CURITIBA, Brazil What Robert T. Owens is experiencing today never was part of his imagination when he left Utah 51 years ago to serve as an LDS missionary in Brazil, so it can't be said his dream has come true. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he would see a temple standing in a city where there wasn't even a chapel.
Standing on the grounds of the Curitiba Brazil Temple, Elder Owens, back in Brazil as a missionary for the third time, served during the open house for the edifice that is to be dedicated June 1 by President Thomas S. Monson.
Elder Owens and his wife, Evelyn Wilson Owens, were among missionaries who greeted thousands of visitors during the temple's open house, which began May 10. On Saturday, the last day the temple was open for public viewing, Elder Owens said that when he arrived in Brazil in 1957, there was just one mission here, and it covered all of the country; there were just 2,000 members in the nation. And there was only one chapel owned by the church; it was located in Ipomeia.
He said he arrived with eight other missionaries, having sailed for 16 days on the USS Argentina from New York. "Those were the days before missionaries went in for language training," he said. "Asael Sorensen was our mission president; his 8-year-old daughter, Christine, gave us our first lesson in Portuguese."
After President Sorensen returned home in 1959, the new mission president, Wm. Grant Bangerter, sent Elder Owens and his companion to open the city of Maringa for the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"You can't imagine how surprised I was to see a busload of members from Maringa arrive at the temple last Friday," he said. "They didn't know I was the missionary who had opened their city. I was thrilled to meet them, and I told them who I was.
"When I served in Maringa, I baptized a man named Abilio Capelo. One of his sons, who served as a bishop, came to the open house. When he met me, he called his mother on his cell phone and let me talk to her. It was a happy reunion. She was the first to accept the gospel, and then Abilio was baptized."
For part of his mission, Elder Owens served in Curitiba. "We didn't have a chapel here; we met in a member's home. We baptized some good people. It's amazing to see how the church has grown. I can't tell you what it feels like to think that I was a missionary here, and now to see a temple here, to know that the church has grown from having only one chapel to having thousands in the country, to see the city I opened with just five members now a thriving stake, to see membership in the country grow from 2,000 to a million members.
"One of the sweetest things I've been able to do is to meet some of the people I taught the gospel, and descendants of some of the others. There were tears on both sides."
Coincidentally, Elder Owens met a fellow missionary, Jacob Bangerter of Highland, Utah. It didn't take long for him to find out that young Elder Bangerter is the grandson of former Brazil Mission President Bangerter.
Seeing this kind of progress really isn't new to Elder Owens. He and his wife were serving in the city of Ubatuba when the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple was rededicated in 2005. Before that, they served in Mozambique.
"We've been on full-time missions practically since 2001," Sister Owens said. They raised their family in Logan, and moved to West Valley City in 1992.
From the looks on their faces, Elder and Sister Owens seem content to continue serving. They practically glowed from the success of the open house, which was attended by some 40,000 people.Temple dedicatory events will continue with a cultural program on Saturday, May 31. Through narration, song and dance, the story of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be told, from its origins to the establishment of church units and temples in Brazil. The temple in Curitiba is the fifth to have been built; another temple has been announced to be constructed in Manaus.