Reaching Out in Rio

by Barbara Jean Jones

Editorial Associate

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    “Let us reach out to … people! Let us befriend them! Let us be kind to them! Let us encourage them! … Only as we reach out to help others are we truly Latter-day Saints.”—President Gordon B. Hinckley (Ensign, July 1999, 73; Jan. 1998, 73)

    Fifteen-year-old Renata Araujo’s footsteps echoed forlornly as she walked down the cold tile floor. Renata knew that when she reached the end of the hallway and entered her Young Women class, she’d be the only one there. The formation of her new ward had made her the only active girl in the Young Women program. “I felt very lonely,” she remembers.

    Renata isn’t lonely anymore. The once quiet and all-but-empty classroom now reverberates with the enthusiastic voices of 10 active young women of the Botafogo Ward, a change that took place over only a year. The story of these young women of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, illustrates what can happen when Church members follow President Gordon B. Hinckley’s counsel (included throughout the article) to reach out to new converts, less-active members, and nonmembers.

    Help them back

    “There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them” (Ensign, Nov. 1996, 86).

    It all started with 18-year-old twins Camila and Sabrina Reis, who’d been inactive for months. When Vera Pimentel, Young Women president of the new Botafogo Ward, began calling each of the less-active girls, offering rides to church and to activities, that was all it took for the twins.

    “We had been wanting to come back, but just didn’t know how,” says Sabrina. “Vera made it easy.”

    Answer questions

    “The member … will be there to answer questions when the missionaries are not around. He will be a friend to the convert who is making a big and often difficult change” (Ensign, May 1999, 105).

    Soon after Sabrina and Camila returned to church, they began reaching out themselves. When Ana Carolina Batista, 14, began investigating the Church with her mother, the twins were there to help. The first time she attended church, Ana Carolina’s anxiety melted when the twins sat by her side and showed her how to look up scriptures from the lesson. “This made me feel good, because I didn’t know what to do. I felt relieved to see there were people to help me.”

    Ana Carolina says the friendship of the twins made her decision to join the Church much easier. Sabrina and Camila were also happy; their little class was growing.

    Greet with love and concern

    “Coming into the Church can be a perilous experience. … try to imagine what it is like. It can be terribly lonely. It can be disappointing. It can be frightening. … Unless there are warm and strong hands to greet the convert, unless there is an outreach of love and concern, … he may drop by the side” (Ensign, May 1999, 108).

    The chain reaction continued as Ana Carolina reached out to a new investigator. Tatiane Pimenta, 16, began coming when she and her family were introduced to the Church by Sister Pimentel. “I felt very timid because I didn’t know anyone,” she says. “I quietly stayed in the corner.”

    But soon things began to change for Tatiane: “I started feeling good because I made a friend.” In one class, Sister Pimentel introduced a game in which all the girls put their shoes in the middle of the floor, put on someone else’s, then got to know the owner of the shoes they’d picked. “That’s how I started talking to Ana Carolina,” remembers Tatiane. “She became my first friend, a friend who encouraged me a lot. It was because of her that I felt able to join the Church.”

    Share the gospel; be a friend

    “Every new convert needs … a friend … Every convert must be ‘nourished by the good word of God’ (Moro. 6:4)” (Ensign, May 1999, 108).

    Carolina Caetano began coming to Young Women class when her parents returned to church after years of inactivity. Although she’d enjoyed Primary as a child, Carolina had never been baptized and was now unfamiliar with the Church and its members. “When you come back, you feel really shy because you don’t know anyone anymore. So at first I didn’t go much,” she says.

    But soon the missionaries and Sister Pimentel began to visit Carolina’s home to teach her the gospel. “Whenever [Sister Pimentel] prepared a lesson, she came to my house to explain it to me. And she always helped me read the Book of Mormon,” says Carolina.

    Carolina also started to make friends. “The thing that helped me come back the most, and what helped me want to get baptized, was the strong friendships I made here. The girls were always around me, always calling me to say, ‘Hey, come to the activities. Come this Sunday.’ They were always reminding me.”

    Give assignments

    “Every convert deserves a responsibility. … Of course the new convert will not know everything. He likely will make some mistakes. So what? … The important thing is the growth that will come” (Ensign, May 1999, 108).

    Like Carolina, 16-year-old Katarina Echaniz quickly made friends after being introduced to the Church by a ward member. Through the missionary discussions and her friends’ example, she also quickly gained a testimony. Shortly after her baptism, she was called to the Mia Maid presidency. “I felt responsible because there were girls depending on me to do my calling,” she says. “I wanted to do everything well.” Katarina says the assignment has kept her going strong.

    Never give up

    “I am making a plea for us to reach out to our brethren and sisters who have known the beauty and the wonder of this restored gospel for a brief season and then for some reason have left it.

    “If [members] respond to this challenge, I honestly believe that they will taste the sweet and wonderful feeling which comes of being an instrument in the hands of the Lord in leading someone back into activity in His church and kingdom” (Ensign, Mar. 1997, 27–28).

    From the first time she came to church, 16-year-old Moema Duberley loved it. “The girls were very receptive and tried to help me get to know everybody,” she says. “It made me feel like the Church was my second home.”

    But it became difficult for Moema to come to church when her mother became inactive a few months after their baptism. Partly because of her calling, but mostly because of their friendship, Katarina began calling Moema.

    “Sometimes I felt like I was bothering Moema,” says Katarina, “but I kept trying because I felt it was important, and I knew God was going to help because I was also praying.”

    After months of Katarina’s and other girls’ fellowshipping, Moema returned to full activity. “I came back because I was missing everything I had been learning at church, and my relationship with God and the people.”

    Now Moema and Katarina share a special bond. “I’m really grateful because I needed a friend when I was inactive,” says Moema. “I’m very thankful for Katarina being like this for me. When you spend time away from the Church, you begin to feel that maybe you won’t be well accepted. But when people call, it feels good to know you’re not forgotten.”

    As for Katarina, “I feel really happy and thankful that she came back. And it worked! I prayed and it worked.”

    Give support

    “Every convert is a son or daughter of God. Every convert is a serious responsibility. It is an absolute imperative that we look after those who have become a part of us” (Ensign, May 1999, 108).

    For recent converts Daniele Ramalno, 14, and Pamela Silva, 16, their seminary friends helped them the most after they moved into the ward.

    “When we’re around nonmembers, some guys will start making fun of us. But the boys from seminary always look after us and treat us nice,” says Daniele. “They encourage us, too.”

    “They are very good friends to me,” says Pamela. “They always give us rides to seminary and to activities.”

    Unite in service

    “It is our obligation to reach out in helpfulness, not only to our own but to all others as well. … The most effective tract we will carry will be the goodness of our own lives and example. And as we engage in this service, our lives will improve” (Ensign, May 1999, 88, 107).

    Not only are these Young Women of the Botafogo Ward helping each other; they also continue to reach out to others who are not yet active, as well as to members of their community. Whether they’re serving in a city park or a shelter for homeless teens, whether they’re writing cards to or calling less-active girls, whether they’re talking with each other individually or standing together as they repeat the Young Women theme—there is a singular bond between these girls as they strive to be living examples of the prophet’s words.

    “You young men and young women, … I plead with every one of you … to find out about the converts to the Church and put your arms around them and make friends of them; … please, please reach out to every convert in the Church and help him or her become established in the faith. … In my view nothing is of greater importance” (Ensign, Mar. 1999, 73; May 1997, 48).

    Photography by Barbara Jean Jones

    Renata once was the only active young woman in her ward. But not anymore.

    Within only a year, the number of active young women in the Botafogo Ward increased from one to ten (center, inset). Girls like Camila and Sabrina Reis (above) and Ana Carolina Batista (below) helped make it happen.

    “It was because of my friend that I felt able to join the Church,” says Tatiane Pimenta (above). Carolina Caetano and her mother (below) and father came back after years of inactivity when friends in the ward reached out to them.

    “I needed a friend like her,” says Moema Duberly (above, right), who was reactivated by Katarina Echaniz (above, left). Recent converts Daniele Ramalno (below) and Pamela Silva (far right, top) are supported by seminary friends (far right, bottom).

    On the tallest peak above their city, a 124-foot statue of the Savior with outstretched arms (center, inset) reminds the girls to reach out as He would do, whether they’re serving in a city park (center) or a shelter for homeless teens (previous page, center), or fellowshipping each other.