Reaching the Nations

Georgia

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 69,700 square km.  Occupying a strip of land in the Caucasus, Georgia borders Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, and the Black Sea.  The Great Caucasus Mountains and Lesser Caucasus Mountains form the northern and southern borders, respectively.  The wide range in elevation and terrain allows for a wide range of climates.  Low-laying plains line the Black Sea coastal areas whereas the central and eastern regions consist of plains and plateaus.   Mediterranean climatic conditions prevail along the coast whereas interior climate ranges from semi-arid to temperate to alpine.  Heavy rain and snowfall support some temperate rainforests in the west.  Earthquakes are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include air, soil, water pollution, and water shortages.  Georgia is administratively divided into nine regions, one city, and two autonomous republics.  Two small de facto states along the Russian border - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - are officially part of Georgia, but maintain separate administrations with close political ties with Russia. 

Peoples

Georgian: 83.6%

Azeri: 6.5%

Armenian: 5.7%

Russian: 1.5%

Other: 2.5%

Georgians reside in all areas of Georgia proper except for some southern border regions.  Azeris primarily reside south of Tbilisi whereas Armenians south of Tbilisi and in pockets in Abkhazia.  Russians populate northern areas.

Population: 4,570,934 (July 2012)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.327% (2012)    

Fertility Rate: 1.46 children born per woman (2012)   

Life Expectancy: 73.99 male, 81 female (2012)

Languages: Georgian (71%), Russian (9%), Armenian (7%), Azeri (6%), other (7%).  Georgian is the official language and only language with over one million speakers (3.9 million).  Abkhaz is the official language in Abkhazia.   Several languages have approximately 100,000 speakers or more, including Abkhaz, Azerbaijani, Mingrelian, Ossetian, and Urum. 

Literacy: 100% (2004)                                                   

History

The kingdoms of Colchis and Kartli-Iberia ruled the region until the Roman Empire expanded into the Caucasus after the birth of Christ.  By the 330s, Christianity became the state religion.  Roman influence waned and Persians, Turks, and Arabs occupied the region.  Georgia reached its most powerful and influential height between the 11th and 13th centuries which ended as a result of the Mongol invasions.  The Ottomans and Persians gained control of Georgia until it came under Russian rule in the 19th century.  A brief three-year independence from 1918 to 1921 came to an end when Georgia was integrated into the Soviet Union.  In 1991, Georgia regained independence from the Soviet Union.  During the first decade following independence, little progress occurred fighting corruption and addressing separatist movements in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adjara.  The Rose Revolution began in late 2003 following disputed presidential election results and resulted in major changes in government policy and administration and instigated economic reform.  Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2004 following the Rose Revolution and regained control over the previously de facto state of Adjara.  The geopolitical issues regarding the continued separatist control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia reached greater complexity as these de facto states received assistance from Russia and maintained close political ties which included intent on joining the Russian Federation.  For instance, in South Ossetia, Russia issued Russian passports and provided electricity.  A major military conflict occurred in August 2008 over a Georgian military response to South Ossetian and Russian provocation which resulted in the Russian military occupying both de facto republics and large areas of Georgia proper.  Russia withdrew its forces shortly thereafter from most areas and officially recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.   

Culture 

Georgian culture has endured for thousands of years and has developed over time through indigenous and foreign influences to produce a proud tradition of art, theater, architecture, folklore, music, and dance.  Georgia has been a renowned producer of wine for centuries which has been especially popular in Russia.  Cuisine is diverse and includes Khinkali (dumplings), soup, bread dishes, and vegetables.  The Georgian Orthodox Church is among the oldest Christian faiths and strongly influences local culture and social attitudes.  Cigarette consumption rates are moderate and alcohol consumption rates are low.

Economy

GDP per capita: $5,400 (2011) [11.2% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.778

Corruption Index: 4.1

The establishment of the new government in 2004 led to many improvements in economic policy and administration.  Strong economic growth occurred until the 2008 Russian conflict.  In 2009, Georgia suffered a recession mainly due to declining demand for Georgian goods, a lack of foreign investment, and the global financial crisis.  Due to its position bridging Asia and Europe, Georgia has begun to better capitalize on its potential as a transporter of goods between these regions and is economically integrated into the region.  In recent years, several pipelines - notably the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline - have been completed bringing oil and gas from the energy-rich Caspian Sea to Asia Minor and the Black Sea for distribution in Europe.  Services produce 62% of the GDP and employ 36% of the workforce whereas industry accounts for 26% of the GDP and 9% of the workforce.  Major industries include steel, aircraft manufacturing, machinery, mining, and wine.  Agriculture employs over half of Georgians but generates only 12% of the GDP.  Primary crops include citrus, grapes, tea, and hazelnuts.  Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine are the primary trade partners. 

Georgia has made progress fighting corruption and is perceived  as the least corrupt nation in the Caucasus.  The government has pledged to address corruption problems and develop the economy, which it has generally carried out.  Issues the government has sought to improve include strengthening the law, implementing a fair university entry exam system, and reforming the judicial system.[1]  However perceived corruption rates remain far worse than most of Western and Central Europe.

Faiths

Christian: 88.6%

Muslim: 9.9%

Other: 0.8%

None: 0.7%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Georgian Orthodox  3,864,693

Catholic  35,000

Jehovah's Witnesses  17,860  188

Greek Orthodox  15,000

Seventh Day Adventists  368  8

Latter-Day Saints  184  2

Religion

Religious affiliation is highly correlated by ethnicity and location.  Most ethnic Georgians are Georgian Orthodox or adhere to other Orthodox denominations.  Additional traditional religious groups include Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam.  Muslims primarily consist of Azeris, ethnic Georgians in Ajara, and Chechen Kists.  Non-traditional Christian denominations together constitute less than one percent of the population.[2]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is generally upheld by laws and government policies.  The government has made considerable progress improving religious freedom and tolerance for non-Orthodox groups on a national level.  The media continues to portray non-Orthodox groups in a negative light.  Religious conflicts tend to most often occur with local police or between Georgian Orthodox individuals and non-traditional religious minorities and Muslims.  Jehovah's Witnesses appear the group which reports the most instances of harassment among newly arrived religious groups.  The Georgian Orthodox Church has strong influences on government policy due to its prominence among the national population.  At times some view the Orthodox Church's influence and treatment by the government as unfair and unequal compared to other religious groups.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 53%

Tbilisi, K'ut'aisi, Bat'umi, Sokhumi, Zugdidi, P'ot'I, Gori, Ts'khinvali, Samtredia, Khashuri. 

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the 10 largest cities has an LDS congregation.  37% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated Georgia for missionary work in March 1999.  Georgia was assigned to the Armenia Yerevan Mission shortly thereafter.  Humanitarian missionaries were assigned in June and began donating relief supplies to orphanages and taught English.[4]  In September, the first Georgians to join the Church were baptized in Armenia due to the Church's unregistered status.  The first Priesthood ordinations and Relief Society, Priesthood, and Young women meetings were held in 1999 and 2000.[5]  In 2000, Georgia became part of the Europe East Area.  In 2005, the Church registered with the government, allowing the first full-time proselytizing missionaries to be assigned in March 2006.  In 2008, missionaries were withdrawn for a nearly three months due to conflict with Russia.  The seminary and institute programs were introduced in 2008.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 184 (2009)

In March 2000, there were 14 members which increased to 30 by June 2001.[6]  In 2003, there were 63 members.  Membership doubled to 126 in 2006 and reached 178 in 2008. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 1

The Church created its first group in September 2001.  The following June the first branch was organized in Tbilisi.[7]  In 2007, the Tbilisi Branch split into two branches, the Avlabari and Saburtalo Branches, and in 2011 the two branches were consolidated into a single branch.  The sole branch reports directly to the Armenia Yerevan Mission.

Activity and Retention

18 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2008-2009 school year.  Active membership in 2007 may have reached as high as 80 to 100 initiating the creation of a second branch.  The 2008 conflict with Russia resulted in reduced member activity rates.  In 2010, active membership was between 45 and 55, or 25% to 30% of total membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Russian, Armenian

No scriptures are available in Georgian. All LDS scriptures are available in English, Russian, and Armenian (East).  Georgian LDS materials include Gospel Fundamentals, several church declarations and proclamations, Book of Mormon stories, the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Articles of Faith, and limited numbers of family history and teaching resources.  A wide selection of Church materials is translated in Russian whereas several Priesthood, unit, temple, Relief Society, Sunday School, teacher development, young women, Primary, missionary, audio/visual, family history, church proclamations, hymns, and children's songs are available in Armenian.

Meetinghouses

The first church meetings were held in humanitarian missionaries' home.  Shortly thereafter, the Church began renting facilities for Sunday meetings.  In 2010, each of the Tbilisi branches met in separate rented facilities. 

Health and Safety

Conditions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain politically unstable and dangerous for full-time missionary work.  Georgia proper is generally safe. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has conducted at least 19 humanitarian or development projects in the past decade.  Most of these projects have donated supplies to orphanages, provided emergency relief to conflict victims, and supplied medical equipment and furnishings to hospitals and other agencies. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Georgia has experienced increasing levels of religious freedom especially since 2000.  Orthodox denominations continue to receive favoritism from government.  Public opinion and media reports portray non-Orthodox religious in a negative light which may include the LDS Church. 

Cultural Issues

The surge in Georgian nationalism has also resulted in a revival of the Georgian Orthodox Church.  Many newly arrived religious groups such as the LDS Church tend to struggle creating effective approaches tailored to Georgian Orthodox believers.  Negative media exposure on recently arrived religious groups reduces interest and tolerance for the majority.  In recent years, Georgia has strengthened political and economic ties with Western Europe, but retains the xenophobia characteristic of many post-communist nations toward Protestant or non-traditional Christian groups. 

National Outreach

Georgia has a strong potential for increased national outreach due to the close proximity of the Armenia Yerevan Mission and the mission's small stewardship limited to just Armenia and Georgia.  25% of the national population resides in the largest city Tbilisi; the only location with a Church presence.  Only a single branch services Tbilisi and its population of 1.1 million.  However due to the recent arrival of missionaries and their limited numbers, most in Tbilisi likely know little or nothing about the Church and its beliefs and practices.  Cottage meetings may be an effective means to meet with isolated members or investigators and encourage them to invite friends and family to meet with missionaries to discuss Church doctrines and principles in lesser reached areas of Tbilisi and beyond.  Larger cities in government-controlled territory near Tbilisi appear most likely to open for missionary work, such as Rustavi and Gori. 

Abkhazia and South Ossetia will likely remain unreached for many years due to political conflict in these de facto states.  However their combined population constitutes only six percent of the national population.  The political situation in Ajara has stabilized in the past decade, which increases the likelihood of mission outreach in this autonomous region especially due to the large population of its capital, Batumi.  Ajara also has a large Muslim population, which could potentially offer unique proselytism opportunities for missionaries. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The 2008 conflict with Russia resulted in significant member attrition likely due to members relying on foreign missionaries for Church administrative tasks and testimony-building support.  The lack of Georgian-language Church materials may have further contributed to low convert retention and member activity rates due to limited understanding of the Church though second language materials like Russian and possible resistance to use such materials.  Seminary and institute may be effective programs for increase local members' knowledge and understanding of Church doctrines and strengthening their testimonies, thus improving member activity and convert retention rates.  Low member activity rates and the demand of administrative responsibilities on the handful of active Georgian leaders prompted the consolidation of the two branches in 2011.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Ethnic minorities residing Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and southern Georgia have segregated themselves from the ethnic Georgian majority and many remaining Georgians in these areas have moved to predominantly Georgian areas.  The Church appears to have had few ethnic conflicts at church and may not experience many future ethnic integration issues due to the continued segregation of ethnicities.  Outreach targeting Armenians, Azeris, Ossetians, and Abkhaz will require the establishment of mission centers in their respective areas of Georgia.

Language Issues

With the possible exception of the sacrament prayers, basic forms and the Articles of Faith, there were no LDS Church materials available in Georgian until late 2010 despite the presence of Georgian-speaking Latter-day Saints for almost a decade in Georgia and for several decades in the United States and Europe.  The increased number of Georgian-language resources is encouraging; a Georgian translation of Preach My Gospel is reportedly in progress.  In early 2012, senior missionaries facilitated the creation of a translation team to begin translating the Book of Mormon into Georgian.  All LDS scriptures and many materials are translated in Russian and Armenian. 

Church meetings were held in Russian following the creation of the Tbilisi Branch.  Full-time missionaries first communicated with members in Russian and Armenian before they began learning the Georgian language in 2006.[8] 

As there is no translation of the Book of Mormon and limited church curriculum materials in Georgian, talks are given in Georgian whereas scriptural passages are often read in Russian.  This produces some difficulties for comprehension because although many older Georgians educated during the Soviet era can speak and read Russian, few young people under thirty are fluent in Russian.  Many young people study English, but few are proficient. Missionaries are trained in Georgian but not Russian, and so missionaries themselves cannot always follow the flow of talks and lessons which switch between Georgian and Russian. There is a great need for Georgian translations of LDS scriptures, which are likely within the next several years.

Language materials in other minority languages - such as Azeri and Mingrelian - may not be produced for decades, if ever, as these groups reside in areas without mission outreach and have few if any current Latter-day Saints. 

Missionary Service

Few if any Georgian members have served as full-time missionaries.  A lack of youth converts and male members reduces the availability of local missionaries.  Prospects to increase the size of the local full-time missionary force will depend on increases in retained converts who are mission-aged.  By 2008, an entire zone of missionaries served in Tbilisi. 

Leadership

Prior to the calling of the first local branch president in 2006, senior missionary couples served as the branch president.[9]  In 2010, both Tbilisi branches had foreign missionaries serving as branch presidents.  The current lack of local leadership may be related to the recent introduction of full-time proselytizing missionaries as the few active members may depend on them to hold administrative positions and for gospel instruction.  In early 2012, a senior missionary served as the branch president in Tbilisi.

Temple

Georgia pertains to the Kyiv Ukraine Temple district.  Temple trips may occur and members depend on other members to assisting in performing temple work due to their small numbers.  Long distance to temple and inadequate funds for travel result in many unable to attend.  There are no foreseeable prospects for a future temple closer to Georgia. 

Comparative Growth

Georgia is one of the most recently opened former Soviet republics to the Church and has experienced comparable membership growth to Kazakhstan.  Georgia has one of the lowest convert retention rates and one of the least developed local church leaderships in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe. 

Missionary-oriented Christian groups generally have few members and slow membership growth.  For example, since 2006 there has been no increase in the number of Seventh Day Adventists.  Jehovah's Witnesses are among the most successful Christian groups as they have moderate membership growth rates and number among the largest non-traditional religious groups.  Those seeking to become a Jehovah's Witness complete extensive study and preparation prior to baptism and participate in member-missionary work approaches to proselytism, resulting in a high degree of long-term self sustaining growth for this denomination. 

Future Prospects

Opportunities for expanding national outreach and proselytism remain abundant but restricted by the lack of Georgian language materials.  The lack of adequate Georgian-language LDS materials has hampered outreach efforts to expand the Church in Georgia and to retain converts and existing members. 

The consolidation of the two Tbilisi branches and a senior missionary serving as the branch president indicates that the Church struggles to develop local leadership despite having native members for over a decade.  The brief 2008 war with Russia caused no damage or casualties in the capital of Tbilisi, where both LDS branches are located. Other denominations including Jehovah's Witnesses weathered this conflict well, yet the LDS Church in Georgia suffered massive attrition following this conflict.  The temporary removal of missionaries during this conflict demonstrates that LDS presence in Georgia remains fragile and heavily dependent on foreign missionaries; efforts to develop greater local self-sufficiency are needed.

Negative social attitudes concerning non-traditional religious groups will likely continue to affect most Georgian's perception of the LDS Church.  Missionary programs targeting youth may help Georgia to send more missionaries who can later return and serve in leadership positions.  


[1]  "Background Note: Georgia," US Department of State, 21 June 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5253.htm

[2]  "Georgia," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127311.htm

[3]  "Background Note: Georgia," US Department of State, 21 June 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5253.htm

[4]  "Gospel taking root in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 25 November 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49785/Gospel-taking-root-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[5]  "First branch created in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 10 August 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42262/First-branch-created-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[6]  "First branch created in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 10 August 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42262/First-branch-created-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[7]  "First branch created in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 10 August 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42262/First-branch-created-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[8]  "Gospel taking root in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 25 November 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49785/Gospel-taking-root-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html

[9]  "Gospel taking root in Republic of Georgia," LDS Church News, 25 November 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49785/Gospel-taking-root-in-Republic-of-Georgia.html