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Serbian members endure despite tumultuous times

BELGRADE, Serbia — The Saints in Serbia have faced tremendous trials of war and social upheaval during the past 12 years, but, with faith, members have overcome tumultuous times and have been blessed with peace in their hearts.

President Radomir Vucenovic of Sremska Mitrovica Branch, right, Djordje Ivanovic, first counselor, and Irena Maric, counselor in Belgrade Branch Relief Society, work on translation project.
President Radomir Vucenovic of Sremska Mitrovica Branch, right, Djordje Ivanovic, first counselor, and Irena Maric, counselor in Belgrade Branch Relief Society, work on translation project.

Missionaries arrived in the country in the 1970s, but since they were not allowed to proselyte, they spent most of their effort teaching and tracting in neighboring areas. In 1991, the bought its first building. Missionaries returned and were able to teach and baptize many people.

During those years, from 1991-1995, war in Bosnia and Croatia forced a half million refugees into Serbia. People became very poor and focused only on survival. Monthly salaries dropped from an average $1,000 to $2. Unrest forced the missionaries to leave in 1994. During the next four years, missionaries were forced to leave Serbia five times. Still, the Church continued to function due to the faith of members.

Without missionaries, members of the Mitrovica, Novi Sad and Belgrade branches "took all responsibilities and callings on themselves and carried the Church work forward," said Irena Maric, a member in Serbia.

Members knew that missionaries were vital for the Church and prayed for their return. In 1996 "messengers of God were in the land of Serbia again and joy was again spreading in the hearts of the faithful," she said. "All the prayers and fasting were answered. Missionaries worked hard and were loved for their efforts, service, special spirit and love toward everyone."

War resumed again in 1999 and missionaries were forced to leave Serbia. Bombs fell daily. The street where the Belgrade meetinghouse stood was bombed at least 10 times and buildings only 200 feet from the Church were destroyed. But members continued to attend all of their meetings.

"It was a time for members to exercise their faith," she said. "Long prayers were offered, the saints on their knees, with tears streaming from their eyes, worrying about loved ones and grieving for those who were brutally killed."

The bombing stopped 2 1/2 months later, but it was three more years before missionaries returned in 2001. During this time, members learned to rely on the Lord for their strength.

"We know, now, more than ever that nothing is certain. Nothing is safe except God and the power of His love, and the power of His word, which is Jesus Christ," said Sister Maric. "Nothing can bring true comfort, true joy, true understanding, except the gospel of Jesus Christ which is restored through Joseph Smith in these last days."

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