Nearly three years ago Elder Nelson formed the first stake in Armenia, the first officially Christian state who adopted Christianity as the official religion in 301 AD.
At the time, Elder Nelson said, “We have good [Church] leadership here, strong people in the gospel.”
Fast forward to last week when the blog LDS Church Growth broke the news that there was “Apostasy in Armenia” (though some have complained the headline is misleading).
Apparently, there was a special stake conference a few weeks ago in which “Elder Katcher and Klebingat of the Seventy came to speak” and they dissolved the stake by making it a district once again, under control of the Armenia Yerevan mission president.
One missionary reported (emphasis mine):
Sunday was Stake Conference, this is all I’m talking about so hold on tight, Elder Klebingat and Elder Kacher from the Seventy came. Elder Klebingat got up first and announced that the Stake was converted to a district, the President of the Stake was released and the keys are now with President Carlson. A district just means that it’s under the direction of the Mission Presidency instead of the members in Armenia. As soon as the changes were announced, One third of the people got up and walked out. My heart broke, just like the hosts in heaven 1/3 walked out. I had to watch 1/3 of my brothers and sisters walk out of that building and I’m willing to bet that the feeling I felt was somewhat after the manner that I felt when one third of God’s children walked out after the council in heaven. This time some may come back, but for some that could be the last time they come to church in this life. I’m still recovering a bit…
They all gave wonderful talks. Elder Kacher shared the story of the early saints in Utah building the Salt Lake Temple. They sacrificed everything, they barely had any food or belongings to build this only for the foundation to crack. They had to pull it out again and build it anew. He told us that this change was us pulling out the old cracked foundation and putting in a new one.
Sister Carlson’s talk was pretty much a big stand against the people who had blamed the missionaries for all the changes. She said that they only send the best missionaries to Armenia and the only sin that the missionaries have is that they love the Armenians too much.
Elder Klebingat invited us all to reflect back on our own testimonies and asked where they were centered on. He asked if big changes came into our lives like this would we be able to stand on our own testimony. He invited us to review our testimonies and to enforce them. He also said that when Christ was about to be crucified he asked he each of his apostles “will you also go away?” He asked us this many times. It really got me thinking. Would a big change like this change where I stand? Would I also go away after Christ is gone? Would I too go away? I refuse to believe that I will go away. I will not go away. He finished his talk very powerfully by saying, “I’m not a liar, I have many faults, I’m not perfect, But i do not lie. I know that this Church is true.”
President talked about how when we serve God we need to serve with all our heart might mind and strength. If you do see this President, I’m sorry but for some reason I can’t remember your talk at all. That was my bad…
I’ve seen a lot more than I wanted to see this last week of what people can do. I’ve seen to many of my brothers and sisters leave in the course of one week, so I just ask “Will you also go away?” If you do I promise I will be two feet behind,, bringing you back. I refuse to see more of my brothers and sisters leave the true church. The Book of Mormon is truly from God and Joseph Smith trasnslated it through the power of God. President Monson is God’s living prophet on this earth today and I had that reconfirmed to me at Stake Conference. Ben once asked me how could someone who had served a full time mission leave the church. I would add to that how could someone that has partaken from the Tree of Life, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, go away? This church is true. No matter what happens, this church is true. I also know that the Gospel is true and we stay true to the church which is the vehicle to keep us on the path back to our Heavenly Father. I am glad Dad made us memorize Helaman 5:12 “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall “.
Another missionary reported (emphasis mine):
Well. Probably one of the craziest weeks yet. Things have really changed here. We had stake conference yesterday and it was crazy, seeing as all of Armenia is just one big stake so all of the members in Armenia gathered together in Yerevan, and Elder Katcher and Klebingat of the Seventy came to speak to us.
They announced that the Armenian stake will no longer be a stake. We have been moved back to a district under the direction of the mission. All of the wards, including Vanadzor ward, were changed back to branches. WOW.
Basically we are starting from the beginning. Things had gotten pretty bad and we are just pruning the tree so that it can grow bigger and bear fresh fruit. things will mostly be run by the mission president now and the missionaries.
The most important callings that they wanted to focus on is the ward clerk, so that none of this sketchy business goes on again. So they decided to have some of the missionaries serve as clerks for the branches, and of course, I got called to serve as the branch clerk for Vanadzor.
It will be very interesting to see how we will manage to do this as well as missionary work but the Lord will help me so no worries. More to come in the near future. We still aren’t sure on which members are going inactive, which leaders will stay or anything. Lots of stuff going on, but it is all for the betterment of Zion in Armenia.
This work will go on no matter what. I love this work and I am so proud to be here representing Christ, building Zion.
So, it seems there was some widespread problems in several wards and possibly at the stake level. My guess would be they were financial in nature as missionaries we asked to take over clerking responsibilities.
In fact, in one Armenian LDS Facebook group someone who seemed to have knowledge of the changes wrote (emphasis mine):
It is true. The real reason was misappropriation of funds/finances, pretty much theft. Numerous people, mostly bishops, even the stake leadership, were involved. Truly sad. This will set the church back years in Armenia.
Some more discussion of this has happened here, here, and in the comments here. Some Reddit posts that discuss it are here and here.