Members of LDS Church in Israel diverse, from many countries

Apr 14, 2018, 10:18 PM | Updated: Apr 23, 2018, 3:53 pm

JERUSALEM, Israel — The desire to visit Jerusalem is what inspired President Russell M. Nelson’s world tour.  Unfortunately, he had to cut his visit short today because of conflict in the region. But what time he did spend in the city was memorable for members.

“I’ve been to Jerusalem many times,” said President Nelson on Saturday, while overlooking the old city from the BYU Jerusalem Center grounds on the Mount of Olives. “I get a thrill each time I come. And look at this day. It’s so beautiful, it’s hard to believe there’s trouble in the land.”

President Nelson, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, traveled to Jerusalem with his wife, Wendy, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife, Pat.

All four of them spoke at district conference meetings at the Jerusalem Center, an experience those in the audience say they won’t soon forget.

Resident Marriette Zaionce talks about attending the Jerusalem District Conference at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 14, 2018.

I just can’t say enough the gratitude I feel that we can do this, that I can experience this,” said member Mariette Zaionce.  “The fact that I can be close to these leaders who are so inspired, you know, you just feel the warmth and the spirituality coming off them.”

Zaionce lives in Tel Aviv, one of about 250 members of the church who live in Israel. She attends a branch made up of members from several countries, including Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines.

Zaionce herself was born in the Netherlands, and made Israel her home decades ago after marrying an Israeli husband.

“I think the atmosphere in our Tel Aviv branch is fantastic,” said Zaionce. “I hear it from other members who come and visit us, they say, wow, what a branch! But it is – wow, what a branch!”

In recognition of the diversity in the audience, President Nelson took time to speak a few sentences in Spanish and Russian during one of Saturday’s member meetings.

John Rey Bautista, his wife Mara and daughter Ella also live in Tel Aviv. John & Mara were both born in the Philippines. They moved to Israel for work.

“We will never forget this for the rest of our lives,” Bautista said about the opportunity to listen to a leader of the church speak. “We can tell the people in the Philippines, you know – we’ve been in Israel, we walked where Jesus walked, we visited the holy places, but we heard a prophet, the living prophet speak like the days of old.”

The sentiments were the same for American students studying at the BYU Jerusalem Center.

“To hear him speak so personally to us was unreal,” said Kate Saylin. “I feel like I have been spiritually uplifted and spiritually fed.”

Ali Blake concurred, “President Nelson was overlooking the Holy Land. It was an experience that I don’t think any of us will ever forget.”

The Nelsons and Hollands left Jerusalem Saturday evening. After a short stop in Europe, they plan to continue their ministry tour to Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Thailand and Hong Kong.

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Members of LDS Church in Israel diverse, from many countries