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Mormon missionaries to remain in Russia despite new law restricting missionary work

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SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church released a statement on Friday afternoon saying that its missionaries will remain in Russia in the wake of a new law that restricts missionary work in the country.

"The church recognizes a new law will take effect in Russia on July 20, 2016, that will have an impact on missionary work," said the statement released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on mormonnewsroom.org. "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 law, signed by President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, sparked widespread concern about the future of missionary work in Russia among Christians, Muslims and Jews.

The law is largely an anti-terrorism tool that requires phone companies to store calls and text messages and includes stronger penalties for terrorist acts or for supporting or financing them.

But the law also creates a broad definition for missionary work. It requires that all missionaries have permits from an official religious organization. Fines range as high as $780 per missionary and $15,500 per organization.

The LDS Church is an officially recognized religion in Russia, said Julie Emmons, 20, who is back home in Elk Grove, California, after completing her mission in the LDS Church's Russia Moscow Mission two weeks ago.

Emmons said Mormon missionaries carry a missionary certificate and "a testimony" at all times. The testimony is a set of papers that include a copy of their passport and information about what they do.

"Missionaries are registered in every city they serve in," said Garry Borders, who returned home to Spokane, Washington, last month after serving three years as president of the Moscow Mission. "We work very hard to comply with all of the legal requirements. The saints in Russia are courageous, and I am confident they will find ways to share the gospel and still comply with the requirements of the new law. They are wonderful in their support of missionaries."

Critics of the law claim it also restricts missionary work to churchs and religious sites. Christianity Today warned last month that it restricts sharing faith online and even in homes.

Emmons said Russian Mormons regularly help missionaries and have them in their homes as they teach people about the LDS faith.

Mormon missionaries spend much of their time street contacting, but as a safety precaution, they do not wear their missionary badges as they do, Emmons said.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com