published Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Cooper: Smartts are Mormon pioneers

Phil and Gloria Smartt of Chattanooga have never been to the country, don’t know the language and have to pay their own way to go, but they have agreed to be the first missionaries to establish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bosnia.

“I’ve been in church administration most of my life,” said Mr. Smartt, 67, who sold his insurance agency to help fund their way. “I know how a church operates. We’re looking forward to it. We know it won’t be easy, but what’s it worth if it’s too easy.”

The couple will leave Monday for five days of orientation at a missionary training center in Provo, Utah, before flying to Sarajevo, the capital of the country where they will live for what is expected to be two years.

Mr. Smartt said several members of the U.S. embassy in Bosnia are Mormons and have been meeting for church services there, but that is the extent of the church’s reach.

It will be their duty to expand the church in the city, to push its boundaries into the countryside and to explain its teachings and doctrines.

“What we want to do is get it to where they can send young missionaries in there,” Mr. Smartt said. “Couples usually go in and build relationships. Then more energetic and hard-working young people can come in.”

The country is divided into Bosniaks (48 percent), Serbs (37.1 percent) and Croats (14.3 percent), who are primarily Muslim, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic, respectively, he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Smartt said, since the country was part of Communist Yugoslavia as recently as 1992, “there is not a whole lot of commitment to the Lord.”

On the plus side, he said, Jews, Christians and Muslims have gotten along in the country for centuries.

In addition, Mr. Smartt said, Sarajevo is “quite an international city,” many people speak English (and translators are available), shopping centers and grocery stores are present, and Bosnians are friendly to Americans because the U.S.-led NATO bombing helped bring peace to the country in 1995.

A Mormon who handles housing for U.S. embassy personnel has researched housing for them. Whatever housing they have will need to accommodate church services.

“It looks decent,” said Mr. Smartt, a Hamilton County School Board member — and chairman — in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “That makes things a whole lot easier.”

And while the church will lease a car for their use, gasoline is $8 a gallon (American).

The Smartts, parents of six children and grandparents of 28, are responsible for their brief stay in Provo as well as their living expenses in Sarajevo.

“It’s an expensive proposition,” he said. “We’re not rich, but we have sufficient for our needs. I think we’ll do fine.”

Mr. Smartt said he believes language will be their biggest barrier, while Mrs. Smartt, 64, said her biggest task is “holding my husband back.”

But, she said, “I’m not frightened, though it is the unknown.”

However, Mr. Smartt said, they are only trying to fulfill Christ’s call to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

“I think that is still effective today,” he said. “Our desire is to do what the Lord wants us to. We’ll face the facts and do the best we can.”

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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