Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Serbia and Montenegro

Published: Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 10,829,000; Members, 277; District, 1; Branches, 3; Percent LDS, .0026, or one in 39,094; Europe Area; Bulgaria Sofia Mission.

Located on the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe, Serbia is a republic made up of the easternmost internal division of Yugoslavia where Serbian is spoken.

Mischa Markow was the first LDS missionary to work in Serbia. He arrived in Beograd in May 1899. Forces of opposition soon turned against him and Markow was banished to Hungary in June 1899 without baptizing anyone.

The president of the Czechoslovak Mission, Arthur Gaeth, visited Beograd in August 1934, where there were two members of the Church, Sister Evize Vujicic and Brother Mateja Spacek. Records do not indicate how they joined the Church. Gaeth held a sacrament meeting with them and four friends. No further missionary work was done in Yugoslavia until the 1970s.

Following World War II, Yugoslavia became a communist republic under Prime Minister Josip Broz Tito. In 1959, while serving as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Elder Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve toured Yugoslavia and met with Tito.

Tito allowed a freer exchange of people and ideas than most of the countries in the Eastern Bloc. Many Yugoslavs worked in Western Europe where they came in contact with Mormon missionaries. In October 1974, the First Presidency representative David M. Kennedy visited Beograd to seek recognition for the Church. Shortly thereafter, missionaries serving in Austria began a program to teach Yugoslav emigres working there with the hope of eventually opening missionary work in Yugoslavia.

In anticipation of establishing a mission there, the Church called Gustav Salik as mission president and stationed him in Austria near the Yugoslav border in 1975. Salik spent the next year attempting to open the mission, but could not get the necessary permission to work in the country. In 1977, missionaries entered as students. They wore casual dress but could not proselyte. Though they served mostly in Croatia, they also worked in Beograd.

When the missionaries arrived, they found two members of the Church, Radmila Ranovic, who had been baptized in Switzerland in 1975, and Dusan Tabori, who had also been baptized in Switzerland in 1977. Ranovic began seeking recognition for the Church in Beograd. In December 1980, she was called to serve in the Canada Montreal Mission, the first Serb and the first Eastern European to serve a mission in the 20th Century.

Lee and Marilyn Manwill arrived in Beograd in January 1983, the first missionary couple to serve full time in that city. The first baptisms were in May of that same year. By November 1983, a branch was organized.

In July 1987, Yugoslavia was made part of the Austria Vienna East Mission. On 22 March 1991, responsibility for Yugoslavia was transferred to the Austria Vienna Mission.

In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The threat of civil war caused Church leaders to evacuate all missionaries working in the former Yugoslavia on 1 July 1991.

Four months later, missionaries returned to Beograd. Two months later, the Church purchased a building, the culmination of a five-year effort. On 28 January 1992, the building passed inspection, one of the requirements for an organization's obtaining legal status which meant that Serbia had officially recognized the Church. Missionaries were then granted permanent visas to work in the country. In February 1992, missionaries opened the second Serbian city, Novi Sad.

Cvil war erupted in1992. Because communication was better between Budapest and Beograd, responsibility for Serbia was temporarily transferred to the Hungary Budapest Mission in November 1993.. Shortly thereafter, missionaries were evacuated to other Central European nations due to rising tensions.

By the summer of 1994, Serbia was transferred back to the Austria Vienna Mission. Shortly thereafter, Serbia canceled the visas for foreign missionaries. The last two elders left Serbia in September 1995. During the next year, Austria Vienna Mission President Swen R. Swensen visited the Church members in Serbia each month. The Church also contributed humanitarian assistance during this time. A tenuous peace was achieved in November 1995 and missionaries re-entered Serbia in June 1996.

In July 1996, the Austria Vienna South Mission was organized with Johann A. Wondra as president. The mission had jurisdiction for all nations that were once Yugoslavia. In June 1998, the first official delegation from the Church to travel to Montenegro were Wondra, his wife Ursula, Beograd Branch President Dragomir Savic, and his counselor, Sladan Mihajlovic. They entered Montenegro with the hope of registering the Church. While in Podgorica, the party met with the minister of religion, Slobodan Tomovic, who was positive about allowing the Church to be registered in Montenegro. Their efforts were cut short by a renewed threat of war.

Violence in Kosovo began in 1996. As the violence escalated, missionary work slowed. Missionaries were evacuated from Serbia to Croatia on 3 October 1998. While in Croatia, a special mission conference was held by President Wondra. It included a day of prayer and fasting for missionary work to resume in Serbia. Three weeks later, on 28 October, missionaries returned to Serbia.

On 17 January 1999, the Beograd Yugoslavia District was formed, the first in Serbia, with Dragomir Savic as president. This time of growth and missionary work was short lived. In March 1999, violence resumed. Missionaries were evacuated from Serbia shortly before the outbreak. In September 2000, responsibility for Serbia was transferred to the Bulgaria Sofia Mission. And in December 2001, after peace was restored, six missionaries re-entered Serbia.

By 2002, there were 213 members organized in three branches and one district.

Sources: "Life and History of Mischa Markow" found in Kahlile Mehr's Mormon Missionaries Enter Eastern Europe, 2002; Czechoslovakian Mission, Manuscript history, Church Archives; Francis M. Gibbons, Ezra Taft Benson: Statesman, Patriot, Prophet of God, 1996; Austria Vienna South Mission, Clippings and reports, Church Archives; James L. Wilde, Interviews, Church Archives, 1994; Bulgaria Sofia Mission, Annual historical reports, Church Archives; Kenneth D. Reber, Interviews, 1994, Church Archives.