New laws will go into effect July 20 in Russia that will require massive changes to how missionary work is done in the country.
Among other things, these anti-terrorism laws can elicit fines up to $15,000 for conducting missionary work in private residences.
Still, missionaries serving in Russia aren’t leaving. They are simply going to find a different way of doing their work.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the following statement Friday, July 8: “The Church recognizes a new law will take effect in Russia on July 20, 2016 that will have an impact on missionary work. 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.”
According to the Associated Press, the new, more restrictive rules say that only people affiliated with registered organizations will be allowed to do missionary work. Missionaries and organizations caught praying and distributing materials in private residences could also be subject to fines that can be as much as $780 per missionary and $15,500 for an organization.
Another change is that religious work can only be done in houses of worship and other related religious sites — which would mean LDS people would not be able to share their faith online or in a home to which they have been invited, AP reported.
According to the LDS news website, over 22,700 members of the LDS church live in Russia.
Jessie Bruner, from St. Anthony, returned from serving a mission in Russia in 2015.
She described being a missionary in Russia as “hard and fun at the same time.”
It was difficult, she said, because nearly the entire country is Russian Orthodox, and even if the people don’t live by the standards of the Russian Orthodox Church or attend its services regularly, they still say they belong to it.
From Bruner’s experience, the Russian people are hard on the outside, but once one earns their trust they are very warm, loving people.
“I really love the Russian people,” she said. “They’re amazing and kind and lovely.”
Bruner said they are also for the most part very closed to discussing religion, partly because if they are religious, they consider it a very personal thing.
“I think it’s really hard for them to open up about their religious beliefs,” she said.
Bruner said that to her understanding, while she was a missionary the Russian government was trying to persuade members of the LDS church to leave the country. She said they put documentaries on public television that were negative toward the LDS church.
“It did not reflect well on LDS missionaries,” she said.
Bruner said a lot of the people she talked to also had inaccurate ideas about LDS people before they talked to them. She said they felt uncomfortable about what they saw as an “American church” coming in and trying to convert them to their religion.
Bruner said part of the way she approached the situation as a missionary was to come at it with an enthusiastic attitude.
“As a missionary I think your job is just to a) love the people and b) help them come to an understanding of the gospel,” she said.
Although Bruner doesn’t know exactly how the missionaries in Russia will continue with their work, she said the leaders in her mission always emphasized doing missionary work through members of the church. She thinks the members of the church in Russia will have a huge influence on the missionary work being done there.
“They might focus on just trying to be really good examples,” she said. “Right now is the time for them to really step up their game.”
The Internet in Russia is monitored, Bruner said, so she was already careful about her communication with people in Russia about the church. She said that depending on the company, people in Russia could be fired if their bosses found out they are members of the LDS church, and the same can apply for other religions. The new laws will make it even harder for Bruner to communicate with her Russian friends through letters and other means of communication, she said.
Bruner thinks the new laws appear to be the Russian government’s way of protecting its people from terrorism, since they associate religion with terrorism.
It came as something of a shock to her to hear about these new laws, since while she was there just last year she had seen so much progress, with the LDS missionaries creating a good name for themselves in the country and people opening up to them.
In this time of change, Bruner feels sad about the new laws, and her heart aches for the people of Russia, whom she says are generally a very oppressed people.
She said now is the time for Americans to support the Russian people, not criticize them, and obey their laws while in their country. If she could communicate anything to the people in Russia at this time, it would be that what they are going through right now is just one of the trials that God has for them and that God has not forgotten them.
“These people want religious freedom,” she said.