Question: What is the most widely spoken language in South America?
Answer: Portuguese, spoken in Brazil. The giant of South America has more people than the rest of the nations on the continent combined.
With more than half a million Latter-day Saints, Brazil also has more Church members than any other nation on earth except the United States and Mexico (the latter has approximately three-quarters of a million members).
Map of Brazil by Pat Gerber
In Brazil, Eduardo Naum and Evilasio Cavalcanti represent two perspectives on this gospel growth—the comparatively young member and the pioneer.
A mid-level manager in his late twenties, Eduardo is bishop of the Ferreira Ward, São Paulo Brazil Taboão Stake. Since he joined the Church in 1991, he has twice been called as a bishop. His extended family, who are not Latter-day Saints, wonder why he is not paid for all the hours he spends in his Church calling. “I work for the Lord,” he reflects. “What I have learned from my service is that Jesus lives—surely. He is there for each of us.” That assurance alone is a priceless blessing worth any sacrifice.
Approximately 1,600 kilometers north of São Paulo on Brazil’s beautiful coast is the city of Salvador, entry port in the 16th and 17th centuries for thousands of African slaves. There, a Brazilian pioneer, Evilasio Cavalcanti, serves as patriarch of both the Salvador and Salvador North stakes. He first met the full-time missionaries in 1971 in Maceio, a city about 500 kilometers north of Salvador. Sister Cavalcanti was baptized first, followed by Brother Cavalcanti and the children who were old enough. Within a year of their baptism, the family moved to Salvador.
“At that time, there was no Church organization here,” says Brother Cavalcanti. “We were the Church. It wasn’t until 1978 that a branch was established and I was called as the first branch president.”
In the intervening years, the Cavalcantis lived the gospel to the best of their knowledge. “We didn’t know everything about the Church, but we never denied our membership. We always told people we were Mormons.
“All the while, we kept looking for young men wearing white shirts, hoping they were missionaries. Once in a while we were able to hold meetings with Church members visiting the city. We had no formal teaching materials for the children, but we always tried to set an example for them by the way we lived.”
All four Cavalcanti children eventually received their temple endowments and served full-time missions. All are still active in the Church.
Building the Future
Full-time missionaries first began proselyting in Brazil in 1928 among German-speaking immigrants. The Portuguese Book of Mormon became available 10 years later, but the war years nearly dried up the missionary effort. However, from the time the first stake was organized in 1966, the Church has swelled rapidly to more than 600,000 members in 150 stakes.
The major challenge for the Church during the coming years will probably be managing and responding to rapid growth. Some meetinghouses in Brazil accommodate four or five wards. In an average month, missionaries in Brazil baptize enough new members to create a stake.
Approximately 25 percent of all convert baptisms in the past two years have been males. Members of the Brazil Area Presidency believe that with proper support and experience, these men will become strong leaders in their homes and the priesthood leaders of the future. “There has to be a very careful blend of the effort to baptize, the effort to build spirituality, and the effort to retain converts,” says Elder Dallas N. Archibald of the Seventy, former Brazil Area President.
Missionaries know that men generally do not respond as well to a direct approach about spiritual values as women. But fathers do respond to ideas that promise help with their families. In teaching them what the gospel has to offer, missionaries think in terms of PAIS-F: the purpose (Propósito) of the Church—strengthening families on earth and providing saving ordinances for their members; true friends (Amigos) through the gospel; loving, supportive social integration (Integração); the blessings of physical health (Saúde) through the Word of Wisdom; and, last, the family (Família) united forever. And in Portuguese, pais means fathers.
Elder Archibald compares current follow-up efforts in retaining new converts to the way a building is constructed in Brazil. Concrete floors are poured one at a time from the bottom up, and each floor in turn stands for at least 21 days with full support beneath it while the concrete hardens and “cures.”
“How long does it take to ‘cure’ a member in the Church?” he asks. In Brazil, priesthood and auxiliary leaders are called on to provide all possible support for at least a year, until the new member family enters the temple to be sealed.
The Gospel at Work
Although Brazil’s Portuguese heritage is strong, there is also broad representation from countries throughout Europe and other areas: native Indians in the Amazon region; those of European and Asian descent in the southern states; and those of African lineage in the central coastal cities.
Among the large ethnic Japanese population are Otávio and Setsuko Nagata of the Vila Perneta Branch in the Curitiba Brazil Tarumã Stake. They are second-generation Brazilians—among the many in this country whose ancestral lines go back to another land within two or three generations.
Do the Nagatas consider themselves Brazilian or Japanese?
“First, we are Latter-day Saints,” Brother Nagata says—then Brazilians. But he adds that their lives are blessed by the combined heritages of the gospel, their Japanese ancestry, and their Brazilian culture.
Both Brother and Sister Nagata served missions in Brazil. He has been a bishop or in a bishopric or branch presidency for 16 of their 21 years of marriage. For Sister Nagata, spiritual experiences with both her deceased father and grandfather have underscored the importance of temple ordinances to her family. The strengthening influence of the gospel is an anchor, they say, in their lives and the lives of their four children: Spencer, Hyrum, Camilla, and Patricia.
Brazilian members appreciate the need for constant reinforcement of gospel standards in their lives. They draw strength from everything the Church offers, including Sunday worship, daily gospel study, seminary and institute classes, and strong auxiliary programs.
Marcia Linhares of Recife, director of the Church’s Young Women camp program in Brazil’s northeastern region, says the camp program is “a blessing in the lives of the girls. I love it!”
“During the camp, they’re not girls from different wards,” Sister Linhares emphasizes. “They become part of one group.” In addition to the goals they achieve, they form strong friendships with other Latter-day Saint girls—and they are out of the cities during carnaval. That week frequently features immodesty and immorality paraded through the streets. Last year there were 12,000 Brazilian young women and 14,000 young men at camp in rural areas located a safe distance from the worldly influence of carnaval. This year, harkening back to the pioneering era in the Church, the theme of camp programs in Brazil has been “Faith in Every Footstep.”
Eighteen-year-old Lilian Fernanda Pereira Santos of the Tijuca Ward, Rio de Janeiro Brazil Andaraí Stake, is one of the young Brazilians trying to walk by faith.
Sometimes when she politely declines invitations to parties where she knows the activities will not meet gospel standards, her friends at school say sarcastically, “Yes, we know—you’re a little saint.” Recently there was a particular party she felt she might safely attend, but her mother’s counsel and a Sunday School lesson led her to reconsider taking a chance on it. The lesson quoted a scripture, Mosiah 2:41, that is cited in her patriarchal blessing: “Consider … the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. … If they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven.”
Fernanda says having friends she can associate with in her early-morning seminary class makes it easier to live the gospel and find wholesome activities. She used to be the only Latter-day Saint in her school, but now there is one more—a young woman, recently baptized, whom Fernanda introduced to the gospel by inviting her to seminary.
Seminary motivates Latter-day Saint youth to study the scriptures, pray, and strive to live gospel principles. It helps insulate them against worldly pursuits.
“I know of non-LDS students who smoke and drink,” says Salvador seminary student Ana Christina Sampaio. “But I always try to stay away from such activity. I know Heavenly Father answers my prayers and helps me live as I should.”
Sandro Quatel, Church Educational System coordinator for the Salvador region, says the region now has about 400 seminary students either attending regular classes or enrolled in home study. About 500 are enrolled in institute classes.
Among those students are the five children of Jonas and Raimunda Moraeses: Juçarda, Jolenilda, Joicileide, Jonatã, and Jeane. “With seven of us in the family, we take turns holding a family home evening every night of the week,” said Brother Moraes.
He supports his family with his own automobile body repair shop, located at street level in front of the family’s two-level house. Living quarters, a few steps down from the sidewalk, are also home for the family’s pets—three palm-sized monkeys.
Active in the São Caetano Branch, Salvador North Stake, the Moraes are saving for a visit to the temple. “The older children contribute what they can from any earnings they make,” said Brother Moraes. “And we all look for ways to save.” One way the family saves is by walking the five kilometers home from church instead of riding the bus.
Reaching Out to Others
Brazilian Latter-day Saints are good at reaching out to their neighbors to share the gospel, and many seem hungry for truth. It is not uncommon for neighbors to approach an LDS family and say: “We’ve seen changes in your lives since you joined your new church. You have something we want. Tell us more about it.”
To introduce people to the Church, the São Paulo Brazil Stake celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1996 with a missionary open house showing what the Church has to offer families. Those who attended were able to experience Relief Society, Young Women and Young Men, or Primary lessons; in the Primary section, for example, visitors learned to sing “I Am a Child of God” and created a picture to take home.
Stake mission president Norberto Carlos Lopes, a dynamic man who was on crutches at the time because of a leg injury, says the event literally kept him hopping from place to place. Some 616 people were introduced to the Church at the open house, and for several weeks afterward missionaries averaged one baptism per day. Brother Lopes says the many members who brought guests or helped with the event typify the perseverance Brazilian Saints show in sharing the gospel with others. “We can’t quit working with people,” he says, “because we never know the day someone’s heart will be open.”
Major Brazilian cities like São Paulo equal any in the world with their forests of office towers, supermarkets, sophisticated shopping malls, and high-rise apartment complexes. They also have their share of tightly packed shanty communities, called favelas.
Maria Leopoldina do Espírito Santo lives alone at the edge of a favela in a small house made from packing cases and surplus construction material. A few years ago Maria saw another favela resident, Lindy Now, pass by each Sunday. On asking Lindy where she was going, Maria was invited to church. The missionaries visited her, and within two weeks she was baptized.
Maria used to help support herself by doing laundry for members and missionaries. Now, stricken with Parkinson’s disease, she says she gets by “on a small government pension and on the help of friends.” She can’t always make it to the Jardim Das Palmas Ward by herself, “but some of the Relief Society sisters take me by car. I love the hymns, and prayer is a part of my life.”
Born into a nation that has the largest Roman Catholic population in the world, Maria says she was never active in her former religion. “But my testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is strong. I’m going to attend meetings just as long as I can.”
Ozair Ribeiro, a firefighter, is bishop of the Guaraituba Ward, Curitiba Brazil Bacacherí Stake. After he and his wife and a handful of others joined the Church in 1990, the stake presidency organized a small group of Latter-day Saints in their city. Since then that group has grown to a ward that has been divided once and is swelling the ranks again. In 1996 it was averaging five to eight baptisms each Sunday. “The whole ward is involved in missionary work,” the bishop says. Every two weeks he schedules a “day of harvest” on which members bring referrals to the missionaries.
That kind of harvest is being enjoyed throughout Brazil. It extends even to the far reaches of the Amazon. On a map, the Amazon River appears to slice off the top of South America in its 6,400 kilometer course from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east. This great river, 145 kilometers wide at its mouth, is deep enough for ocean-going vessels to navigate upstream approximately 1,000 kilometers.
One of the many who rely on the river for a livelihood is Brother Honorato Bruce Rolim, a member of the Itaporanga Branch in the small Amazonian town of Itacoatiara. A fisherman, Brother Rolim was himself gathered into the gospel net when he invited the full-time missionaries into his home and then accepted the baptismal challenge. His wife, Nilza, a member of another church, was fearful of taking such a step.
“My friends warned me against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” she says. “They told me that if my husband joined the Church he would go to hell, and if I followed him, I would go there, too.”
But Brother Rolim had a strong testimony that the Church was true, and he wanted Nilza and their oldest boys to be baptized. So he made a plan. Itacoatiara is a town of relatively few motorized vehicles. Horse-drawn carts are fairly common, a bus circles the outskirts of the town, and bicycles are pedaled over bumpy or unfinished roads. But most people walk. It is a 3.2 kilometer walk to church from the Rolims’ home.
“I was sure my wife would never make the effort to go to church if she had to walk there for the first time,” he says. “But I felt that if I could get her to church just once, she would feel the Spirit. My plan was to hire a taxi to take her for that first visit.” It took more than three months to save the (U.S.) $7.00 taxi fare.
Nilza was impressed by her husband’s thoughtfulness. “Once I got to church, I felt at home,” she remembers. “I felt comfortable with the members. I learned more about the gospel that one morning than I had ever learned in all the time I had attended my own church.” Soon, she and two sons, Helio, 14, and Euciney, 8, were baptized. The third son, Honorato, was baptized when he came of age.
Like many Brazilian Saints, the Rolims gladly share their testimony of the gospel by inviting friends into their home to meet the missionaries. Their fellowshipping efforts have resulted in at least 35 baptisms.
“Brother and Sister Rolim are typical of the Brazilian Saints,” says Elder Matthew Connelly, a returned missionary who served in Itacoatiara. “They are eager to share the gospel. For example, a member family invited my companion and me to their home to meet with a few nonmember friends. We expected maybe two or three people, but the family had more than 20 people there for us to talk to.”
The help of local members is essential because the missionaries available to serve in Brazil are thinly spread. Elder Archibald cites many cities of 50,000 to 200,000 people that have never had missionaries. The country has enough people for 85 missions, if it had missions in proportion to some other South American countries—but currently it has only 23.
So where will Brazil get the additional missionaries it needs?
About 3 percent of the 44,000 young Brazilian members of missionary age currently serve missions, says President Jerry F. Twitchell of the Missionary Training Center in São Paulo. The goal is to increase that number by tenfold. To help handle that increase, the MTC moved into a new facility this year. While the old one could handle about 2,000 missionaries per year, the new one accommodates six times as many. But what the missionaries are being trained to do is still characterized by a painting the MTC president treasures. It is the work of Walter Spät, the first stake president in Brazil, who was originally taught and baptized by LDS missionaries 50 years ago (see “Walter Spät and the First South American Stake,” Tambuli, March 1991, 32). The painting shows a back view of the lower legs of two missionaries kneeling in prayer, holes worn in their shoe soles by their daily work.
Approximately 40 percent of the missionaries serving in Brazil are natives of the country. President Dolimar Fagundes Batista of the Rio de Janeiro Brazil Andaraí Stake says their experiences in the mission field will help make them into leaders, the future strength of the Church in their areas, when they go home. Leadership often is a problem where the population is very mobile. Some 4.5 million people live within the boundaries of President Batista’s stake, and they range from very rich to very poor. In Brazil’s volatile economy, sometimes even middle-class members have to move frequently to find work. But this often brings an experienced leader into an area where he and his family are needed. The Lord can raise up leaders wherever they are needed, President Batista says, because there are so many members in Brazil whose hearts and minds are centered on eternal values.
Focusing on Eternity
As the Brazilian Saints progress in the gospel, their great desire is to attend the temple. Currently, there is one temple operating in Brazil, in São Paulo. There, the MTC dormitory serves as a hostel for out-of-town temple-goers, whose visits are included in a carefully planned schedule of temple activity. “We have a full temple calendar a year in advance,” says temple registrar Sergio Cardoso Munhoz.
The São Paulo Temple is so busy that on weekends its sessions run straight through from Friday morning to late Saturday night. Stakes are assigned a time in the temple—beginning, perhaps, Saturday at 2:00 A.M.
Making the journey to the temple is a challenge for many of the Saints in this vast land. For example, members from Itacoatiara—where the average monthly income is (US) $70.00—pay $250.00 per adult to go to the temple in a stake-sponsored boat and bus caravan. The 6,400-kilometer round-trip takes two weeks in addition to the week devoted to temple activity.
Happily, more temples are being built in Brazil. Approximately 1,900 kilometers northeast of São Paulo, the Recife temple will serve a dozen or more stakes and districts in northern Brazil and neighboring countries. A third temple was announced earlier this year for Campinas, just north of São Paulo.
Considering the growth of the Church in Brazil, getting to the temple will continue to be a challenge for the Saints. But it is a sacrifice many Brazilian Saints count as a blessing. Former temple president Athos M. De Amorím tells of a little boy who came with his family to be sealed. “The boy was touched by the Spirit, and he sensed the importance of the occasion. Although he had nothing to give, he wanted to make an offering to the Lord. He walked up to the temple president, shyly opened his hand, and gave the president a tooth that had just come out.”
Ernestina Conceicão dos Santos of the Curitiba Second Ward, Curitiba Brazil Stake, is an active 86-year-old who almost never misses one of her stake’s regular temple excursions. “I pray all the time to Heavenly Father to give me strength so I can go,” she says. There were a few times in her mid-70s, when she was recovering from a broken leg, that she was unable to make the trip, but as soon as she could move around on crutches, she was ready to go again. Church members who do not know the temple well are missing out on some of the most important blessings of being Latter-day Saints, she says. “The best thing we can do is make those covenants with the Lord.”
For some members, temple covenants offer strength in the face of trials that few could otherwise endure. Soft-spoken António Edison Berrocal manages government highway projects. A member of the Ahú Ward, Curitiba Brazil Bacacherí Stake, he joined the Church in 1988. It took a few years before his wife was prepared to join with their five children. Then, he recalls, “the gospel ran in our blood, in our veins. We were doing everything the gospel asks us to do.” The family was on their way to the temple, in fact, when they were in a car accident. Only Brother Berrocal survived; he awoke in the hospital to learn that his wife and children had already been buried.
He has since been sealed to his family in the temple. His neatly trimmed beard covers physical scars from the accident. Eternal truth has prevented scarring of his spirit. “I don’t know what would have happened to me if that had occurred without the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most important thing now is for me to keep myself clean and worthy so I can have my family forever. My heart is in the hope of the gospel.”
Helping Members Become Spiritually Vital Again
The fact that three temples will soon be operating in Brazil is clear evidence of the spiritual strength of the members there. But, as elsewhere, there are some members who lose their way and need love and fellowship to become active again. Following direction from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Brazil Area Presidency has asked missionaries to spend as much as one-third of their time helping to bring back members who are not currently enjoying all the blessings of the gospel. The intent is to put the less active on the path to the temple.
Priesthood leaders and members are working hand-in-hand with the missionaries in this effort. Achilles Miguel de Oliveira, a high councilor in the Rio de Janeiro Brazil Madureira Stake, says the priesthood quorums in his stake take a direct approach to helping the less active. They go beyond simply visiting the brethren. They teach the gospel in the home and offer activities or quorum assignments to strengthen the individual. They encourage brethren to read the scriptures and hold family home evenings. Sometimes the less-active families are invited to family home evening in the homes of members. Like the missionaries, their goal is to point the less active toward the blessings of the temple.
It can be a delicate thing to bring back a member who has become less active, says President Mario Luiz de Souza da Silva, first counselor in the Madureira stake presidency. Where repentance is involved, a bishop must “rely completely on the Spirit” in guiding the process. “The medicine must be exact,” he explains. “If you give too much, you can kill the patient. If you give too little, the disease goes on. The only doctor who can tell you how much medicine to give is the Lord.”
Seeing the result—helping someone become spiritually vital again—is the reward for sacrifices involved in serving. But in truth, President da Silva says, any sacrifice seems small in comparison with blessings received.
His attitude is indicative of what seems to be happening among Latter-day Saints throughout Brazil. Members give what they have to strengthen other individuals, and somehow the whole body of the Church becomes stronger at the same time.
Spencer Nagata of Curitiba says he sees the gospel affecting his country in a way that President James E. Faust, now Second Counselor in the First Presidency, once described: the Church has grown to its current position of strength through the faithfulness “of millions of humble and devoted people who have only five loaves and two small fishes to offer in the service of the Master” (Ensign, May 1994, 6). And so it is in Brazil. Thousands of individual contributions in the service of the Master are nourishing a strong and growing family of Saints.
Doing What They Knew Was Right
Milton Soares Jr. and his wife, Irene, are gracious hosts for visitors to the house they built in Recife. They have spent much of their lives in building—building a family and building up the Church, which began here with them.
They still have the first LDS pamphlet they received, the story of Joseph Smith, with a hand-drawn missionary diagram on the inside showing a church built on the foundation of Apostles. Another well-used Church book bears a message that the missionaries who taught Milton inscribed to him as the first person baptized in Recife in this dispensation. The date was 15 May 1960. His wife and children of baptismal age followed him into the Church three weeks later.
Irene Soares was skeptical when her husband first began investigating the gospel, but knowing him to be a good man, she thought that if he could accept it, it must be right. She received her own strong witness of the truth when President Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited Recife with Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the Seventy. “I felt in my heart the knowledge that all we had been learning was true and that [President Smith] was a prophet,” she recalls.
In the beginning, when both of their families questioned why they would join this unknown church, Milton and Irene had only their faith to cling to. His family’s feelings toward the Church softened over time. The feelings of her parents and siblings did not, but she could not give up the truths she had found.
Irene laughs when she remembers that “after just one week in the Church, I was considered an old-time member.” She felt a responsibility to meet and fellowship everyone. Her first sacrifice for the Church was to make cloths for the sacrament table. When their small branch moved to a different meetinghouse, Milton built the baptismal font and Irene found herself rounding up baptismal clothes.
Like many other Brazilians who joined the Church when it was just getting started in their area, they planted the seeds of gospel growth for their family. And as in many other Brazilian families, their example has borne fruit in succeeding generations. Their eldest son, Irajá, is just one example. After his baptism as a teenager, he quickly learned to enjoy working with the missionaries. In 1966 he became the first Brazilian elder called on a full-time foreign mission (he served in Chile). Today he serves as an Area Authority Seventy.
Growing Up with the Church
Mathilde Felber joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when it was just taking root in her country, and she grew up with it.
LDS missionaries in Brazil originally labored among German-speaking members who had settled in the southern part of the country. Mathilde, from a German-speaking Swiss family, first met the missionaries in 1938 when she was only 10, and it was three years before her father finally allowed his wife and daughters to be baptized.
During Mathilde’s years as an investigator and new member of the Church, North American missionaries were frequently visitors in her family’s home. These visitors included young elders James E. Faust and Wm. Grant Bangerter, along with a number of others she can name as she browses through her photo albums.
The man Mathilde married, Enos de Castro Deus, attended meetings for five years, studying the doctrine carefully and even assisting the branch as requested, before being baptized in 1952. He would not allow himself to take on membership with anything less than a lifelong commitment, and he wanted to be sure of the truth.
Together, Enos and Mathilde helped strengthen the Church in Curitiba for three generations. She has held leadership positions in each of the Church’s auxiliaries, including 17 years in Relief Society presidencies and callings at both the mission and stake levels. He was a branch president four times, bishop twice, a district president, and a counselor in branch, mission, and stake presidencies. He was deeply involved in planning construction of the first Church building in Curitiba at a time when the Church itself was still largely unknown there. Enos passed away late last year.
“In the beginning, the Church grew very slowly,” Mathilde says. “It was difficult to baptize people here.” Now, the fruits of the gospel are seen in the lives of so many members who serve as missionaries by example that it’s much easier to talk to people about the Church.
Mathilde smiles as she recalls what happened when her daughter-in-law saw a neighbor woman peering over the fence on a Sunday morning. The neighbor excused herself by saying, “I just love to see your family going to church together!”