From war-torn Croatia to Gordon B. Hinckley Presidential Scholar and the metropolis of New York City
Young Katarina Jambresic navigated her way through complex schooling and USA immigration policies using faith and fasting. With the help of the Lord, she made her dreams come true. Here is an excerpt from her story, in her own words.
Katarina Jambresic: Dreaming of the New World: Part 1
I was born and raised in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. I have been blessed with a fun and caring family, with parents who have allowed me to freely make decisions of my own for as long as I can remember.
One grandma prayed the rosary every night and taught me some of the prayers. I recited them as quickly as possible before bed so I could then say what I wanted to say. Like my other grandfather, her husband had suffered much as a young prisoner in World War II….
I was eight when my mom told my two cousins and me the story of his miraculous survival. My first reaction was, “If that man hadn’t come right then, none of us in this room would be here right now.” I remember the immense feeling of gratitude for the Lord’s tender mercies. Though I had not yet been taught the restored gospel at the time, I gained sure knowledge that the Lord was in charge of everything—always aware and never late.
Croatia is traditionally Catholic, as is my family. Though we never read scriptures in the home, we had a very fun young nun teaching us religious education during elementary school years, and she made the Bible come alive. I have always lived by faith and had a personal relationship with God. There have been instances throughout my life when I just knew things without any logical backing. At nine, I declared I would never drink coffee (a daily ritual for adults there), and at eleven, I knew I would study in the United States.
In 1991, democracy was new. Croatia had just declared independence from Yugoslavia, and we were on the brink of war. At this time, the missionaries rented an apartment in a building next to mine. I was eleven years old, and about 30 of us kids played a lot of dodgeball back then. We noticed these two young men walking by every day in suits and ties. At their age, this was unusual enough, but then to add a backpack on top of a suit? We had to find out who they were.
My parents had enrolled me in English classes when I was seven, so I felt fairly conversant by that point. The elders soon started joining us for a game or two of dodgeball each day. I can still remember curious onlookers stopping in their tracks at the sight of 30 kids on one side and two or four grown men in suits and ties on the other, playing dodgeball like it was the most normal thing in the world.
Eventually, the elders invited us kids to visit their church. I was the only one curious enough to go.
About a week later, the missionaries disappeared without saying a word. School was just letting out for the summer; dodgeball was no longer fun without them.
For two months we wondered what had happened; their apartment was locked, and they never walked by. At last I persuaded a friend to go downtown with me to the church. A senior missionary couple, explained that the elders had been pulled out of the country because of the war.
Sometime later, I was given a copy of the Gospel Principles manual, which put everything in perspective. Reading about pre-mortal life—the idea that we lived with God as spirits before this life—thinned the veil and invoked feelings of undeniable familiarity. For the first time that I could recall, the Spirit made me cry. It testified of truth.
I read the Book of Mormon cover to cover when I was 14. The imagery created in my mind is still vivid as I read about Lehi and his family leaving Jerusalem behind and traveling to the New World.
Like most children, I had always wanted a magic wand, but now I had come across something real and so much better—the principle of fasting, or going without food or drink for 24 hours while praying for something specific and donating at least the amount that would be spent on meals to the needy. Coupled with real intent and righteousness, fasting was superior even to a magic wand because the omniscient Lord would only allow the best wishes to come true. I began experimenting on the words with excitement, waiting for doors to open in seemingly impossible situations. Though sincere prayers were always powerful, fasting became my way of demonstrating to the Lord that something was important enough to me that I was willing to sacrifice extra for it.
My parents liked the missionaries, but only as my friends. On Sunday mornings, I had to go to Mass if we were in town, and only then could I go somewhere else. They wondered why of all the dodgeball-playing kids, I had to be the one to stick to a “foreign sect” they knew very little about. It was clear no baptism would happen until I no longer needed their signature—and that was okay. I was hardly an exception in a congregation that had no local families and only a handful of members of all ages.
Attending bilingual high school, with 15 academically demanding classes per semester and a system with surprise oral exams and no curves or multiple choice questions, you were either prepared at all times, or your GPA could take an irreparable hit. At this time, I had my eyes set on only one place—Brigham Young University—and nothing would stand in my way—not grades, not miles, not religious conflict, and not money.
With my parents only earning a few hundred dollars a month, a full scholarship was the only way to go. From my research at the U.S. library, adjacent to the U.S. Consulate, it became clear that my chances of getting scholarships were higher if I attended my last year of high school in the United States. I promptly sent a letter to a good friend and missionary who had recently returned home, asking her to find me a host family for the following school year. Half a page explained why; the other half was filled with “please, please, please, please, please.” A remarkable miracle ensued as none of the schools in their district were graduating exchange students….
As the last semester of eleventh grade was coming to a close, there was only one thing standing between me and the trek across the ocean—a visa. Based on a number of experiences, locals working at the U.S. library warned me about the visa interview: “Under no circumstances should they figure out you are planning to stay past your senior year, or your visa will be denied,” they told me. “
Ok, I’ll just have some back up story and not get tricked,” I thought. There was just one problem with this approach—I would be lying….
Click here for Part 2 of this article.
Hi, I’m Katarina. I am a Croatian convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a BYU alumni, a former Gordon B. Hinckley Presidential Scholar, and a new author. I am excited about life. I love travel, cultures, real food, and people – even my roommates are usually a nice international mix. I love deep discussions and good debates. I am forward thinking and creative but walk by faith and aspire to inspire. I am equally social and independent. I enjoy cooking and won’t follow a recipe if I can make it healthier. Though I reside in New York City, I can be seen anywhere except Antarctica. I’m pretty unique – just like everybody else. To see Katarina’s next miracle click here.