A new Central Eurasian Mission will open July 1, according to Deseret News.
The new mission will include the countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The mission will also include divisions of the existing Bulgaria Sofia Mission and the Russia Novosibirsk Mission, according to Deseret News.
The new mission president and his wife will reside in Istanbul, Turkey, where there are currently 90 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 50 of whom attend church weekly, according to the Istanbul branch president, Murat Cakir.
Cakir said he feels overjoyed by the news that the mission president and his wife will be making Istanbul their home.
“We are thrilled with the exciting news about the creation of the new Central Eurasia Mission,” Cakir said.
Cakir said he is excited about who the new mission president is but has to keep it confidential for now.
“It will be a big privilege to host the new mission president,” Cakir said.
The Central Eurasian Mission will have over 150 million people within its boundaries, with only Kazakhstan and Turkey having been assigned to LDS missions before.
The Church currently reports 397 members in Turkey, according to Mormonnewsroom.org
Cakir credits the growing membership in Turkey to the legal status the LDS church achieved in October of 2011.
Cakir said even after the Church achieved legal status, the pathway to where the Church in Turkey is now has not been easy for the members of the in the Istanbul branch.
“Three former branch presidents fell away from our Church, then and became Korihors,” Cakir said.
Cakir said the people who fell away from the church tried to make the church look anti-Muslim, pro-Israel, pro-Armenians and pro-genocide.
“We have elections shortly, so I am a little worried about more opposition,” Cakir said. “They have tried to make me and my family move back to the U.S. They have sent bad messages to my wife and one of my children. People that persecute us were our best friends, and I served with them and worked with them.”
Cakir said securing a new place where members can meet for church has made things a little calmer between the members and the persecutors.
There are currently three active branches in Turkey.
There are two branches in Kazakhstan and a branch in Azerbaijan for expatriate members, foreign members currently living in Azerbaijan, according to Cumorah Project, a privately funded organization dedicated to LDS research.
Cakir said his goal is to reach seven active branches in Turkey, like the seven churches in the biblical book of Revelation.
Ashley Schellhous, a senior studying communication, said that during her visit to Turkey through the BYU-Idaho Mediterranean Tour in fall 2014, she was able to attend one of the active branches of the Church in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.
“We attended church with one of the only active branches in Turkey,” Schellhous said. “Many of the members were American and British families that were there because their families were working with the government.”
She said a lot of the members in the church were also Turkish families who converted to the Church.
“We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the church building or members because it is still very dangerous for them because they still face religious persecution,” Schellhous said.
Of the 81 million people living in Turkey, 99.8 percent are Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Cakir said the colossal population provides great missionary efforts in Turkey, despite the heavily-saturated Muslim population.
“We belong to the Bulgaria mission until July 1,” Cakir said. “There are only 6 million people in that country. We have about three times more people living in Istanbul. There is a great potential in Istanbul and in Turkey. This new change tells me that the Lord is aware of our desires and our potential.”
Schellhous said during her visit, she learned that Turkish culture is influenced by Islam and Islamic Culture.
“I remember there was a lady named Gonca who had said she admired our baptism process so much,” Schellhous said. “She said every Turkish citizen is born with a Muslim identification card. She loved her Muslim identity, but she really liked the idea that Mormons get to choose at age eight to get baptized.”
Schellhous said she is excited that Turkey, along with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, will be included in the Central Eurasian Mission.
“I’m really excited because I’ve seen how good the people there are, and I know their hearts are ready for the gospel,” Schellhous said. “I’m also excited for the people of our church to be able to meet these people of Turkey and these other countries, because I feel like there are a lot of misconceptions out there.”