Two decades ago a group of faithful Latter-day Saints from the Amazon River Basin embarked on a 15-day journey by boat and bus to the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple.
Many in the small caravan — the first to depart from Manaus, Brazil — sold their land and belongings to reach the temple. Some became sick on the journey; the muscles of others cramped after sitting for long hours in the same crowded position.
Still "they arrive absolutely happy, with hope in their hearts, with faith they did what was acceptable to God," said Elder Claudio R. M. Costa of the Seventy and president of the Church's Brazil Area. "They gave all that they had to receive the blessings to be an eternal family."
The journey they started on the banks of the Rio Negro River culminated June 10, 2012, when President Dieter F. Uchtdorf dedicated the Manaus Brazil Temple, located on a bank of the same river.
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, said the faith and commitment of pioneering Latter-day Saints in Manaus could be likened to the great river. Both flow deep and strong, he said.
During the cornerstone ceremony for the 32,032-square-foot temple, President Uchtdorf praised the legacy left in Manaus today by pioneer Latter-day Saints of a generation ago.
"Who would have thought [30 years ago] that right here on the Rio Negro River there would be this beautiful edifice of a temple," he said.
Then he added, "Now let us go forward and finish the work."
After applying mortar to the cornerstone himself, he called on others in attendance to do the same. Sister Harriet Utchdorf, President Uchtdorf's wife, was followed Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Mary; Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the Church's Temple Department and his wife, Vicki; members of the Brazil Area Presidency — Elder Costa, Elder Carlos A. Godoy and Elder Jairo Mazzagardi — and members of the temple presidency.
President Uchtdorf then called children — "the future of the Church" — to come forward.
Torrential rain — or, as President Uchtdorf dubbed it, "liquid sunshine" — began to fall as the cornerstone ceremony ended.
The Manaus Brazil Temple is the 138th worldwide and the sixth in Brazil — where there are now more than 1.1 million Church members attending 1,925 congregations throughout the country.
Located in the Northern Brazil's Amazon River Basin, Manaus is city isolated by large rivers and dense forests. Travelers must go by boat or plane to other areas of Brazil.
Once the hub of the world's rubber industry, Manaus is populated today by more than 1.7 million residents who make up a vast industrial pool.
Many Church members have left southern Brazil and moved north to find work.
Brother Jo? Roberto Silva said the people of the north and northeast of Brazil are "gentle and full of faith."
In 1978 the first Latter-day Saint congregation in Manaus was organized. Continued growth led to the organization of the first stake in 1988. Today there are approximately 30,000 members and eight stakes in Manaus; the Church owns 30 meetinghouses in the city.
President James E. Faust, who served in the First Presidency until his death in 2007, was an honorary citizen of Sao Paulo, but also had a special love for the people of the Amazon River Basin. President Uchtdorf said he always hoped for the day Manaus would have a temple.
Adalberto Souza, second counselor in the Manaus Brazil Temple presidency and a pioneering member in the city, said the new temple "represents the love of God for the people in the Amazon."
For almost 20 years, since the first group of Latter-day Saints from Manaus sacrificed to visit the temple, members have been traveling by caravan to attend the temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil — a 15-day round trip journey by boat and bus — and then Caracas, Venezuela — an eight-day journey by bus. Often buses broke down, and on one occasion a bus was assaulted by robbers; later a bus wrecked traveling home from Caracas. (Please see article on page 6.)
Noting that opportunity to do temple work without huge sacrifices, Brother Souza said the temple "is a peace of Heaven for us."
President Souza traveled in two caravans to Sao Paulo and 12 to Caracas. In 1993, he was challenged by his stake president to take his entire family to the temple — a task he accomplished despite the $1,200 cost during a time of 90 percent inflation.
"I could see with my own eyes how difficult it was for the Saints to go to Sao Paulo to the House of the Lord," he said. "I know the great value these people have. They will do everything they can so this house will be very busy all the time."
Dorivaldo Graciano, first counselor in the Manaus Temple Presidency, received the Manaus caravans as a temple worker in San Paulo.
In 2001, after masked robbers attacked a caravan headed for the temple, President Graciano said the Manaus members arrived in Sao Paulo without money, travel documents or other possessions. "They proved their faith," he said. "They returned home happy and the caravans continued."
The temple in Manaus is an answer to the prayers of the people, he said.
Manuel Viracu Macedo, patriarch of the Ponta Negra Stake, joined the Church in 1982 in Manaus. "I always knew in my heart we would have a temple in Manaus one day," he said. "We have had the privilege to see the growth of the Church in Manaus and now the temple."
Members, he said, never looked at the long temple caravans as a sacrifice. "We looked at it as a blessing," he said.
Now with a temple in their city "the people of Manaus will have an opportunity to give Heavenly Father their best. … Because the temple is here, they can do more."
For example, Pedro Acosta, who worked to organize the first temple caravan, cried the first time he walked into the Beehive clothing store in Manaus.
"We had a dream about the temple," said Francisco Reghin, an early branch president in Manaus. "Now the dream is realized."
Herminia Gutierrez de Arballo put it another way: "The hands of God have touched the people of Manaus."