(by Sam Penrod deseretnews.com 7-18-16)
A change is coming to the designation for missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are serving in Russia, with elders and sisters serving in the country to be known as volunteers, rather than as missionaries.
The change is in response to a new Russian law aimed at combatting terrorism — but one that also restricts religious organizations in the country.
All Mormon missionaries serve on a volunteer basis, but to comply with the new law set to take effect Wednesday, the LDS Church is making adjustments to what the missionaries assigned to Russia are involved with and known as.
The sweeping new anti-terrorism law also restricts missionary work to faith organizations registered with the government, requiring that all proselytizing must happen within houses of worship.
When the law was enacted earlier this month, the LDS Church responded with a statement that reads in part: "The Church will honor, sustain and obey the law. Missionaries will remain in Russia and will work within the requirements of these changes. The Church will further study and analyze the law and its impact as it goes into effect."
In a recent email message from mission presidents distributed to the relatives of missionaries currently serving in Russia, family members are instructed to refer to their family members in the future — including in social media posts and messages — as volunteers, rather than missionaries who are involved in volunteer service.
The LDS Church has seven missions established in Russia, headquartered in major cities throughout the country.
The new law impacts all religious organizations in Russia, and other faiths have expressed concerns the law is vague, leaving a lot of questions about how it will be applied.
In the 25 years since the LDS Church was first established in Russia, missionary efforts have helped the faith grow to more than 22,000 members who participate in 100 congregations throughout the country.