Everywhere Latter-day Saint apostles go, they seek to minister the way Jesus Christ ministered — “one by one.” In a faith of 16 million members and only 15 apostles, this is an important challenge.
Just as their counterparts in ancient times were sent forth to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, NIV), Latter-day Saint apostles travel the world to strengthen and encourage Church members, to organize new congregations and to conduct the business of the Church.
“In our sharing the message … it doesn’t really matter if it’s many or its few, because we focus on the one,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “I like the wonderful translation in Russian where the ministering word is translated into ‘serving with care.’ I hope in Polish it’s the same,” he added.
Only 50 Latter-day Saints live in the Polish port city of Gdansk (formerly Danzig, Germany). The Church has had a presence there since 1900. But it wasn’t until September 17, 2018, that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited the city of 1.4 million on the Baltic Coast.
“It is the first time after the Second World War that an apostle of the Lord is back in these places. These are places close to my heart. I was born in this area. I was a refugee twice,” Elder Uchtdorf reminisced.
Zola Radel is a Latter-day Saint who lives in Gdansk and attended Elder Uchtdorf’s devotional there. “I was thrilled and happy that the Lord … sends His apostle with a very important message, thrilled that I can share it with my family and with close ones and that I can see a living apostle.”
Although missionaries began preaching in Danzig in 1900 and the city’s congregation had as many as 200 members by 1930, World War II had devastating effects on the local Church. Artillery fire and bomber raids destroyed many member homes, and some Latter-day Saints starved to death. It is believed that by 1946, all members of the Danzig Branch had evacuated the city and the branch was closed.
The Gdansk Poland Branch, as it is known today, was created in 2000.
The Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave of 941,000 people located between Poland and Lithuania, is home to some 200 Latter-day Saints. Elder Uchtdorf met members there September 16.
“The members are great,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “I’m deeply impressed by their spirit, by their goodness, by their love for the Lord and for the people. There is great hope here.”
“I’m very glad I decided to come here,” said Natalian Chernova, who cancelled travel plans after learning Elder Uchtdorf would be visiting her congregation. She described the chapel being filled with a “bright, light spirit” during the devotional. “It touched the heart of every person who attended the meeting,” she added.
Latter-day Saint missionaries first preached in Kaliningrad (then known as Königsberg, Germany) in 1899. The city had 465 Church members by 1939. Like the Church in Danzig, however, the Church in Königsberg also took a significant hit during World War II.
In 1944, the National Socialist Party confiscated the congregation’s meeting rooms. By 1946, all members of five of the six branches of the Königsberg District left the region — except those required to stay and defend the city. Historians have counted as many as 57 members of the Königsberg District that did not survive World War II.
The Kaliningrad Russia Branch was created in 1995.
Elder Uchtdorf acknowledged to the congregation the suffering that people in the area endured “during this terrible war which [Nazi] Germany started.” He continued to say that since that time, it was exciting to witness “the wonderful development of the Church … as an apostle of the Lord, especially as a German, to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ unites people [and] brings peace to every nation [that] embraces the gospel.”
Elder Uchtdorf made stops in London (home to 8,184 members), Frankfurt (4,244 members) and Moscow (3,554 members) between September 7 and September 14.