William and Beverly Lambert of Sierra Vista, Arizona just returned from 18 months of in living Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia. The country is rich with history. Because of its location and rich resources, it has been passed from one government to another several times. That circumstance has had deep and lasting effects on its people.
Before World War II, its population was 90% Roman Catholic. But Nazi forces discriminated against them harshly, throwing many into concentration camps. Christians could not get jobs or own homes. Many of their ancestral manor houses were used as prisons and mental hospitals.
After the war, two distinct groups of people—the Serbo-Croatians and the Slovenians—were pushed together by the creation of Yugoslavia. They lived under the dictatorship of Josip Broz Tito, whose policies further divided the native peoples. “I think [living among them] gave us a better understanding of how Communism affected people’s lives,” said Beverly. “Most people 40 to 50 years old…stay hidden. They [grew up not wanting to] come to the attention of…anyone in authority.”
But now that the country is the free republic that Bill described. “Slovenia is considered the vacation spot for Europe. It is a very picturesque country with the southern slopes of the Julian Alps in the background, [and] with forests, many farms with cattle, sheep and goats in the foreground. The average temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees. [It is a] modern, safe, progressive country where five different languages are spoken.”
It is a country with a personality all its own, as Beverly recalled. “Driving in Slovenia is very different. People park on the sidewalks. And if they need to visit a store, they just leave their cars running on the street and go into the post office, drugstore, etc. and do their business. [They may leave their cars empty] up to a half hour.”
The Lamberts were in Slovenia as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which gave them an interesting perspective. “They are a proud people,” he said. “They are proud of their heritage…. In the Church over there, out of approximately 50 members, half are Serbian and half Slovene. My job, as [the presiding lay clergyman] of the small congregation was to try and help them to recognize that they were all brothers and sisters.”
The couple was well-suited to the task. Bill, originally from the Phoenix area, is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who served two tours of duty in Viet Nam. When he left the military, he went to law school and became a prosecuting attorney in Lewiston, Idaho, where he worked for 20 years. He was also active in several service organizations there.
After raising their family, Beverly taught elementary school on Idaho’s Nez Perce Indian Reservation. “I loved every minute of it,” she said.
They moved to Sierra Vista in 2004. From there they left to serve as missionaries in Brazil from 2005 to 2007, and worked in the LDS Gila Valley Temple before departing for Slovenia.
The Lamberts will share their memories and experiences at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 10th at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at1655 Avenida del Sol, Sierra Vista. Sometime in June, they will present a video slide presentation at the same address.