Always eager to serve in the Church, Elder Helvecio Martins has been willing to do so on the Lord's timetable - not his own.
Elder Martins, 59, was sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy on March 31 while serving as president of the Brazil Fortaleza Mission. In interviews after his calling, he was quick to emphasize that aside from divine inspiration, the most influential force in his life has been his wife, Ruda.As the first of what Brazilians call the "men of the African lineage," to serve as a General Authority, he emphasized that inspiration is behind the calling of members to serve, and that the "kingdom of God on earth is for all of God's children. The requirement of a calling is not skin color, or the size of your bank account, but your personal honor, and integrity and your desire to serve."
His calling as a General Authority, he said, was very humbling and "I felt very inadequate, but the Lord qualifies whom He calls."
Among Brazilian members, he is noted for his stalwart testimony. He often speaks of the urgency of the work as advocated by President Ezra Taft Benson.
"Elder Martins has a great testimony of the Church," said Elder Helio Camargo of the Seventy, the first Brazilian General Authority. "He is a good speaker with a tremendous control of the language PortugueseT."
Pres. A. J. Mendoca of the Brazil Recife Mission and former stake president characterizes Elder Martins as having an administrative manner similar to that of President Spencer W. Kimball - firm, and very loving.
"Pres. Martins does not represent the people to the Savior," said Pres. Mendoca, to whom Elder Martins served as a counselor. "He represents the Savior to the people. He earnestly strives do the things the Savior would have him do."
During the period before Elder Martins was eligible to hold the priesthood, spiritual experiences cradled his feelings and strengthened his understanding as he learned patience and obedience.
For example, in the early 1970s, he and his family prayed that they would be able to contribute to the spirituality of a stake conference. They sat in the back row and listened to the speakers. As he was listening, he was prompted that he would be called upon. Just a few minutes later, he was invited to the stand to bear his testimony. "I felt my testimony was a help to those present," he said. "The Lord answered my prayer."
A week after he attended his first Church meeting as a member, he was called as gospel doctrine teacher. He served in branch, district and then stake Sunday School leadership, and as regional public communications director. Since the revelation on the priesthood in 1978, he has served as a counselor in a stake presidency, bishop, and mission president.
Elder Martins is a Brazilian Horatio Alger. He dropped out of school at age 12 when his family was in dire financial circumstances, but eventually earned a bachelor's degree at Rio de Janeiro State University. He then rose to financial controller of PetroBras, Brazil's national petroleum company, and top financial officer of an important subsidiary.
While the 5-foot-9-inch father of four and his wife, Ruda Tourinho de Assis Martins, are "very cultured" and members of the successful financial community, they have never lost touch with their roots, nor their empathy for the less fortunate.
Both came from very humble circumstances. After young Helvecio dropped out of school, he began working as an office boy to help his family. His wife's family was poorer than his own. While they were dating, she constantly encouraged him to continue his education. She also managed to complete her secondary education.
When they were married on Dec. 7, 1956, he was 26 years old and in his last year of high school. With her encouragement, he graduated, then attended night school at Rio de Janeiro State University. He wanted to be a teacher, but the education courses were in the daytime, so instead he selected accounting and business management courses. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting and actuarial sciences, and was later sponsored by PetroBras to attend a special postgraduate course in marketing, human resources, and organizational behavior.
He eventually passed a type of civil service test and was accepted into PetroBras, where he rapidly climbed the career ladder. About this same time, the Martins were prominent members of a local religious congregation, and he was elected to be its director. But neither he nor his wife felt satisfaction with this group, and instead of accepting the position, he wrote a letter asking for temporary leave, a leave that was to become permanent.
In the interim, although they were finding financial success, they were "lost and confused," as they searched for another church among local congregations. "We went to meetings, but the light never came on," he said.
He said that one day, when he was very upset about events at work, he was driving home through the narrow streets of Rio de Janiero and was caught in a traffic jam. As he waited and waited, the spiritual frustrations of a lifetime came to a head.
"Please, Lord," he asked, "why does everything go wrong for me? Others seem to find happiness: why don't I?"
That evening he said he was in "a very grouchy mood" when he finally arrived home. He instructed his wife that he didn't wish to speak to anyone. The doorbell rang a few minutes later and he hid himself in the bathroom. He opened the door a crack and heard the missionaries introduce themselves.
The missionaries were sent away "because my husband is very tired." However, her husband hurried out, and the missionaries returned. They offered a prayer, delivered a short gospel message and volunteered to answer questions.
"Are you racist?" he began. "How are the blacks in North America accepted in your church?"
The missionaries, Elders Thomas McIntire and Steve Richards, sat straight in their chairs and Elder McIntire said, "Do you really want to know about the gospel? We will teach you."
"That missionary was very well-prepared," recalled Elder Martins. "We did not feel shocked or unhappy with what they told us. We felt good about the Church. It was about 1 a.m. before the missionaries left."
The couple attended Church services and were welcomed; friendships were formed. Their son, Marcus Helvecio, asked first to be baptized. But all the family was baptized on July 2, 1972.
Later, as the temple was being erected, he and his wife walked through the structure. They stopped in the center and were overwhelmed with what they felt, "a very strong spiritual impression. We hugged and cried." He said that, although they had no idea what was to happen, they sensed "something was in the air. Although, I didn't think it would come in my lifetime, or perhaps not before the Second Coming."
It was at the temple where he first met President Kimball. The prophet came to the temple's cornerstone ceremony, held March 9, 1977.
After the ceremony, the prophet beckoned to him from the stand, but "I thought, `That can't be for me.' " But it was, and he met briefly with President Kimball, who said, "The word of order is for you to be faithful. Remain faithful, and you will enjoy the full blessings [of Church membershipT."
"I don't quite understand why he gave me that counsel, but to me it has always been important."
On June 9, 1978, the day revelation extended the priesthood to all worthy males, his telephone service had been interrupted by nearby construction work. The Martins received just two calls that day. The first was from a friend in Utah who had heard on the radio of the revelation. The Martins dismissed this call as just a rumor, but it started them thinking. A second call was received from a friend in Bonneville Corp., Douglas Borba, who read them the just-translated revelation.
"So I was no longer doubtful. Such emotion. We cried so much. You can't imagine how it felt."
He was soon ordained to the priesthood, and immediately had the blessing of ordaining his son. Those around them also felt strong emotions. "We realized then how much the members loved us," he said.
At that time, his son was planning a July wedding. Invitations had been mailed. When he was ordained, however, he accepted a mission call and he and his fiance postponed their wedding.
Helvecio Martins was soon called into the stake presidency, and then as bishop. When he was released, his son, Marcus Helvecio, was called as his successor. Elder Martins will complete his service as mission president in June.
"I know this Church is the true Church," he said. "I wasn't in the grove next to Joseph Smith on that morning, but I have absolute certainty that he saw the Father and the Son. . . .
"Long before I received the priesthood, I could feel His power in the bosom of my family. . . . I know with absolute certainty that the power I have today is the power of God."
Elder Helvecio Martins
- Family: born July 27, 1930, a son of Honorio and Benedicta Martins; married Ruda Tourinho de Assis Martins on Dec. 7, 1956; four children: Marcus Helvecio, 31; Marisa Helena, 24; Raphael, 15, and Aline, 13.
- Education: graduate of Rio de Janeiro State University, where he did graduate study.
- Employment: controller, PetroBras (largest corporation in Brazil); financial officer of a PetroBras oil subsidiary.
- Previous Church service: mission president, counselor in stake presidency, bishop, regional public communications director, and a branch, district, and stake Sunday School president.