Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Kazakhstan

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 15,399,000; Members, 135; Branches, 1; Percent LDS, .0009, or one member in 114,067; Europe East Area.

In geographical size, Kazakhstan, a republic of the former the Soviet Union, is the ninth largest country in the world. The vast country in central Asia extends from the southern border of Russia on the north to the Himalayan Mountains on the south. Its diverse population consists of Kazakh 53.4 percent, Russian 30 percent, Ukrainian 3.7 percent, Uzbek 2.5 percent, German 2.4 percent, Uighur 1.4 percent, other 6.6 percent (1999 census). Major religious denominations include Muslim 47 percent, Russian Orthodox 44 percent, Protestant 2 percent, other 7 percent. Languages spoken include Kazakh, which is the state language and Russian, which has been designated the "language of interethnic communication." Kazakhstan has a republican form of government.

The first Latter-day Saints to live in Kazakhstan were Russell and Margaret Backus, Americans working in Almaty, who began having sacrament meetings in their apartment in late 1997. In 1998, other LDS families moved to Almaty and provided the nucleus around which the Church began to grow. In July 1999, Paul B. Pieper, an American working as a contractor for governments in Central Asia and stationed in Almaty, was called as group leader.

The Kabdegaliev family, who joined the Church in Ukraine in the early 1990s, moved to Astana in September 1999. Zhastalop Kabdegaliev had served as a branch president in Ukraine. The first Church conference in Kazakhstan was held in October 1999, which was preceded by an open house in Almaty. Brother Kabdegaliev conducted the conference in Russian.

The first baptism in Kazakhstan was on 7 November 1999. A woman named Jazigul Tugelbaeva learned of the Church from American Church members living in Almaty.

The Church received official recognition from the government of Kazakhstan on 19 December 2000. Later, on 2 February 2001, Elder Wayne M. Hancock of the Seventy and president of the Europe East Area met with government officials in Astana to express appreciation for the recognition. During Elder Hancock's visit, the first Melchizedek Priesthood ordinations were performed and the first temple recommends were issued to local members, which in 2001 numbered about 40 in Almaty and 25 in Astana.

Seven months after the government recognition, the first branch of the Church in the country was created in Almaty on 29 July 2001 by Elder Douglas L. Callister of the Seventy and president of the Europe East Area. Paul B. Pieper was called as the branch president, with Averroes Utamagambetov as first counselor and Nurlan Kadyrbekov as second counselor. Because there were no full-time missionaries serving in Kazakhstan when the branch was organized, Kazakhstani members were responsible for teaching and fellowshipping those interested in the Church.

On 25 August 2003, Elder Russell M. Nelson became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve to visit the country. He visited government officials, was interviewed by Yuzhnaya Stalitsa television and met with members of the Almaty Branch in a fireside. Members living in remote cities traveled 13 hours by bus to attend the fireside. The meeting was the largest gathering of members since the Church received recognition three years earlier. The next morning, Elder Nelson and his entourage gathered in a quiet grove in the shadow of the snowcapped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains. With the view of the city Almaty spread before them, he blessed the land.

Barry A. and Tamara H. Baker were the first missionaries called to Kazakhstan. Representing LDS Charities, the Bakers undertook projects in hospitals and orphanages, provided aid to victims of the May 2003 earthquake in the Jambul region of Kazakhstan, and also worked with other humanitarian organizations.

In 2002, membership was less than 100 members.

Sources: "Kazakhstan recognizes Church," Church News, 17 February 2001; "First LDS Branch Created in Kazakhstan," Church News, 11 August 2001; "Elder Nelson visits Kazakhstan," Church News, 13 September 2003; Barry and Tamara Baker interview, 3 November 2003, Church Archives.