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

Country information: Latvia

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 2,231,500; Members, 1,025; Mission, 1; Districts, 1; Branches, 7; Percent LDS, .04 , or one in 2,426; Europe East Area.

Latvia, located on the Baltic Sea, is a parliamentary democracy. Its major religions are Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic. The official language is Latvian, though Russian is spoken widely.

Mischa Markow was the first to preach in what is presently Latvia. Markow registered with the district court in October 1903 and then preached to Germans in the city of Riga, which was then part of the Russian Empire.

However, when he was summoned to court and asked to explain what he was doing in Riga, he chose to comply with instructions from President Francis M. Lyman of the European Mission and leave the country, rather than face the possibility of exile in Siberia. No missionary work was done in Latvia because of religious intolerance, world wars, and Soviet occupation until after 1991 when Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

Recent missionary work in Latvia began on 17 June 1992 with the arrival of four missionaries serving under the direction of the Russia St. Petersburg Mission President Charles H. Creel: Dale Franklin, Dennon Ison, Matthew H. Lyman, and Michael G. Van Patten. They were followed on June 30 by a missionary couple, Boris A. and Liselotte Schiel. Boris Schiel was a native Latvian who left Latvia during World War II, and joined the Church in Germany in 1954, and moved to America.

The first convert in Latvia, Gunars Kavals, was baptized on 25 July 1992. Prior to this, a Latvian couple living and studying in Moscow, Russia, Gvido and Velga Senkans, joined the Church. Shortly thereafter, they returned to Latvia to help build the Church in their native land.

In March 1993 Latvia was visited by Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve. During that visit, Elder Faust said in a missionary meeting, "I prophesy, in your lifetime, you will see several stakes organized in the country of Latvia under the Latvian leadership. You are pioneers; you can tell your children about it."

The Latvia Riga Mission, created on 1 July 1993, included Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia and later for a brief time, Belarus. The first mission president was Robert W. Blair. On 16 April 1996, the mission office was transferred and the name changed to the Lithuania Vilnius Mission. The mission was changed back to the Latvia Riga Mission on 13 December 2001 and was then changed to the Baltic Mission on 1 July 2002. The mission is headquartered in Riga, Latvia.

Missionaries began to learn Latvian in the Provo Missionary Training Center on 15 July 1993. Prior to this time, they were trained in Russian and learned Latvian in the country.

The first branch in Latvia was organized in Riga on 30 May 1993 with Olegs Siropjatovs as branch president. A short time later, on 3 October 1993 the branch was divided and Russian and Latvian-speaking branches were organized. Gvido Senkans was called as first president of the Latvian-speaking branch.

Missionaries were sent to the city of Liepaja on 10 April 1997, and on 23 February 2001 missionaries were sent to work in Daugavpils.

On 8 October 1993 the application for the registration of the Church in Latvia was rejected. Branch registration was postponed for three years until 28 February 1996 when the branches in Riga were officially registered. This was followed by the organization of the Riga Latvia District on 25 January 1998.

Translation of Church literature and the Church name began in 1992. Gvido Senkans, Viesturs Tivums, Zigfrids and Rasma Liepa, and Zane Eglaja were the translation team of the Book of Mormon, which was delivered to missionaries and Church members in February 2001.

In 2003, membership reached 692.

Sources: Mischa Markow's missionary journal, edited by Matthew K. Heiss and published in Kahlile Mehr, Mormon Missionaries Enter Eastern Europe, 2002; "I feel that my soul is not empty," Church News, 16 November 1991; "Eight new missions announced," Church News, 6 March 1993; "4 European lands dedicated," Church News, 12 June 1993; "Seven new missions created" Church News, 9 March 2002; Correspondence from the Lithuania Vilnius Mission in Church News files; Baltic Mission Manuscript History and historical reports, Church Archives.