Country information: Georgia
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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 4,616,000; Members, 178; Branches,1; Percent LDS, .003, or one in 36,635; Europe East Area; Armenia Yerevan Mission.
Georgia, which had been a republic in the Soviet Union, became an independent nation on 9 April 1991. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, a few Georgians were able to go abroad and some joined the Church.
Roman and Nana Amirkhanashvili were baptized in Hanover, Germany, on June 1996. Shortly after their baptisms, they returned to Georgia. An American couple, John and Rebecca Dockery, who were working at the U.S. Embassy in T'bilisi, met with the Amirkhanashvilis for Sunday worship services until returning to the United States in June 1998. The Amirkhanashvilis eventually immigrated to the United States. However, Latter-day Saint involvement in Georgia goes back to the late 1980s.
Doris S. Platt, a Latter-day Saint living in Sandy, Utah, befriended a Georgian woman, Maya Kavtaradze, who was visiting Utah in 1987. The following year, with the help of her Georgian friend, Platt and her twin daughters were able to travel to Georgia. Platt began to visit regularly and stay for extended periods of time. While in Georgia, she taught English at the Foreign Language Institute in T'bilisi.
While visiting Georgia in 1992, Platt became aware of the country's meager and outdated firefighting equipment. She returned to Utah and was able to arrange for the donation of two retired fire trucks that were still in good working condition. National television broadcasts showed the fire engines, with the Salt Lake City emblem still on the doors, responding to a bombing near Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's car in 1995.
Over the years, Platt arranged for several more humanitarian shipments to Georgia, and for her work she was asked to be a special advisor to President Eduard Shevardnadze. Platt began to work with local humanitarian societies, including Georgian Women for Peace and Life, which was headed by Nanuli Shevardnadze, the president's wife. Platt also contacted the Church Welfare Services Department to see about humanitarian assistance being sent to Georgia. The Church responded by sending in several shipping containers of clothing, food, and medical supplies.
In March 1999, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, accompanied by Elder Charles A. Didier, president of the Europe East Area, and their wives, visited T'bilisi. At a historical site Elder Holland blessed the land. Later that afternoon, Elders Holland and Didier, their wives, and Doris Platt visited with Mrs. Shevardnadze and discussed humanitarian aid issues.
In June 1999, Phillip and Betty Reber, a missionary couple serving in the Russia Rostov na Donu Mission, were assigned as the first missionaries to serve in Georgia. They could not proselyte but served as humanitarian missionaries, answering questions about the Church when asked. They worked through the Georgian Women for Peace and Life organization to relieve suffering through the donation of clothing, food, and medical supplies. They also taught English lessons.
While the Rebers were in Georgia, they met Vazha Natroshvili, a Georgian who had been baptized in Holland some years before. They began holding sacrament and Sunday School meetings in their home. People asked the Rebers why they were in Georgia, which gave the couple an opportunity to talk about the Church. Vazha accompanied the Rebers as they would teach missionary discussions. Since the Church was not registered in Georgia, the first converts, the Mamasakhlisi family and an Armenian, Hike Bagdasaryan, were baptized in Yerevan, Armenia, the closest mission location, on 25 September 1999.
The Rebers were replaced by two missionary couples, Ray and June Kemp, and Brent and Jean McGhie. They were assigned to teach English and also oversee humanitarian projects sponsored by LDS Charities.
On 1 July 1999 Georgia became part of the newly-organized Armenia Yerevan Mission. On 23 September 2001, Robert Beckstrand, president of the Armenia Yerevan Mission, organized the T'bilisi Group. Less than a year later, on 9 June 2002, Elder Robert F. Orton, a member of the Seventy and counselor in the Europe East Area Presidency, organized the T'bilisi Branch, with LDS missionary David Jankowski as president and Vazha Natroshvili as a counselor.
At the end of 2003, there were more than 60 Latter-day Saints in Georgia. Two humanitarian missionary couples were working in and around T'bilisi. Converts were now allowed to be baptized in Georgia and a portable baptismal font was taken to T'bilisi for that purpose. The first baptisms in Georgia were performed on 29 September 2003.
Sources: Doris S. Platt, Interview, Church Archives; Joyce Wilson, Draft newspaper article, 9 June 2002, Church Archives; Armenia Yerevan Mission, Annual historical reports, Church Archives; Blaine R. Wilson, Hello from T'bilisi, Church Archives.