Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Friday, May 5, 2017

Who Was the First Missionary in Bosnia i Hercegovina?

The Official Opening of Bosnia i Hercegovina to Missionary Work

Missionary work is an important part of the Lord's work. Only a few months after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was organized, Samuel Smith was formally called on a mission to teach the gospel (June 1830). The missionary tradition has continued unabated since then. There are missionaries across the globe but only in locations where they are officially recognized. The most successful country mission has been Tonga. The first missionaries appeared on Tonga soil in 1891 and today 57% of Tongans are Latter-Day Saints.

In September 2010, Apostle Russell M. Ballard dedicated Bosnia Hercegovina for missionary work. It would be another few years, however, until the first proselyting young missionaries were assigned to the country. This happened in March of 2012 when 6 missionaries were assigned (4 in Sarajevo, 2 in Banja Luka). One of these six was Brian Bishop, a young man who did our language training at the MTC. They were the first official missionaries assigned to the country.

But this is not their story.

Who Were the First Proselyting Missionaries in Bosnia i Hercegovina?

This is the story about two Elders who may have been the first to have ever actively proselyted (with name tags) in BiH.

In 2003 the Croatia Zagreb Mission entailed Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Hercegovina, and Kosovo. But there were only missionaries in Slovenia and Croatia at the time. Including senior couples, there were about 75 missionaries in total. At this time, Serbia was in the Bulgaria Mission. Sometime in 2004, the name of the mission was changed to the Croatia Slovenia Mission but the boundaries did not change.

In June 2005, the mission president, Ralph Aardema, visited some members in Sarajevo who worked for the U.S. Embassy. He took two young missionaries with him, Elder Michael Wright and Elder Benjamin Wood. They spent the weekend in Sarajevo.

Pictured left-to-right...Michael Wright, Sheila Aardema, Ralph Aardema, and Benjamin Wood.
President Aardema had visited Bosnia Hercegovina several times before. But it is not believed that he brought missionaries with him when he visited.

Arrival In Bosnia

The group crossed the border a Slavonski Brod and drove through Doboj and Zenica to get to Sarajevo. They arrived on a Saturday mid-day.

Michael Wright at the Slavonski Brod border crossing.

After arriving, a U.S. Diplomat (Brian) gave the group a tour of the "Turkish Quarters." I assume this means Barščaršijska.

Brian (U.S. diplomat) and Pres. Aardema talking to an unknown  man in front of a mosque.
After the tour, the two Elders set off to do some good "old fashioned" street contacting. They were told that they should test the waters to determine how Bosnians would react to their message. So Elder Wright and Elder Wood spent the afternoon proselyting in Sarajevo.

Elder Wright at Pigeon Square. 
Elder Wright on a bridge near where Ferdinand was shot. (I have never seen the water so blue)

How was the Message Received?

One reason missionaries like Bosnia is because people will talk to them. They are generally not very receptive to their message but Bosnians are not rude.

And this is reception that the two Elders received when they proselyted for a few hours in Sarajevo. Elder Wright recalls that "most people were not interested but were nice enough to talk for a few minutes."

I am not sure outside a mosque is a great way to "test the waters" Elders. But you did get some great pictures.

The Remainder of the Weekend

After a couple hours of street contacting, the Elder's spent the night at a member's apartment.

The view from their apartment.
The colors have not changed much since 2005.

Church the following morning was held in a member's living room. With the missionaries and kids, a total of 14 people attended sacrament meeting. A quick lunch and then the group was off to return to Zagreb.

Outside the house where they held sacrament meeting. 60% of the congregation was in this photo.

Really the First Missionaries?

In Elder Wright's words..."As far as I know, no missionaries had ever actively proselyted in Bosnia until our trip in June of 2015. I believe there had been missionaries there in the late 70's, but they did not wear white shirts, ties, and tags; more of a social program to share the Gospel."

The first humanitarian projects that we have record of started in 2004. It is likely that these were managed outside of Bosnia at that time since they are relatively simple food projects. A few years later larger projects such as Maternal Newborn Care and Wheelchairs started in Bosnia.

The rest of the Sunday congregation.


Just a year later, Serbia was added to the mission and it was renamed the Adriatic North Mission. About this time the city of Split was closed to missionaries. Elder Wright remembers it being an "incredibly interesting city" but with very little success for missionaries.

When Elder Wright left the mission, no chapels had been built. Ljubljana and Zagreb got chapels just a few years later.

Michael Wright served from May 2003 to June 2005. From December 2004 to June 2006 Emily Bate Wright, his future wife, served in Slovenia. I guess there is some love found across the Croatian- Slovenian border after all.

(Pictured L-R) Elliot, Emily, Dean, Michael and Gretchen Wright.


  1. Thanks for this post! Michael is my son.

  2. I was very happy to let him write one for me!!! Made a busy week much more bearable. Hoping to run this story on the official Bosnian LDS webpage as well.