Janaina da Silva Santos of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Janaina da Silva Santos of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro (usually just called Rio) is a beautiful city that lies between green coastal mountains and the sea. Spectacular hills and peaks rise in the midst of the city itself. Perhaps the best known is Sugar Loaf Mountain, which juts from a peninsula in Guanabara Bay.

The largest and tallest is Corcovado Mountain, a massive peak that dominates the skyline. From the top of a cliff on Corcovado, an immense statue spreads its arms above the city far below. This famous landmark is called Christ the Redeemer. Sunday morning tourists at the base of the great monument can look down on the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse where nine-year-old Janaina da Silva Santos is learning about Jesus Christ.

“‘The wise man built his house upon the rock,’” she sings in Sharing Time, planting her right fist emphatically in her left palm. Later, in class, the teacher tells about the conversion of Zeezrom. Janaina listens intently to the story of how Amulek and Alma’s fervent testimonies led Zeezrom to repent and follow Christ. Like Zeezrom and the wise man in the parable, she, too, is building her life upon a rock by following the Savior’s teachings.

Janaina is a convert. She first went to church with a friend and then with her Aunt Isabel, a member. Elder Nacimento and Elder Hill taught her family, and even when everyone else stopped taking the discussions, she continued and was baptized. Her parents later joined the Church too.

She remembers, “When I listened to the discussions and started going to church, I felt something good happening in my soul. Before, I was rebellious and argued with my parents, but now I started obeying my parents and trying to honor them. When I learned that Jesus was my Savior and that there were prophets on the earth to guide me, I felt great joy. The missionaries taught me to pray, and when I prayed, something that was bad inside me left, and a good spirit took its place and is with me still. I’m a different person than I was, and there’s a lot more love and happiness in our home.”

Janaina plans to be a missionary herself someday and help others to be happy. She has invited friends to church, but so far none has wanted to come. When a friend invites her to do something, “I first think to see what is right, and if it’s wrong, I say, ‘No, we shouldn’t do that.’” If she sees her friends doing something wrong, she tries to let the Spirit guide her. “Sometimes I tell them that what they’re doing is wrong, and sometimes I stay quiet and just try to set a good example.”

The Santoses live in an elegant apartment of the Montenegros, a prominent Brazilian family that employs both her father, Antonio, and her mother, Nadia. Brother Santos serves as chauffeur, repairman, and handyman of every kind. Sister Santos cooks and cleans, and the children help both parents whenever they can.

So Janaina not only does regular chores in the family’s personal living quarters but also helps to maintain the whole apartment for their employers. She may be found peeling potatoes in the kitchen, dusting in the sitting room, or scrubbing a bathroom.

In between, she still finds plenty of time to read her Book of Mormon, play with her dolls, roller-blade, have fun with friends, and romp with Beethoven, the family dog. Sometimes the family has a spirited game of soccer on the apartment building roof. Janaina also loves music but won’t listen to songs with bad words. Although she lives only a few blocks from one of the world’s finest beaches, she doesn’t get to go swimming as often as she would like, because her parents seldom have time to go with her. Unfortunately, the crowded beach is not always a safe place to visit alone.

Janaina often chats with the family birds, Loro, Negão, Simba, Zazo, and Bonitinho. These feathered friends live on the roof. She has to be a little careful with Loro, a feisty parrot that obeys only Rafaela, Janaina’s twelve-year-old sister, who has a way with animals. João Paulo, their charming four-year-old brother, has an equally gifted way with people.

Janaina’s father says of her, “She is sweet, calm, intelligent, and responsible. She does her chores, gets ready for school and church, and does her studies on her own. Everything in her is good, and I admire her very much.”

She feels a great love for little children and plans to be a pediatrician someday so that she can help them. In the meantime, she has some good advice for the children of the world. “You need to love your neighbor,” she says. “You need to love even your enemies.”

[photos] Photographed by Melvin Leavitt

[photo] 1. Janaina

[photo] 2. The tram approaches the top of Sugar Loaf.

[photo] 3. The family pauses in front of the chapel.

[photo] 4. Sugar Loaf Mountain

[photo] 5. João Paulo

[photo] 6. Rafaela

[photo] 7. Rafaela and Janaina with Beethoven

[photo] 8. Janaina poses in front of a mural based on actual children in her Primary.

[photo] 9. A statue called Christ the Redeemer stands high above Rio on Corcovado Mountain.

[photo] 10. Janaina takes part in her Primary class.