“Krešimir Ćosić,” Global Histories: Croatia (2019)
“Krešimir Ćosić,” Global Histories: Croatia
In October 1969, 20-year-old Krešimir Ćosić left a successful basketball career in Zadar, Yugoslavia, to play at an American university. When he arrived at Brigham Young University, however, he faced an immediate shock. Because of his limited English skills, he had not understood that BYU was a religious school with an honor code requiring students to avoid alcohol and tobacco and live a morally clean life. “How did I ever get here?” he asked himself. “Now that I’m here, how can I get out? And if I can’t get out, how can I survive?”
In Yugoslavia some of Ćosić’s only religious experiences had happened during visits to his grandmother, who knelt daily in prayer and spoke privately of a heavenly power. On one of these visits, Ćosić had what had become a recurring dream: he saw himself playing basketball in a large arena between high mountains and a quiet lake. It was this dream that later drew him to BYU’s recruiting brochure.
Although the transition to BYU was difficult, the school from his dream gradually began to appeal to him. “Within my heart, there began to burn familiarities,” Ćosić remembered. He began attending family home evening with a friend, Christina Nibley, and stopping by the on-campus office of her father, Professor Hugh Nibley, to discuss religion. “My desire to study and to know more became unquenchable,” he remembered. “There are a hundred reasons why I should not join the Church,” he said on another occasion, “and only one reason why I should—because it is true.”
While at BYU, Ćosić was baptized and was set apart as a special missionary to Yugoslavia, called to share the gospel in the course of his everyday life. When fans approached him on the street, he offered to give them BYU T-shirts like his if they would read a card with the Church’s Articles of Faith or his written testimony. He recorded his own translated voice-overs for Church videos to share with friends and teammates. The local press called him an “active religious propagator” for his efforts and criticized him for embracing an ideology “completely alien to the ideals of our youth.” But those who knew him saw positive changes. “He returned to Yugoslavia a complete man and player,” said coach Ranko Žeravica. Ćosić’s friend Ankica Ostarčević noted that “he seemed happier than ever.”
In the summer of 1974, Ćosić baptized Ankica and her husband, Mišo Ostarčević, who was one of Ćosić’s teammates. Ćosić also began holding informal Church meetings in their home. With help from Mišo and an outside scholar, Ćosić worked to see the Book of Mormon translated into Serbo-Croatian and published in Yugoslavia because of the threat of imported copies being intercepted as contraband. He also helped find a way for missionaries to enter the country in 1977, and he helped organize branches in Zadar, Zagreb, and Beograd.
After war broke out following Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Ćosić decided to turn his efforts to peacemaking and was named deputy ambassador to the United States for the new country. In 1994, however, he was diagnosed with cancer; he died on May 25, 1995. At the funeral, which was attended by tens of thousands, Franciscan friar Bonaventura Duda spoke of Ćosić’s faith. “He did not only believe,” said Duda. “He wholeheartedly tried to practice his faith in real life.” In 2010, when Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles dedicated Croatia, he expressed gratitude for Ćosić and his dedication to bringing the gospel to his people.