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‘Happiest place’ is Brazil’s MTC

Center now training missionaries from Portuguese areas of Africa

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SAO PAULO, Brazil — "The happiest place in Brazil," is how the Missionary Training Center here is described by its president, Allen C. Ostergar Jr.

The center has acquired a history in its eight years of existence in Casa Verde, a neighborhood whose tradition now includes young men dressed in white shirts, dark pants and ties, and young women wearing dresses. Brazil's current Missionary Training Center was dedicated in June of 1997 to prepare full-time missionaries from Brazil and North America to serve in the 26 Brazilian missions. Now missionaries also go to the Brazil MTC from other Portuguese-speaking countries, such as Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde, and from Zimbabwe. These missionaries generally return to their own countries to serve. They are among about 2,300-3,000 Church representatives who have come here.

To fulfil its mandate, the center uses missionary couples and service missionaries for ecclesiastic administration and maintenance.

"We have two North American couples serving at the MTC as full-time missionaries who help us a great deal, including a doctor, and his wife, a nurse," said President Ostergar.

The greatest teaching tool they have is the "Preach My Gospel" manual, issued under the approval of the First Presidency. "Now the learning and preparation of the lessons is up to the missionary," said Valter Margoni, teaching coordinator. "As the missionary needs to teach the gospel in his or her own words to be most powerful, he or she will need to know which words to use. These the missionaries will get through personal study."

"Here in the MTC, I have learned to trust in the arm of God," said Elder Matthew Judson Kennedy, a missionary recently at the center. "I didn't know the language; I also didn't know everything pertaining to the gospel and I have to teach these people from another country," he said regarding his arrival at the center. "I cannot teach with my own power. I need the power of God."

North American missionaries stay in the center for two months, whereas the Brazilians stay only for 19 days. They follow the approved program for missionary training centers, which is based on the manual, "Preach My Gospel," said Eric Cardoso, also an MTC instructor.

The goals of missionaries at the center are to learn more of the gospel, strengthen their testimonies, learn to teach by the Spirit with power and to speak in Portuguese.

For Elder Kennedy, a missionary from Sandy, Utah, who has come to serve in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil, it has been a wonderful experience to be able to study the gospel 10 hours each day. For Elder Ryan S. Shurt-leff, time at the center has been a chance to be continuously close to the Holy Spirit, in good part, because the instructors are returned missionaries and have strong testimonies.

Elder Obedience Kandemiri of Harare, Zimbabwe, who speaks English, came to learn Portuguese in order to serve in Mozambique. Elder Kandemiri learned about the Church through his girlfriend. He has been a convert to the Church for two and a half years and joined along with his mother and brother.

Even though a variety of cultures — Brazilians, Americans and Africans — are gathered in one place, they have learned to adapt in an inspired way.

"Whenever we can, we place North Americans and Brazilians or Africans in the same room," said President Ostergar. "It really helps with learning the language and culture."

All missionaries live in harmony despite their the cultural differences. "We feel as we have lived together for a long time," said Elder Thiago Aparecido Oliveira of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The gospel culture is the most important, said Brother Cardoso.

Part of the curriculum they learn is the routine of a missionary's life: waking up at 6:30 a.m. to study with their companions. Their day, which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks, exercise activities and helping to clean the building once a week, ends at 9:30 p.m. To feed about 400 missionaries, each month the center prepares about 9,000 kilos of meat, 2,000 kilos of rice, 1,100 kilos of beans, 111,000 dinner rolls, 11,000 eggs and 720 liters of Popsicles — the equivalent needed to feed a small army. As the Brazilian diet is based on rice and beans, some missionaries from other countries must adapt.

At the center, missionaries practice what they will do in the mission field. People in the neighborhood have become used to them. Local businesses have adapted to the new young people in the neighborhood. When the missionaries go out on their preparation day, they can talk to the people and learn from each other.

Missionaries in training have even caught the attention of the local media. In November of 2005, a well-known newspaper contacted the administration of the center to know more about of what they called the "Mormon Training Center of Casa Verde."

Others missionaries are pleased to recount the changes that have occurred in their lives. Elder Marcos Filomeno Cabral, from Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil, and Elder Matthew R. Deaver from Texas, said, "The great change in my life is that now I feel like a true representative of Jesus Christ. I feel the authority now. The MTC has really prepared us for this."

The Church's first missionary training in Brazil started in 1976 in the garage of the residence of then-area president Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter, now emeritus General Authority. Today, training takes places in a well-structured building with a capacity to house more than 600 missionaries. The number of missionaries at any given time ranges from about 150 to 550, with an average of about 300.

Brother Aldo Francesconi, who is the director of the Missionary Training Center in Brazil, said: "After all, who wouldn't want to live in the happiest place in the world?"

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