The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Saturday, May 20th it will combine two of its Russian missions.
Effective July 1st, the Church plans to merge the southeastern Vladivostok Mission and the southern Novosibirsk Mission, reducing the number of LDS missions in Russia from seven to six.
Missionaries scheduled to return home in July will be returning home in late May. Those meant to come home in August will be reassigned to U.S. missions for the duration of their service.
Since the implementation of Russia’s new anti-terrorism law last July, the LDS Church has taken measures to reduce the missionary presence in Russia. The Yarovaya Law, as it is called, places heavy restrictions on proselytizing. Those practicing missionary work (i.e. preaching, disseminating religious materials, and praying) in private residences are subject to fines up to $15,000 and possible deportation.
When the law came into effect, the Church released the following statement, assuring members they’d do their best to keep missionary work afloat while still abiding by the law:
”The Church will honor, sustain and obey the law. Missionaries will remain in Russia and will work within the requirements of these changes. The Church will further study and analyze the law and its impact as it goes into effect.”
The Church went on to announce that missionaries serving in Russia are to be referred to as “volunteers.”
U.S. relations with Russia are icy at best. In December, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah called our ties to Russia “Cold War-esque” and deemed Russian treatment of U.S. Diplomats “aggressive.”
According to Matt Martinich, an independent LDS researcher and project manager of The Cumorah Foundation, the LDS relationship with Russia has been a struggle from the beginning. Despite this, the LDS Church currently has the largest full-time missionary presence of any religion in the country.
The Church’s latest announcement released President and Sister Perkinson, who have presided over the Russia mission for 2-years, and thanked them for their service. The Europe East Area Presidency will oversee the merging of the two missions.