ALMATY, Kazakhstan — When his plane touched down in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Aug. 25, Elder Russell M. Nelson became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve to set foot in Central Asia. Accompanied by Elder Douglas L. Callister, Europe East Area president and his wife, Jan, Elder Nelson spent Aug. 26 visiting government and community leaders, including an interview with a local television station, Yuzhnaya Stalitsa.
In the evening, more than 90 members and friends of the Kazakhstan Almaty Branch gathered at the recently rented meetinghouse to hear Elder Nelson's testimony and counsel. He spoke of families and of blessings that come from living the gospel.
Members living in remote cities traveled by bus up to 13 hours to attend, with one member coming from neighboring Tajikistan.
The meeting was the largest gathering of members in a land where the Church was recognized just three years ago. The Kazakhstan Almaty Branch was organized in July 2001 by Elder Callister.
Early the next morning, Elder Nelson, with Elder and Sister Callister and local Church leaders, climbed to the top of Kok Tobe, which is Kazakh for "Green Hill," a prominent landmark in the city. There, in the shadow of the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains, Chinese for "heavenly mountains," with the city of Almaty spread out below, the group met in a grove. From this location, the group could see the site of the first baptism performed in Kazakhstan in November 1999 and the current Church building.
Elder Nelson pronounced an apostolic blessing, saying that in Kazakhstan, "a fresh spirit has sprung forth, laden with hope, merged with a hunger for enlightenment."
As the prayer concluded, the first rays of the sun were breaking on the city. A new age had begun for the 13 year-old nation of 15 million people.
Following the blessing on the land, Elder Nelson and the Callisters traveled four hours by car to Bishkek, the capital city of the Kyrgyz Republic, a nation of 5 million. During a recent visit to Salt Lake City, the foreign minister of the Kyrgyz Republic, Askar Aitmatov, invited Elder Nelson and other state representatives, including Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, to participate in the 2,200-year anniversary celebration of the birth of the Kyrgyz nation during the final week of August. The itinerary included meetings with the nation's president, Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, the mayor of Bishkek, and the governor of Chui Oblast.
On Aug. 28, Elder Nelson, with Elder and Sister Callister and others, met in Friendship Park in the center of Bishkek to bless the Kyrgyz Republic. They met in an area surrounded by evergreen trees with a bright blue sky overhead and the sound of the morning birds. In this sacred setting, a prayer was given by Elder Nelson.
Included in the prayer was an importuning that "orchards and vineyards may be blessed to yield their fruit, that flocks and herds increase and natural resources of this land provide for the needs of its people."
The group then walked to the main square. Here a statue of Lenin that had stood for decades was being replaced by a new statue for the anniversary celebration. The statue was a winged woman flying through the air, to symbolize freedom.