SANTA MARIA, BRAZIL

Elder Neil L. Andersen was almost 50 years old when he stepped on Brazilian soil for the first time in 2001. He didn’t speak Portuguese and had little first-hand experience with the culture and people.

But over the past 15 years, Brazil has become something of a second home for Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen. The Andersens learned the language and have made countless friends and memories in this South American nation. For several years, he presided over the Brazil South Area. And, after being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2009, he has returned to Brazil many times on assignments.

Such opportunities have forever linked the Andersens to this vast land of happy people and natural beauty.

“We can’t imagine our lives without Brazil,” he told the Church News. “We love the people. We love the culture. We are so grateful that the Lord would give us this close connection to Brazil.”

Elder and Sister Andersen recently returned “home” — visiting several cities in southern Brazil. During the 10-day trip (Sept. 2-11), the apostle presided over a variety of missionary meetings, Priesthood Leadership Conferences, stake conferences and member devotionals. The Andersens were joined at various stops by the Brazil Area Presidency — Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis and Elder W. Mark Bassett — and their wives, Sister Margareth Costa, Sister Luisa Aidukaitis and Sister Angela Bassett.

The Church is well established in Brazil with more than a million members, some 250 stakes and dozens of missions. There are six temples in operation with three more future temples announced or under construction. And this year Brazilian Latter-day Saints are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their country’s first stake — the Sao Paulo stake.

But the Church is still relatively young in many regions outside Brazil’s major cities. During his recent trip, Elder Andersen visited southern cities such as Santa Maria and Londrina that could aptly be called the Brazilian “frontier” of the Church. He was uplifted by the devotion he observed in the local priesthood leaders, Relief Society sisters and members.

“The people there love the gospel,” he said. “They have enormous respect for the leaders of the Church. They don’t see a member of the Twelve very often.”

Elder Andersen became friends with many of the local leaders in southern Brazil during his earlier Church assignments. He first met some of the stake presidents in the region when they were serving as full-time missionaries. Many of those local leaders are converts. They symbolize the capacity and commitment of Latter-day Saints across southern Brazil.

“The members are devoted,” he said. “They pay their tithing and they raise the children in the gospel.”

He added that being with the missionaries was also a memorable highlight of the trip. About a third of the missionaries serving in southern Brazil are Brazilians, with the remaining elders and sisters hailing from North, South and Central America.

In his many meetings with the members, Elder Andersen congratulated the Brazilians for their successful hosting of the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. He also acknowledged the economic and political challenges facing the nation.

“We reassured the members that the strength and goodness of Brazil would emerge and that prosperity would return. The future is bright in Brazil.”

jswensen@deseretnews.com @JNSwensen

The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.