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Missionaries return to Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Six missionaries from the Bulgaria Sofia Mission have been assigned to serve in the Republic of Serbia, ending a 32-month absence of proselytizing missionaries who were withdrawn in March 1999 because of conflict in the region.

The missionaries were welcomed back into the country Dec. 17 in a reception hosted by Vojislav Milovanovic, minister of religion of the Republic of Serbia. The reception was organized by Mr. Milovanovic after he learned of the First Presidency's intention to call missionaries back to Serbia.

Mr. Milovanovic welcomed the missionaries warmly and assured Elder Douglas L. Callister of the Seventy and president of the Europe East Area and President David B. Galbraith of the Bulgaria Sofia Mission that the freedom of religion laws protected the rights and privileges of all churches and people.

He said one of his priorities was to establish close relations with all religions in Serbia, regardless of their length of tenure in the country or the size of their congregations.

Much has been accomplished, he said, since his government took office. After 60 years of communism, he continued, it was difficult to recover the confidence of the beliefs and help the people realize that their new leaders were interested in their welfare. Mr. Milovanovic also spoke of draft legislation on freedom of religion now being debated by the government and invited Church leaders to participate in its formulation.

Mr. Milovanovic concluded his comments with a pledge of support to grant visas for future missionaries.

"The hand of the Lord is evident in the return of the missionaries," said President Galbraith. The ultimate answer for the unrest in the Balkans is the gospel, he said.

According to Dragomir Savic, Belgrade district president, any members in the three branches in Bulgaria — namely, Belgrade, Novi Sad and Sremska Mitrovica — have been fasting and praying for months for the return of the missionaries. The First Presidency announced the return of missionaries on Nov. 15, 2001.

The six missionaries will learn an additional language, though there are similarities between the Bulgarian and Serbian. There are approximately 50 members in Belgrade, 50 in Sremska Mitrovica and 12 in Novi Sad.