this historic place and stood at the pulpit with them and could feel how the message of Jesus Christ - even with different doctrinal feelings and different beliefs - unites us a people as we try to follow Him, our Savior," President Uchtdorf said.
The visit to Moscow was the final stop of a weeklong tour of eastern Europe during which President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen met with thousands of Latter-day Saints. Links to more information and photos covering their trip and the Church in eastern Europe can be found below:
This article was prepared by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom at lds.org.