Friend to Friend


Elder Helio da Rocha Camargo

“My ancestors were not pioneers who crossed the plains,” and Elder Helio Camargo, “but my wife and I were pioneers who crossed the plains by air.” Elder Camargo and his wife were also pioneers in that they were the first members of their families to join the Church. Elder Camargo was thirty years old at the time.

When the Camargos joined the Church, there was only one mission in all Brazil. And where they lived, in São Paulo, there was only one branch of the Church. Now there are fifty-four stakes and nine missions in Brazil. “The growth of the Church in Brazil,” Elder Camargo stated, “has been surprising, even to the members.”

The youngest of four children (three brothers and one sister), Elder Camargo was born in Resende, a city in the state of Rio de Janeíro. Although most Brazilians were members of the Catholic church, he had been born into a Protestant family. “My parents,” Elder Camargo said, “were very religious people. We studied the Bible, prayed, and paid tithing, and we had gospel discussions at home every Sunday after we had attended Sunday School at the local Methodist church. So some time later, when I started studying the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and attending its meetings, much of what they taught was familiar to me.

“My parents tried to follow the teachings of Heavenly Father and the Savior that they had learned from reading the scriptures. And they taught us children to love Heavenly Father, to be worshipful, to keep the Sabbath holy, and to read the scriptures.”

Elder Camargo, who joined the Church in an unusual way, said that “the missionaries never knocked on my door.” As a youth he attended a military academy in his native Resende, planning to become an officer. But because of an accident, he had to give up his dream. Instead he went to teach at the same military school that he had attended as a student. A few years later Elder Camargo decided to leave military service and enter the ministry. He attended the Methodist seminary for three years.

“On one occasion in one of my seminary classes,” he related, “the teacher was discussing the beliefs and doctrines of certain Christian groups, or sects, as they were called. I remember asking him about the Mormons, and he said that he didn’t know if Mormons were even Christians. I said, ‘I think that they think they are, because the name of their church is The Church of Jesus Christ of something,’ but I couldn’t remember the rest of it.

“The teacher said to me, ‘Why don’t you try to find out if there are Mormons in São Paulo so that we could invite one of their ministers to come here and explain their doctrines.’ So I went to the mission home in São Paulo and met the mission president, who sent two missionaries to our class to explain the doctrines. This was the beginning. To make the story short, I left the seminary, studied the doctrines of the Church for about eight months, and then was baptized with my wife. At that time we had five small children. Another child was born soon after we were baptized.”

Two other members of Elder Camargo’s class also left the seminary and joined the Church. And all three of them have been stake presidents and mission presidents.

Elder Camargo and his wife were indeed pioneers, and they certainly changed the course of the lives of their posterity. “We raised five boys and one girl,” he said, “but we lost one of our boys in an automobile accident. The others have all married in the temple; all of them are faithful Church leaders. We now have fourteen grandchildren.”

Elder Camargo’s father was a teacher, and during vacations, the family would go to the grandparents’ farm, which Elder Camargo loved. “Farming in Brazil is much different than it is in most places,” he remarked. “You definitely don’t need irrigation water there, because there is an excess of rain. My grandfather raised sugarcane, corn, beans, and rice on the farm, and we had many tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples and mangoes. Their farm was as big as the whole Salt Lake Valley.

“My two brothers were good soccer players, but I was not. However, I enjoyed the horses that we had on the farm. When we were small, we also had goats. We liked to hitch them to a small cart so that they could pull us around. At the end of the day, when we got back to the house, nobody could stand to be near us because of the goat odor, so we had to quickly take a bath.

“Brazilian schools are strict; they have more discipline than American schools, and they don’t have many extracurricular activities. Brazilian students must learn Portuguese, English, and at least one other language of their choice. I liked to read more than anything else, and I was always reading in English or in Spanish with a dictionary at my side.

“I like discipline. That is probably why I originally chose a military career. I think that obedience is an important principle in our lives. If we want to progress, we must be obedient.

“Sometimes we do not understand exactly why the Lord wants us to do something, but knowing that He knows us and loves us helps us to be obedient. Obedience is the key to our happiness in this life and in the eternities.

“My message to children in the Church is to trust and love your parents and your leaders and to obey them because they love you and know what’s right for you. That is the way to eternal life.”