Brazil is a nation filled with people hungry for the truths of the gospel.
"This is a promised land. This is part of the land of Joseph, a land choice above all other lands," said Elder Francis M. Gibbons, area president and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
"In my opinion, the Spirit of the Lord is moving upon these Latin AmericanT countries. The people feel that Spirit it is a converting spirit. . . . It is gaining momentum, and the missionaries pick up that momentum."Elder Gibbons, and his counselors, Elder Helio R. Camargo and Elder Lynn A. Sorensen, also of the First Quorum of the Seventy, said in a recent interview that Brazil now has nearly 300,000 members, a Church population behind only that of the United States and Mexico.
The members live in 56 stakes and, as of July 1 of this year, 10 missions that dot the fifth largest country in size in the world. The Brazil Area was carved from the South America North area last August. It is the only area that carries the name of a single nation.
Brazilians are a hard-working people who claim many professionals among their number, said Elder Camargo, the first Brazilian General Authority. He referred to the giant Itaipu Dam in southern Brazil, said to be the largest hydroelectric project in the world, as one aspect of what the people can accomplish.
Brazil is huge and varied. This nation comprises half of South America's land and half its people. And while many people may associate Brazil only with the Amazon Basin, that huge, sparsely populated area is of less significance than the southern and eastern cities, where millions of people reside. Here is found the distinct flavor of Brazil the busy, developing industrial personality of the coastal areas.
The largest of these cities is Sao Paulo (St. Paul), where the first Portuguese settlers came in 1554. The settlers mixed with the natives, and later the population mixed with Africans brought into the country to work the rubber plantations. As a result of this free mixture of races, there is little racial prejudice and a great number of Brazilians have ancestral lines that connect to Europe and Africa.
Today, Sao Paulo is a city teeming with skyscrapers and industry, bustling with trade and commerce. With a metropolitan population estimated by some at nearly 18 million, it is one of the most populous areas in the world. During the last three decades, the city's explosive growth has been accompanied by urban remodeling. Radial and circular avenues have been cut through the city, freeways constructed along river banks, highway tunnels drilled and overpasses erected to promote transportation.
The Church has had an important role in the local communities in Brazil. In 1981, the government sponsored an activity promoting the use of soybeans to provide families with richer and less-expensive nutrition. Several Relief Society leaders were invited to teach in the communities about how to make meat, candies, juices, and salads from soybeans.
The Church also received public attention with its family history center in Sao Paulo. Many patrons, both members and non-members, use the facility. In 1980, workers at the center prepared a family history of the newly elected Brazilian president, Tancredo de Ameida Neves. The history was presented by Elder Camargo in a ceremony well-attended by the news media.
However, there were no officials or cameras to welcome the Church when missionaries entered Brazil from Argentina. The Brazilian Mission, organized under Rulon S. Howells May 25, 1935, functioned first among German-speaking people in the city of Ipomeia, in the state of Santa Catarina. Headquarters were soon moved to Sao Paulo. A few baptisms followed, and in 1938, 2,000 copies of the Book of Mormon in Portuguese were published.
Elder Sorenson was a missionary during those formative years. "I arrived in Brazil in February 1940, and we had fewer than 200 members," he recalled. "The first year we baptized all of 11 people. The next year, we did better 18 in the whole country were baptized.
"There were about 360 members when the missionaries left during World War II in 1943. Missionary work in that period was very, very slow."
When Elder Camargo was baptized in 1957, "there were fewer than 1,000 members in the country," he said. "There were only two branches in Sao Paulo state." Today the state has 20 stakes, 160 wards, three missions and a temple.
The first stake in South America was created in Sao Paulo in 1966 by Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Council of the Twelve.
Nine years later, President Kimball announced a temple for Brazil. At the same meeting, he also emphasized the need for the youth in Brazil to prepare for and serve missions. At that time, Elder Sorensen was president of the Porto Alegre mission. In a one-year period after President Kimball's visit, the number of Brazilian missionaries in the Porto Alegre mission increased from 19 to 67.
The next milestones were reached in 1978. In June of that year, the priesthood was granted to all worthy males, and in October South America's first temple was dedicated in Sao Paulo. Both events have greatly fostered missionary work.
The revelation particularly opened doors in Brazil. "The growth in Brazil would not have been possible without the revelation," said Elder Gibbons.
Elder Sorenson explained the impact of the temple. "We now have many young families who have been endowed and married in the temple, and we are starting to see this first generation coming up that was born in the covenant and raised in the Church," he said. "This hasn't happened until just these last few years.
"The beauty is that the returned Brazilian missionaries are becoming the priesthood leaders of today," said Elder Sorensen. "That is what is so thrilling to me, to come back and see these men now serving as bishops, counselors in stake presidents, and in other key leadership positions."
Missionary participation among the youths of this country is still on the increase, and now the great majority of missionaries in the nation are Brazilians. While many are partly supported by the international missionary fund, their service is still "a tremendous sacrifice for them with double-digitT inflation," said Elder Camargo. He said that the minimum wage of $60 a month supports a family, but missionaries need $120 a month to be fully self-supporting.
In order for local missionaries to serve, members in stakes contribute whatever they can afford, as well as providing lunch each day for them, further reducing costs. This program also brings missionaries together with many less-active members, often injecting renewed focus in the lives of these people.
"Members are enthused about this program," said Elder Camargo. "They are happy to receive the missionaries in their homes. The spirit the missionaries bring helps children prepare for a mission in the future." He said that recently "two missionaries came to my house, and I could see how my grandsons were happy to have them."
Elder Gibbons explained that missionaries generally are stationed in areas of strong Church population. Their goal is to develop the Church outward. In those centers of strength throughout the country 308 meetinghouses have been constructed.
"Missionaries are better prepared today than they have ever been," said Elder Gibbons. "They are fired up when they come out of the Sao Paulo Missionary Training Center." He said the Brazil missions have about 22,000 converts each year.
After they complete their two-year service, returned missionaries are encouraged to gain an education and accept leadership positions in their wards and stakes. As a result, leadership is more available now than in the past. In addition, prominent older leaders recently have been released to serve in their home wards, a situation virtually unthinkable even a few years ago.
Still, said Elder Gibbons, "We certainly have a long way to go because of the mere fact that so many converts are baptized each year puts a great strain on the local leaders."
He said that some cities don't have missionaries yet, but as the number of missionaries increases, so will the missionary work. "There are dozens of places we haven't touched," he said. "I would expect that there should be a continual increase in the number of converts in Brazil."