Nelson’s latest surprise: Temples in Middle East and mainland China. A 24th in Utah? Not such a stunner.

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson announces eight new temples during the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference on April 5, 2020.

Two years ago, President Russell M. Nelson stunned members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by announcing plans to build temples in Russia and India.

He dropped some jaws again Sunday, when he said the Utah-based faith would put a temple in the United Arab Emirates, its first in the Middle East, and Shanghai, its first in mainland China.

Oh, and Utah will be getting its 24th temple, this one in Syracuse. Additional temples in the Beehive State have become fairly routine during General Conference. Six have been announced in the past two years.

Nelson also announced temples Sunday for Bahía Blanca, Argentina; Lubumbashi, Congo; Pittsburgh; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Benin City, Nigeria.

The Dubai Temple is unprecedented, Nelson said, and “comes in response” to that country’s “gracious invitation.”

It will serve thousands of Latter-day Saints in the Gulf States and a number of other places in the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and western Asia, a church news release notes. The edifice will be built on the future legacy site of Expo 2020 Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates has been an example of tolerance and religious inclusion since its 1971 founding, the church said. It is home to more than 1,600 Latter-day Saints. “We are grateful to the government officials of the United Arab Emirates who have welcomed us so warmly into their country,” apostle David A. Bednar said in the release.

Independent demographer Matt Martinich, who tracks church growth at his website, was not surprised by news of a Dubai Temple. It has been on his tally of most likely sites to get a temple for some time.

“It may be remote," he said Sunday, "but there are 4,000 members in the Gulf States with a lot of seasoned leaders from the United States, Canada and Europe.”

Martinich was more taken aback, however, by the Shanghai Temple, especially given how the Chinese government has been “cracking down on religious freedom there."

It will be a different temple, at least in its immediate setting and operations, helping to fill a void left by renovation work at the Hong Kong Temple.

“In Shanghai, a modest, multipurpose meeting place will provide a way for Chinese members to continue to participate in ordinances of the temple,” Nelson said. The church’s legal status in the People’s Republic of China “remains unchanged,” and it will not send missionaries to that country.

“In an initial phase of facility use, entry will be by appointment only,” he said. “The Shanghai Temple will not be a temple for tourists from other countries.”

Nelson, a former cardiac surgeon, has a warm spot in his heart for China. In 1980, he trained heart surgeons in China, and it was there, in 1985, that he performed his last open-heart surgery. In 2015, he was honored by doctors he trained at the Shandong University School of Medicine. In January, the church sent two planeloads of protective medical equipment to the Children’s Medical Center in Shanghai to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

That Russian temple announced in 2018 has yet to have a site named. But a rendering was released earlier this year of India’s Bengaluru Temple.