Travels of the Apostles: Brazil - Part of the heart of the LDS Church
Tom Gardner, IRI
Faithful. Diligent. Dedicated. Mature.
Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used those words as they spoke of assignments in Brazil that included an area review, priesthood leadership conferences, stake conferences, an interim mission presidents’ seminar and a youth devotional. Their travels were from May 15 to 26.
“Brazil is what I call a part of the heart of the Church,” Elder Nelson said during a conversation with the Church News as he described the Church in this vast South American nation. That growth, he noted, is reflected in the fact that 27 of the 34 missions in the country are presided over by Brazilians.
“There was a day when all the mission presidents in Brazil were imported from the United States. Now, Brazil is able to staff not only most of the mission presidents, but also we have exported some to preside over missions in other countries,” Elder Nelson noted.
“It’s significant that in the past seven years, we have had Brazilians as one of the seven presidents of the Seventy. Elder [Claudio R.M.] Costa was one of the seven presidents of the Seventy for four of those years; then he was sent [home] to Brazil to serve as area president. Elder Ulisses Soares is in his second year as one of the seven presidents of the Seventy.
“The Brazilian leaders are very mature. We have 17 Area Seventies who are Brazilians. They provide strong leadership.”
Elder Nelson, reflecting on the meetings he had with leaders and members in Brazil, said, “The Saints are faithful and diligent. In every meeting we went to, the chapels were filled.”
Elder Andersen can use his own experiences with Brazil as a barometer of Church growth. He and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, lived in Sao Paulo while he served in the Brazil South Area presidency from 2001 to 2005. He has known many of the Church leaders in the area since that time and has watched the Church grow.
“We have a maturing, growing Church that has very capable people,” he told the Church News.
He spoke of the brethren who serve as mission presidents and Area Seventies and described them as “accomplished” and “experienced” in their daily and Church-service lives.
“While we talk about the quality of the priesthood leaders, we talk also about the quality of the women in the Church in Brazil,” Elder Andersen said.
He described these men and women as people “full of faith.”
“We see the Church growing by several stakes every year,” he said. As one example, he spoke of a member he met in Fortaleza. “He joined the Church in 1981. He said that at that time there were no stakes in Fortaleza; there were just five branches. Today, in the greater Fortaleza area, there are 15 stakes.”
The country, Elder Andersen observed, is conducive to Church growth. “Brazil has a culture in which they are open about their religious beliefs. You can sit on the plane and talk to people about religion without them being nervous about it.”
He referred to research done by Pew Research Center. “According to Pew, Brazil has one of the most open laws for religious liberty in the world, more so than the United States.”
While in Brazil, Elder Andersen represented the Church at a religious liberties seminar in Brasilia on May 19.
Speaking extemporaneously and in Portuguese, Elder Andersen detailed for the Brazilian audience the growing challenges of religious liberty in the United States and around the world. He explained the efforts of the Church to join with others to encourage a more open conversation about the role of faith in people’s lives.
“While faith in God is a powerful motivation for most, there is a growing feeling in our culture that discussions of faith are for private settings,” he said.
He urged those in attendance, many of whom were ministers and pastors from Christian congregations, to encourage their members to speak more openly about their faith and the influence it has upon them. He showed a recent video produced by the Church along with other organizations in the United States that highlights how faith can strengthen individuals who are experiencing overwhelming challenges.
“Our faith and belief in God bring each of us perspective and courage in our life,” he said. “Let us encourage all around us to more openly express the effects of faith upon their daily lives. As we speak more often about this powerful influence, we will be more devoted in our efforts to protect this most important liberty.”
During their travels, Elder Nelson and Elder Andersen were together for the interim mission presidents’ seminar in Sao Paulo on May 21 and the area review on May 22. They parted to speak to different areas of Brazil and to preside over different stake conferences. Elder Nelson presided over and addressed the Olinda Brazil Stake Conference, near Recife, on May 18, and the Curitiba Boqueirao Stake conference on May 25. On May 18, Elder Andersen presided over and addressed the Maracanau Brazil Stake conference and a devotional for young men and young women in stakes in Fortaleza. He presided over and addressed the Brasilia Taguatinga Brazil Stake conference on May 25.
As Elder Nelson presided over a priesthood leadership conference in Recife on May 17, and Curitiba on May 24, Sister Nelson met with and addressed women in special meetings. Elder Nelson said that while the two priesthood leadership meetings were for stake presidencies and bishops, the two meetings for the sisters were open to all women who wanted to attend. Nearly 400 local brethren attended the leadership meetings, while more than 2,300 sisters attended the meetings for the women.
In other special meetings, Sister Andersen spoke along with Elder Andersen to young couples in Brasilia, to missionaries in Fortaleza and Brasilia and to youth in Fortaleza.
Accompanying Elder Nelson and Elder Andersen at the various meetings were Elder Ulisses Soares, one of the seven presidents of the Seventy; Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Seventy and president of the Brazil South Area; and Elder Jairo Mazzagardi of the Seventy and a counselor in the area presidency. Traveling with them were their wives, Sister Rosanna Soares, Sister Margareth Costa and Sister Elizabeth Mazzagardi.