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‘What a kid!’ Now a missionary

Convert of Sao Paulo ‘favela’ changes life, follows missionary who taught him

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PROVO, Utah — Life for 10-year-old Fabio de Oliveira was on a collision course with trouble until missionaries taught him the gospel. Now more mature, he has a desire to share the same joy as a missionary.

Raised in a "favela," or slum, in a dangerous neighborhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil, called Jardim Jaqueline, the young Fabio was surrounded by the drugs and crime common to the Brazilian poor.

During the next years, Fabio knew of two childhood friends who were killed in drug-related shootings, and two others who were imprisoned for drugs. Fabio was facing the same fate until one day in April 1997, when two missionaries met him and his father as they sat outside the gate of their simple home.

Fabio liked what he felt when the two North American missionaries, Elders Patrick Smith and Ben Forsyth, taught the gospel.

"He was so excited every time we arrived for a visit or discussion," recalled Brother Forsyth. "I remember his countenance, his bright smile and timid, peaceful demeanor. Before we sat down to teach, he would grab his Book of Mormon and be ready. During the discussions Fabio read the scriptures and copied them word for word. To see his enthusiasm for the gospel was truly an amazing sight for a young missionary as myself who had been in the country for less than a month."

Following his baptism a short time later, Fabio made new friends in the Church and altered his course in life. "It was evident that he loved the Church, that he loved to participate in any Church activity or missionary event," said Brother Forsyth. "The members loved him and his enthusiasm for the gospel grew."

Eight years later, now married and comfortably situated in his Kaysville, Utah, home, Brother Forsyth received a phone message the first week in November 2004 alerting him that Fabio, now Elder Oliveira, would be arriving in Salt Lake City prior to attending the Provo Missionary Training Center before serving in the Arizona Phoenix Mission.

"At the airport," Brother Forsyth said, "it was Alma and the sons of Mosiah all over again. Despite the years, our brotherhood had grown stronger. His gospel knowledge and desire to serve were strong. He bore witness of the gospel and professed allegiance to the prophets and their teachings.

"We hugged. At times, the immensity of the moment left us speechless. To consider those happy times eight years ago when we met, and then to consider his faithfulness in tough circumstances in the intervening years only magnified our feelings. What a kid."

Missionaries from all eras can relate to similar feelings. For purposes of this article, the Missionary Department allowed Brother Forsyth to surprise Elder Oliveira one last time on the day prior to Elder Oliveira completing his training and departing for his mission.

After an emotional greeting at his classroom door, Elder Oliveira said, "When I am teaching people, it will be as if you are teaching. Thank you, Elder Forsyth."

The elation that comes of seeing someone you love excel in the spirit of his missionary calling is incredible, said Brother Forsyth. "You can never imagine the impact the gospel can have on an individual. I never thought my mission would have had such an influence on Fabio, as well as others, including myself."

E-mail to shaun@desnews.com