The work of carrying the gospel to Brazil began a little more than one year after the introduction of the gospel in Argentina, when two elders from Argentina came in 1927 in search of German Saints who had settled in Brazil. The elders stayed a month, and concluded that southern Brazil would be “a splendid field for the future development of missionary work.”
Two later missionaries arrived from Argentina with President Stoof in 1928, also in search of members who had emigrated from Germany and England. They found a small nucleus of German Saints in Joinville, a center of 16,000 German-speaking people, and over the next year they baptized more Germans. In 1929 they acquired the first property for the Church in Brazil—an old house in Joinville that still serves as the meeting place for the Joinville Ward of the Curitiba Brazil Stake.
Four years later, on February 9, 1935, the First Presidency made Brazil a separate mission under the direction of President Rulon S. Howells, with seven deacons, four teachers, four priests, 29 male members with no priesthood, 64 female members over 21, and 35 children—a total of 143 members and nine missionaries scattered throughout the mission.
For almost ten years the elders worked among people not native to the land—and in a tongue that was not the official national language! Work continued solely among the German immigrants and in the German language until 1938, when the first elders were assigned to learn Portuguese. That year President John Alden Bowers began translating several tracts and the Book of Mormon into Portuguese—the first translations in that language in the Church.
Through the difficult years of World War II, missionary work continued slowly as a result of the decreased force of American elders. Then, a decade later, with the visit of President David O. McKay in 1954, the Church surged forward.
Two years after President McKay’s visit, President Henry D. Moyle of the First Presidency prophesied at a missionary meeting in Rio de Janeiro that spiritual experiences would cause converts to enter the Church by the thousands. The Church has experienced such growth—and even with more than 45,000 members, four missions, and nine stakes, the work is just beginning. There are literally hundreds of cities in Brazil that have never had the missionaries!
The first chapel constructed in Brazil was dedicated in 1959, and the Brazil South Mission was formed the same year in the three southern states.
Seven years later in 1966, the first Brazilian stake was organized, with headquarters in São Paulo. Now there are four stakes in that city. Rio de Janeiro became a stake in 1972, and in the next year four more stakes were organized: Campinas, Santos, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre. Brazil currently has 27 chapels; 16 more are under construction, and 21 others are in the planning stages.
State and federal government officials in Brazil have generally stood firm on the principle of religious freedom, a principle clearly outlined in their constitution, and consequently, no serious injuries or deaths have ever been recorded among members of the Church as a result of persecution. Social ostracism, though, is a problem Church members share with Saints of many lands. It is a challenge to explain the Word of Wisdom to nonmembers in this land of the coffee bean.
As in other parts of the world, rapid growth of the Church has caused a lack of experienced leadership in local branches. Those who are new leaders often have interesting stories to tell about how they joined the Church. For example, three of Brazil’s strong local Church leaders met the Church in a most unusual way. A young Methodist minister in São Paulo became interested when he heard the elders explain the Church at a street meeting, and he invited them to address a group of 50 ministers at the Methodist College. The elders kept the appointment, and out of the group of ministers came Hélio da Rocha Camargo, the second stake president called in Brazil; Saul Messias de Oliveira, president of the São Paulo Brazil South Stake; and Walter Guedes de Queiroz, bishop of the Rio de Janeiro Fifth Ward.
Since approximately 40 percent of Brazil’s Church members are under the age of 20, developing strong programs for youth is imperative. Relatively few Brazilians have cars or telephones, making communication difficult. Unusually long commuting hours by bus make it difficult for many families to come to church for more than one meeting a week. Reactivation is a constant goal.
Even with a host of challenges, Saints in Brazil have caught the spirit of missionary work and find great joy in sharing the gospel with their neighbors. In one mission last year almost 100 people were baptized in just three weeks. Seventy-five percent of them were complete families; but, even more enviable, 73 percent of them were introduced to the gospel by other members. A people thirsty for the truth, Brazilians have given a warm welcome to the Church.
Brazil’s terrain includes the world’s most extensive area of tropical rain forest in the north; a vast tall-grass prairie in the south; swelling rivers throughout; swampy lowlands, steep cliffs, and rugged mountains in the east; fertile farming soil in the northeast; and sandstone and limestone flats, forest wilderness, and eroded desert-like plateaus in the central-west. But Brazil’s climate is relatively stable—temperatures rarely reach 100 degrees farenheit or drop below 50 degrees.
Brazil occupies 48.5 percent, or nearly half, of the continent of South America, and is exceeded in size only by the Soviet Union, Canada, China, and the United States. Its territory touches all the other South American countries except Chile and Ecuador. Except in the southern states of São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul, the population is concentrated within 200 miles of the coast.
In the year 1500 South America was sighted and claimed by a Portuguese armada. An organized government was established for its settlers in 1533.
About 250 years later, a rebellion in 1789 against Portuguese authority was suppressed, but political events evolved until Brazil announced her independence and crowned José Bonefácio de Andrada e Silva emperor in 1822.
The population of Brazil is largely Indian (26 percent of the population), African Negroes (11 percent), and Europeans (62 percent), mainly Portuguese. One percent is of Oriental and mixed ancestry.
The Indians descend from approximately a million natives that were in Brazil when the Portuguese arrived. African Negroes were imported in such numbers—more than three and a half million from the 16th to the 19th century—that for a time, they outnumbered both the Portuguese colonists and the native Indians.
In the second half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, Brazil was flooded by more than four and a half million immigrants arriving from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, other European countries, and the Middle East. The Europeans mostly settled in the south, with the Indians moving to the Amazon Basin (central and northwest) and the Negroes settling in the northeast coastal and central states.
Today Brazil is home for the largest colony of Japanese outside the Orient, a colony numbering almost a million. Portuguese is the official language, reflecting 300 years of the dominant culture. Roman Catholic traditions have also deeply influenced Brazilian culture.