30 LDS missionaries reassigned after Russia changes law on public proselyting

Posted at 9:43 PM, Sep 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-05 23:43:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reassigned 30 missionaries who were originally called to serve in Russia.

The announcement comes after the Russian Government changed their laws, making it illegal to proselyte publicly.

BYU students, Tommy Stuart and Janes Leblow, just returned from a two-year mission in Saint Petersburg in August.

They spent the majority of their mission proselytizing.

"We were mostly talking with people on the streets, walking up to strangers, talking to them about their gospel," Leblow said.

However, their mission practically changed overnight when the government signed a new law earlier this summer restricting missionaries from proselytizing.

"I personally was really confused, most of us really didn't know what we were going to do further, this was a really big change," Leblow said.

Under the law, Russian missionaries, who the church now call volunteers, can only focus their efforts on people who are already members of the church. That posed a big challenge for Stuart.

"You're sitting on the subway and you're just looking at people like, 'come on I really want to talk to you,' you just kind of have to hold back, that was kind of hard because our whole mentality, our whole mission, is talk to everyone, talk to everyone, talk to everyone and all of a sudden its talk to no one, talk to no one, talk to no one," Stuart said.

However, these volunteers say the new law isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"We came to realize that this might actually be a good thing because the members of the church have to really step up in Russia and they really have to fulfill their part," Leblow said.

Since the change in law, the LDS Church has reassigned 30 volunteers who were originally called to serve in Russia. However, 47 volunteers are still scheduled to fulfill their mission in Russia.

The church released this statement:

"The church continues to operate its seven missions within Russia - seeking to comply with every requirement of Russian law - and will continue to call additional volunteers as required to support the church there."

Leblow and Stuart said they don't feel like the Russian Government was targeting LDS missionaries and they believe the church still has a strong future in the country.

"I know the world is kind of a crazy place right now and as far as I'm aware Russia is doing everything they can to keep their citizens safe, minimize interaction between foreigners," Leblow said.