Over the years, Brazil has become famous for its skilled soccer teams, white beaches, and tropical climate. But the force behind this pulsating, vibrant culture is perhaps its greatest resource: its warm, fun-loving people. Having a good time and being with friends and family are the central components of most activities. And among the most important and anticipated days in any Brazilian young woman’s life is her 15th birthday celebration. Families sometimes save money for years to put on an extravagant night of dining, dancing, and gift-giving for this coming-of-age celebration.
Priscila Vital, a member of the Rio Negro stake in Manaus, Brazil, had to make a difficult choice about how to celebrate her 15th birthday. Priscila’s birthday would come while her mother, Francilene, was in the middle of a 17-day stake caravan trip to the São Paulo Brazil Temple. Francilene had saved money for three years to go to the temple for the first time, and she had enough money to either take Priscila with her or throw a traditional 15th birthday party upon her return. Priscila’s decision was further complicated because most of the relatives in her tight-knit family were members of other churches and had been eagerly anticipating her birthday for several years. They did not understand the importance of going to the temple.
“All of my aunts and uncles wanted me to stay and have the birthday party, especially because I’m the only girl in my family,” says Priscila. “When I decided to go to the temple, it was a good opportunity for me to show them just how important this was to me.”
Priscila’s family joined the Church in 1991 but became less active shortly after their baptisms. In early 1998 Priscila’s friend began investigating the Church and asked Priscila to come with her to seminary.
“I had gone to another church, but I could never understand what they were teaching. In seminary everything made sense, and I could understand the gospel. Eventually, the Spirit testified to me that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. When I learned he was a prophet it was so good and so sweet that I cried,” Priscila says.
Priscila’s mother enjoyed welcoming the ward’s young women into their home. She encouraged Priscila’s attendance at Church activities, and she soon began attending regularly herself. Francilene is now serving as her ward’s Relief Society president.
Priscila’s conversion to the gospel is one of the many miracles taking place in Manaus. The busy port city of 1.5 million people is the industrial and commercial center of the Amazon Basin. The first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in the jungle city 23 years ago. Since then, the Church in Manaus has grown to five stakes, one mission, and 14,000 members.
As a witness of the increasing faith of Manaus’s members, each year between 150 to 200 members in Manaus go on a multistake caravan to the temple in São Paulo, the most accessible temple in Brazil. Because of the dense forest that surrounds the city, the only way to travel from Manaus to São Paulo is by boat or plane. Plane tickets are very expensive, so eight years ago the stake presidencies in the city arranged a yearly temple caravan by chartering a boat and buses for those desiring to go to the temple. By sharing the costs, the members have enough money to travel to the temple with their families.
The caravan begins by traveling for four days by boat to Porto Velho, a Brazilian city near the borders of Peru and Bolivia. From there, members board chartered buses to take them an additional three days and nights to São Paulo, where they stay in Church-owned apartments next to the São Paulo Brazil Temple. For four days they do temple work, then make the reverse journey homeward.
Priscila prepared for her temple trip by studying general conference talks about the temple with her mother, reading Church magazines, and studying the scriptures. She also gathered the names of four generations on her father’s side of the family so she could perform vicarious baptisms for them. Priscila’s mom compiled the family history information for four generations of her side of the family.
Once the 185 members departed Manaus by boat, Priscila and the five other young women in the caravan helped tend the Primary-age children and fixed meals. At night they slept in hammocks on the boat deck to try to stay cool in the hot jungle temperatures.
“Being on the caravan was so spiritual because everyone was so excited and anxious to go to the temple,” Priscila comments. “Most people had never been to the temple, so almost no one knew exactly what to expect. Everyone sang songs and read scriptures together. We were so united.”
The bus ride was the most difficult part of the journey because the buses traveled both day and night for three days, and the members were unable to move around much. As a result, many of the members had severe pain and swelling in their legs.
When they arrived at the temple, Priscila immediately went to the baptistry to do baptisms for the dead, while her mother went to a different part of the temple to receive her endowment. Priscila spent every day in São Paulo in the temple, even though it was the first time she had been to the large metropolis.
“I spent my 15th birthday in the temple. When the baptismal font coordinator discovered it was my birthday, he told me he had a present for me,” Priscila explains. “So many people come to the temple that most patrons can do the baptisms for only five people. He gave me a large stack of names of people who needed their baptismal work done for them. He couldn’t have given me a better present.”
Priscila’s mother comments about other changes that happened in Priscila’s life: “The caravan spiritually influenced her. She was a light for all of the other members. Everyone came back different. On the bus ride home, we felt that our appearances and faces had changed; we were all so happy.”
Priscila’s example and willingness to share the gospel helped many of her family members and friends join the Church. One of them, her aunt, recently returned from serving in the Brazil Recife Mission. Now Priscila is encouraging her father and two brothers to prepare to go to the temple so they can be sealed as a family—something she hopes will happen soon.
For Priscila, giving up her 15th birthday celebration was no sacrifice. “When it was time to come home, I didn’t want to leave,” Priscila remarks. “All I want to do is save money so I can go back to the temple as quickly as possible.”