Just about every missionary in the Brazil Brasilia Mission knows the story of "the last house." Their mission president, Paulo R. Grahl, tells the story often, not because he wants to entertain missionaries but because he wants to impress upon them the importance of listening to the Spirit and being dedicated to the cause of their great work.
Pres. Grahl, a former English teacher who was a Church Educational System institute director at the time he was called as a mission president, tells his story simply, with no embellishments. Apparently, he feels a true story with a great moral needs no literary devices."The year was 1961," began Pres. Grahl in another recounting of the story. The listener knows already that this is a story of importance, not so much by the words themselves, but by how they are spoken. Pres. Grahl's speech borders on a reverential tone.
"I was 13 years old. My family lived in the city of Bage, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the south of Brazil. We lived on the outskirts of town, where we had a garden. Ours was the last house on the street.
"Two missionaries were working on our street that day. They spent the whole afternoon knocking on doors, but they didn't get a chance to teach anyone. Around 5:30 that afternoon, they were tired, discouraged and hungry. They had gone to every house on the street except one when they saw the bus coming. They started running to catch the bus, but in the middle of the run, one of them stopped and said, `I feel we have to go to that last house.' His companion said, `Yes, I feel that too.'
"They turned around and came back. My father was working in the garden. He invited them inside the house and they began to teach us. Three months later, we were baptized: my parents and five of us children. My older brother was baptized a year later. All of us have been sealed in the temple except one sister; her husband was baptized after they married. Three of my sisters married returned missionaries."
Pres. Grahl paused. A pensive look flashed across his face. He had concluded the story, but he added the moral to the narrative, which he tells the 136 missionaries under his charge: "Don't forget that last house. Always obey the Spirit."
After a few moments' silence, he continued, "That's an important lesson. I can't imagine how we would be today if the missionaries had not come back to our house. I wouldn't have met my wife, for one thing. I would have missed the blessings of being a member of this Church.
"Those missionaries came at a time when it was a challenge to serve in Brazil. There was no language training mission for them. They had a very hard time learning the language. The missionaries were Elder Ronald C. Talbot, from Bakersfield, Calif., and Elder Eric B. Gessel, from Idaho Falls, Idaho. We corresponded with them for many years; it was 20 years later that I learned the story of them coming back to our house.
"One of the missionaries said he didn't baptize many on his mission. But he just didn't realize how many people were influenced by his labors."
Pres. Grahl cannot begin to calculate how many people have learned of the gospel as a result of Elders Talbot and Gessel teaching his family. Pres. Grahl has served as a counselor in the North Hamburgo Brazil Stake, and, while serving as the Church Educational System director for the Europe West and South areas, he was a branch president in Madrid, Spain. He also has been an area director of CES in Brazil, and a CES coordinator.
In his years as a mission president, he will have influenced several hundred missionaries who, in turn, will have had some impact on hundreds, even thousands, of others.
"When the missionaries came to our house, it was the right time for me to meet the Church," said Pres. Grahl. "I was at the beginning of my teenage years. I participated in many activities, and served as a Church building missionary for two years. I worked on two meetinghouses in southern Brazil and sometimes I went out at night with the missionaries to teach. After my mission, I went back to college and, at a Church activity, became reacquainted with Zulekia. I had met her before I went on my mission.
"She was baptized when she was 12. Because she always had a desire to find the truth, she visited several churches, often alone. A branch president lived across the street. For a number of months, she prayed and fasted often that her parents would allow her to be taught by the missionaries and to be baptized."
Sister Grahl said that although she was permitted to be baptized, she did not feel completely free to be active in the Church until she and Paulo Grahl married in 1970. They have two daughters: Melissa, 18, who recently passed entrance exams to study architecture at Federal University; and Kristine, almost 17. A son died in infancy.
Pres. Grahl received a teacher's degree from Federal University in 1974. "I taught English for five years in a high school run by nuns," he said. "A few years later, two of my former students joined the Church. They said they saw something different in my attitude and my way of living.
"It seems that since the gospel was introduced here, South America has been rediscovered," said Pres. Grahl. "We have experienced all sorts of growth, in all aspects of life. For many years, North American missionaries set a standard for LDS youth in Brazil. As a result, we have a great army of local missionaries. More than half of the missionaries in the Brazil Brasilia Mission are from Brazil - 82 out of 136."
Pres. Grahl said, "We can see the great difference in the lives of the young people who have joined the Church, attended seminary and accepted calls to serve as missionaries. My wife taught early morning seminary 14 years ago; some of her students are now bishops, stake presidents and parents. They call her `my teacher.'
"The gospel has made a big difference in so many lives. We are so grateful for members all over the world who have made sacrifices to send their sons and daughters on missions. Those who came to Brazil were real pioneers in establishing the gospel in this great nation. We owe a great debt of gratitude to all of them."