Raphael Queiroz eyes the volleyball net, tosses his ball high, then runs a few steps forward and leaps. For a moment he hovers above the floor, seeming to defy gravity. A split second later he meets the volleyball and drives his hand into it. The ball flashes over the net at a terrifying speed.
Anyone watching might wonder how an opponent could return the missiles Raphael launches. “Wow!” is the only response one stunned observer can make.
Raphael just shrugs—but with a hint of satisfaction in his serve. “Actually,” the unassuming Brazilian says, “I prefer soccer. But since I’m not agile enough to play the game well, I play volleyball.”
Perhaps it’s his size. At 6 feet 5 inches (196 cm) and 205 pounds (94 kg), he may not be as quick as smaller, lighter players. But he certainly has the height and weight to put a volleyball only fractions of an inch over a net with such power that only the brave would want to intercept it.
Soccer may be Raphael’s sport of choice, but volleyball is most definitely his game. And he is really good at it. He is so good, in fact, that he played in the final game of the high school volleyball nationals. “That,” Raphael says, “was one of the three happiest days of my life.”
And the other two? “The day I was baptized a member of the Church and the day I received my patriarchal blessing.”
At 19, Raphael de Morais Queiroz of the Jardim Massangana Ward, Recife Brazil Boa Viagem Stake, has learned a couple of important lessons some people never learn. He knows that when you place the Lord first in your life, good things happen. He also knows that sometimes you have to adjust your dreams to take advantage of the talents and opportunities the Lord gives you.
Raphael’s parents joined the Church before he was born, so he grew up in a gospel-oriented home.
“Growing up in the Church, you’re taught from a very young age the principles of the gospel and the importance of keeping the commandments,” he says. “But you still need to get your own testimony.”
Raphael remembers one day in seminary when the class was watching a video about the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. “I started crying. ‘Why?’ I asked myself. As I concentrated on what I was feeling, the answer came: I was receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that the Church is true.”
He smiles at the memory. “Good things happen in seminary,” he says.
Good things happen at church too. During one priests quorum lesson, he felt impressed to get a patriarchal blessing. “In preparing for it, I did some studying, then went to the bishop, and he sent me to the patriarch. I was overwhelmed by what I heard. The Lord entrusted me with a lot. I love my blessing.”
Since those experiences, he has found his testimony strengthened in other ways. Scripture study is one of them. He especially likes the Book of Mormon. “I admire Nephi,” Raphael says.
Like Nephi, Raphael was born of goodly parents. Family is important to him. He feels particularly close to his only sibling, 18-year-old Gabriela.
“To me, Gabriela is an example of righteousness,” Raphael says. “She always follows Church standards.” He points out that she attends seminary twice a day—once early in the morning and again in the evening.
When asked why, she says, “I love learning the gospel. I get a different perspective in the different classes. Then, too, I have friends in the evening class I like being with. Mostly, though, I love feeling the Spirit. I feel it often in seminary.”
For Raphael, his sister illustrates how placing the gospel first in your life can give you strength to resist worldly pressures. “Having a gospel perspective helps us meet our challenges,” he says. “It teaches us to stay away from temptations. Although I’m not free from temptations, I always try to avoid them. Youth need to learn how to avoid temptations by deciding ahead of time how they will handle them.”
He knows well the temptations athletes face. “As an athlete, I always do what athletes do, but not the bad things—I don’t break the Word of Wisdom or do the other things young men sometimes do. I try to set an example as a Latter-day Saint.”
“At first,” he says, “my friends thought my choices were funny. But later they respected me for my standards.”
It was a friend who introduced Raphael to volleyball. In 2001 a teammate on his soccer team in Recife pointed out that some private high schools offer volleyball scholarships. At the time, Raphael was trying for a soccer scholarship but found his physical skills kept him from playing at the level the coaches wanted. But he seemed to have an unexplored talent for volleyball. “So I played volleyball until I got good at it,” he says. He became so good that he was able to secure a full scholarship to a private high school.
At school, he played in the Recife city championships, then in the regionals in northeast Brazil, one of the most important tournaments in the country. But his success didn’t end there. Not long afterward, he was asked to join the Pernambuco State team to prepare for the national high school tournament. His team won almost all of its games, losing only in the final match. He has the medals to show for it.
“As a volleyball player,” he says, “I’ve learned to play as a member of a team. One person can’t win alone. You have to look out for one another and help one another.”
In the same way, the Church has taught him to play as a member of the Lord’s team. “The Church has taught me to teach and care for others, to always watch for when people need help. There’s no better place to learn to live the gospel than in the Church. The Lord wants all of us to practice the gospel. That’s why I’m going on a mission.”
Raphael will be giving up a college athletic scholarship to do so. Recruited by several schools, he was tempted to accept a scholarship from one of them. But at this point in his life, he would rather serve on a mission than serve on a volleyball court. He knows he is making the right choice.
“As much success as I have had in sports,” he says, “I want to do better as a missionary. I feel that no matter where I go, I can do well—if I let the Lord coach me.”