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Beginning LDS Missionary Work in the Previously Unreached Former Yugoslav Republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro
Author: Matt Martinich
Overview and LDS History
In the 1970s and 1980s, the LDS Church began holding church services and performing limited missionary activity in Yugoslavia. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia into several independent countries in the early 1990s, the Church had already established an official presence in Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. No concentrated mission efforts were made to reach the two former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia for another two decades although both countries pertained to the Slovenia Ljubljana/Croatia Zagreb Mission for much of this time. There was no previously established LDS presence in Montenegro or Kosovo when these nations became independent from Serbia in 2006 and 2008, respectively.
In spring 2010, the Church organized a new class of branches called "administrative branches" in each of the four former Yugoslav republics without an official LDS presence. This decision occurred at approximately the same time that these nations were reassigned from the Slovenia Ljubljana Mission (which was renamed the Adriatic Mission) to the Europe Area Presidency. The four affected countries - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro - were the only non-city state countries without an official church presence in Europe. The organization of administrative branches occurred in tandem with efforts by the Europe Area Presidency to prepare for a formal church establishment and assignment of full-time missionaries. In September 2010, LDS Apostle Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated all four countries for missionary work. By January 2011, the Church created its first independent branches in Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Sarajevo Branch) and Kosovo (the Pristina Branch). In mid-2011, the Albania Tirana Mission assigned the first proselytizing missionaries to Kosovo; a young missionary companionship and a senior missionary couple. Sometime in 2010 and 2011, senior missionaries began regularly visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina primarily on humanitarian assignment and organized a group in Banja Luka.
In early 2012, mission leaders announced that the countries in the former Yugoslavia and Albania would be realigned into two missions called the Adriatic North and Adriatic South Missions. The Adriatic North Mission included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia whereas the Adriatic South Mission included Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In March 2012, the Adriatic North Mission assigned the first proselytizing missionaries to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Six young missionaries were assigned; four to Sarajevo and two to Banja Luka. Missionaries reported no restrictions on proselytism and regularly street contacted. Missionaries were permitted to teach investigators regardless of religious background. Membership in the Sarajevo Branch primarily consisted of Americans and missionaries reported that only one Bosnian member attended church services at the time. In the Banja Luka Group, missionaries reported that there were several Bosnians who joined the Church within the past year due to the efforts of local members in the group and a senior missionary couple. In April 2012, the Adriatic South Mission assigned the first proselytizing missionaries to Macedonia and Montenegro. Later that month, the first Montenegrin investigator attended church services in Podgorica, Montenegro. At the time unofficial reports indicated that the Church had recently obtained legal status in Macedonia and Montenegro.
Translations of LDS materials are available in the primary languages of each country. Albanian translations of some church materials have been available for two decades. Church materials and some LDS scriptures are translated into Croatian and Serbian. The Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian languages all utilize the Shtokavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian and all four are mutually comprehensible. The distinction between all four languages centers on nationalistic, religious, and ethnic ties rather than unique linguistic features that rend each language incomprehensible from one other. The Bosnian language has two scripts - one Latin-based and the other Cyrillic-based - but utilizing Croatian language materials among those who use the Latin-based script and Serbian language materials among those who use the Cyrillic-based script reduce the need for translations of church materials in either Bosnian script. Some minor variances in orthography between Serbian and Montenegrin pose no major obstacle in utilizing Serbian translations of LDS materials in Montenegro. The need for any translations in Bosnian or Montenegrin hinges on whether nationalistic attitudes discourage most from seriously reading and studying about the Church through Croatian and Serbian translations. The translation of LDS materials into Macedonian occurred more recently but many basic church materials are available. No LDS scriptures are translated into Macedonian however.
There are no significant restrictions on religious freedom in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Proselytizing Christian faiths openly practice and worship in all four previously unreached countries by the LDS Church. The Church can expect few if any government restrictions on missionary activity in these four nations.
The capital cities of all four countries constitute a large portion of the national population for each nation. Sarajevo accounts for 10% of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pristina constitutes 11% of the population of Kosovo, Skopje comprises 24% of the population of Macedonia, and Podgorica accounts for 24% of the population of Montenegro. All four countries are geographically small, requiring fewer mission outreach centers to effectively reach the population and shorter travel times for missionaries to transfer between cities than in most European countries.
The unexpended increase in the number of members serving full-time missions worldwide in 2011 provides more availability for the Church to assign missionaries to unreached nations. In early 2012, missionaries serving in the Adriatic South Mission reported that the number of missionaries receiving mission calls to begin service in the mission later that year significantly increased as a result of coordinated plans with the Missionary Department to open Macedonia and Montenegro to proselytism and expand outreach in Kosovo. The sustainability of expanding outreach with limited numbers of full-time missionaries into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro will depend on whether these increases continue in the coming years.
The Church has at least a couple native members in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Missionaries serving in Serbia in the mid-2000s reported that there was one active local member in Montenegro who would attend church services in Serbia infrequently due to distance. In 2009, the Church reported a native family of four in Macedonia but by spring 2012 the Adriatic South Mission president reported that there were no known native members in Macedonia or Montenegro. Native members provide invaluable assistance in providing teaching referrals to full-time missionaries and accompanying missionaries when teaching lessons to investigators. Indigenous investigators and prospective converts often have a higher likelihood of being baptized, remaining active, and staying in their home country if there are already a handful of local members.
Receptivity to nontraditional Christian faiths is very low in the former Yugoslavia and constitutes one of the greatest barriers to the growth of the LDS Church in the region. In 2011, the Church had more than 500 members on church records in only Croatia among the seven countries of the former Yugoslavia notwithstanding 20 years of proselytism in Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia and a restricted presence for over three decades in these three nations. During the past 20 years other outreach-focused Christian groups have shepherded many previously receptive individuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
Strong ethno-religious ties among the various ethnic groups in the Balkans present a major challenge for the Church in achieving noticeable growth. Cultural connections between Croats and Catholicism, Serbs and Orthodoxy, and Bosnians and Islam require converts to often choose between their familial cultural traditions and the Church. Society views most nontraditional Christian faiths as incompatible with tradition and culture and regards these denominations as heretical and strange. In Croatia and Serbia, the Church has faced serious challenges baptizing devote converts and retaining them over the long term. Societal intolerance has resulted in many Latter-day Saint converts in Croatia and Serbia facing intense criticism, harassment, persecution, and ostracism from family and friends. Past ethnic conflict in some countries such as in Macedonia between Albanians and Macedonians, in Kosovo between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina between Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians pose potential ethnic integration challenges if these ethnicities meet in the same congregations.
Both missions in the region have a large administrative burden as each services four countries. Crossing international borders to visit all counties within each mission's jurisdiction adds additional challenges for mission personnel due to visa regulations, time consuming stops at check points, and ensuring that financial resources are in order and in compliance with government regulations. Most countries in the former Yugoslavia have petitioned for European Union (EU) membership and some have visa agreements with nearby countries. Increasing integration into the EU will likely reduce the challenge faced by mission leaders to travel throughout their missions but national differences in culture, religion, and language will continue to place high demand on mission presidencies especially due to a lack of native church leaders in all countries in the two missions with the exception of Albania.
Expatriate North Americans constitute a majority or sizable minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Few or no indigenous members holding church leadership positions presents a major difficulty in handing off these responsibilities to local members. Foreign Latter-day Saints constitute the majority in Bosnia and Herzegovina and hold all leadership positions at present.
The opening of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro to proselytism constitutes the LDS Church's greatest initiative to expand missionary activity to additional countries since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Between the mid-1990s and 2010, the Church entered or reentered only a handful of countries, namely Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Dominica, Rwanda, and Burundi. However mission leaders did not open multiple countries to missionary activity in a coordinated manner between the mid-199s and 2010.
Other outreach-focused faiths report few members and congregations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In 2011, the Seventh Day Adventist Church reported 605 members and 23 congregations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 559 members and 15 congregations in Macedonia whereas Jehovah's Witnesses reported 1,224 members in 17 congregations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 216 members and five congregations in Kosovo, 1,358 members and 23 congregations in Macedonia, and 246 members and four congregations in Montenegro. Adventists have a presence in Kosovo and Montenegro but membership and congregational data is included in totals for Serbia. Over the past decade both Adventists and Witnesses have experienced slow or stagnant growth in the region.
The coordinated opening of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro to formal missionary activity is a welcomed development in an era of infrequent efforts to open additional countries to LDS proselytism. Due to low receptivity and delays in opening these four nations to proselytism two decades after most proselytizing Christians first established a presence, LDS membership may not reach 100 in any of these four recently opened countries for many years to come. Noticeable "real" church growth will hinge on baptizing devoted and adequately prepared investigators from the indigenous population, avoiding the overstaffing of tiny branches and groups with multiple full-time missionary companionships, and assigning callings and leadership responsibilities to converts in a timely and responsible manner.
 Avant, Gerry. "Elder Nelson pronounces blessing on six Balkan nations," LDS Church News, 23 September 2010. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59902/Elder-Nelson-pronounces-blessings-on-six-Balkan-nations.html
 "Shtokavian dialect," en.wikipedia.org, retrieved 6 April 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtokavian_dialect
 Mattox, Elder Raymond P. "Members are good citizens in Albania," LDS Church News, 20 June 2009. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57493/Members-are-good-citizens-in-Albania.html