Mormon ‘volunteers’ detained in Russia

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ST. PETERSBURG – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has issued a statement after several of their volunteers in the Russia, Samara Mission were detained by local authorities, and the incident comes after a recent change in Russian law regarding proselytizing.

The LDS Church released the following statement Friday through spokesman Eric Hawkins:

“Approximately two weeks ago, six volunteers from the Russia Samara Mission were detained by local authorities for a brief period, seeking information about the status of their visas. They were released a few hours later. Three of the volunteers have been reassigned to another Russian-speaking mission outside of the country because of technicalities related to their visas.”

The LDS Church made several changes to the way they handled volunteers serving in Russian missions following the change in laws earlier this summer, and some of those changes were explained in a recent letter from mission President Larry G. Childs.

The letter reminds volunteers’ families that elders, sisters, and senior couples serving in Russia should be referred to as “volunteers.”  The term “missionary” is associated with proselytizing, which volunteers are not allowed to do in Russia, Childs stated.

The letter instructed family members to no longer use the term “missionary” in correspondence with volunteers.  It also discouraged posting any information on public blogs or websites, and reminded members that it is against Russian law to post photos that include Russian citizens.

The letter also outlines some of the ways volunteers will continue to serve in Russia, as they are no longer allowed to share more than basic information about their church with those they meet. Volunteers will engage in community service projects, support local church programs and activities like Family History, Seminary and Institute, and also give tours of church meeting houses along with other efforts.

Volunteers are also encouraged to enhance their knowledge of Russian culture and language in an effort to maintain a lifelong appreciation for the country’s heritage and foster, “positive intercultural understanding.”