The drive behind why Brazilian Saints traveled by bus and by boat for decades to attend the temple
The drive behind why Brazilian Saints traveled by bus and by boat for decades to attend the temple
CABO, Brazil — The Brito family had been scrimping, saving and selling off possessions to collect enough money in 1995 to travel and be sealed together in the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple. That temple sat some 2,800 kilometers (more than 1,700 miles) from the northeastern coastal town where the financially humble family lived — a bus trip of more than two days each way.
All were excited to go to the temple, but despite all their efforts, the price to send the two parents and 11 children on the prolonged trip still seemed unattainable.
Then the 3-year old daughter spoke up with a suggestion: sell the family pig.
Adding the price paid for the 340-pound animal to the final tally was just enough for the Brito family — two parents and 11 of their 17 children — to travel to the temple in Sao Paulo for the adults to be endowed and the family members sealed together.
After the nearby Recife Brazil Temple opened in 2000, another four children were sealed to the parents. All 15 of the Brito children who are members — out of the family’s 17 total children — have been sealed to their parents. For a family that first started joining the Church in small waves beginning in the early 1990s, the Britos are a three-generation-strong, temple-sealed family serving the Church in Cabo and beyond.
In additon to stories of faith and conversion, personal journals and volumes of Church history contain stories of the Brazilian Saints’ temple faithfulness and the extreme measures required to go to the House of the Lord — for endowments and sealings for themselves and their families and the whole set of temple ordinances for deceased ancestors.
For many across the massive country, getting to the temple has required great sacrifices of time, money and personal comfort. Many needed a day or two or three on a crowded, member-chartered bus to get to the temple; others needed an additional three or four days on a passenger boat traveling Amazon tributaries to be able to get to a chartered bus. To fund their trips, many sold possessions — food, handicrafts, furniture and appliances. Some even sold cars, trucks or homes. Others pawned the gold from their teeth.
Temples in Brazil
With missionaries first arriving in 1928 and the first branch established two years later, Brazil in less than nine decades time now claims nearly 1.4 million members, 35 missions and nearly 2,100 congregations.
That in a country 11 percent larger than the contiguous 48 states of the United States. Add in Hawaii and two-thirds of Alaska, and it equals Brazil’s 8,515,700 square kilometers (3.288 million square miles).
Until 1978, the world’s fifth-largest nation was without a temple, and for the 22 years following, it had only one — the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple — to serve the entire country. It was the first not only in Brazil and on the South American continent, but the first temple throughout all of Latin America.
As a result, Saints from throughout Brazil faced considerable challenges in distance, time and money to travel to do temple ordinances for themselves.
Temples in Recife and Porto Alegre came in late 2000, with three more currently operating in Campinas (2002), Curitiba (2008) and Manaus (2012).
Another four yet to come will bring the total to 10 temples in Brazil — temples under construction are in Fortaleza (started in late 2011) and Rio de Janeiro (early 2017), with a pair having been announced for Belém and Brasília in 2016 and 2018, respectively.
Years of challenges
Most Saints in Brazil have a temple caravan story to share — either one they’ve heard or one of their own. The stories detail uncomfortable multi-day trips, costs ranging from bus fares to lodging, taking time off for the extended travel and packing a combination of clothes and food for the duration.
And the larger the family, the larger the challenges.
Consider the Galvão family of Recife — Carlos and Zélia Galvão, who married in 1955 and were baptized in 1968 when they had only three young children en route to 12 total. Soon after his call as bishop, he responded to the request to be endowed and sealed in the temple, with Carlos and Zélia and their youngest infant son traveling to the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple.
Feeling bad that the sealing was without all the children, the Galvão family tried again in the mid-1980s, this time with the parents and 10 more children being sealed together in Sao Paulo. For the bus trip of three days each way for such a large group, the poor family struggled to raise money by selling whatever possible — TV, radio, tables, expensive gifts, framed paintings, oven and refrigerator. That and a lot of prayer made the trip possible.
But they missed an older son serving in the military at the time, so it wasn’t until after the opening of the Recife Temple that the last of the 12 children was finally sealed to his parents.
Paulo Almeida Saihg remembers a bus caravan trip from Recife to Sao Paulo in the early 1990s was problematic in both directions when as a bishopric counselor he was going to be sealed to his wife, Irecema, and their two young children. The plan included a 10 a.m. Saturday departure, traveling for 48 hours straight and arriving Monday morning, doing temple work Tuesday through Friday and then departing Sao Paulo Saturday morning so members could return for work the following Monday morning.
En route to Sao Paulo, the bus first broke down on a long, arid stretch of highway in the state of Bahia, with the driver hitching a ride to the nearest town. The 50 member passengers were stranded on the bus for more than four hours in the summer heat, with no water and unable to use air conditioning, until the driver returned with a replacement fuel injector.
Later, the bus failed again, this time in the middle of two favelas — or slums — of Rio de Janeiro, with the driver off again to find a new injector. “The members started to pray and to sing hymns — there was a lot of fear,” said Paulo Saihg, recalling the bus arriving at the temple grounds about midnight Monday, 14 hours late.
The departure time for Saturday's return came — but the bus didn't. A member at the temple with a family busing service offered a replacement, but the Recife stake president — when contacted by the bishop on the trip with the change request — denied the offer, saying the contract needed to be honored, no matter the delay.
Saihg was admittedly angry, hoping not to jeopardize members' employment with the tardy return. But the bishop said no one would lose their jobs if they were obedient to the counsel given.
Meanwhile, Irecema Saihg said she felt peace. “It was a very good feeling,” she recalled. “I always looked for the Spirit — even with everything going wrong, I felt the Spirit.”
The bus didn’t arrive until late Saturday night; the return took even longer because of a flat tire, not arriving in Recife until early Tuesday morning. Despite missing a day of work, no one suffered employment ramifications, not even the member school teacher about whom the temple group was most worried.
Paulo Saihg said the school director greeted the teacher warmly, expressing they learned how much they needed her because of the absence. “And I learned a lot, too — to have patience, to pray and to obey,” he said, as the Saihgs made several more trips to Sao Paulo in the ’90s before Recife received its temple. “Our leaders are inspired — they have the inspiration for our lives.”
By bus and boat
Whenever temple bus caravan stories are shared in Brazil, the conversation often turns to the Saints in Manaus and their endeavors to get from the Amazon River rainforest to the Sao Paulo Temple. The journey required three to four days on a boat on Amazon tributaries Rio Negro and Rio Medeira — against the Medeira’s current going and against the Negro’s powerful flow returning — and then a non-stop, three-day bus ride from an interior city such as Humaitá or Porto Velho.
In all, it was a journey of some 4,000 kilometers, or almost the same distance driving from New York City to Las Vegas, but often on roads far inferior to multi-lane interstate freeways.
The inaugural Manaus-to-Sao-Paulo trip took place in late November 1992, first requiring great sacrifices for the Saints in the Manaus region to raise money and get time off in preparation. Their believed-to-be-ample supply of drinking water ran out while on the boat — prayers were answered with an unexpected, 15-minute torrential downpour as desperate members used buckets, pots and pans to collect water.
Traveling by bus during the rainy season meant tire trouble, muddy or washed out sections of roads, and flimsy wooden bridges needing either support or passengers to disembark to get the buses across. A windshield even dropped out during a bumpy stretch.
The three-week endeavor — a week to do temple work in Sao Paulo and a week each direction — became more than legendary. It has been cited in general conference talks and chronicled in Church history. A 2015 Church History video features recollections and reenactments.
“They had a different light about them,” said Elder Claudio R. M. Costa, a General Authority Seventy, who was mission president in Manaus at the time and welcomed the weary Saints returning from Sao Paulo. “They had a joy, a happiness, something that radiated from their spirits, a feeling of being close to God. I knew that from that point on, Manaus would flourish.”
That flourish included a temple opening in Manaus in 2012.
A welcoming sight
The caravans often benefited from wards and branches located along the route — local meetinghouses opened up to welcome the weary travelers to wash up, rest and enjoy meals provided by the local members. Some members even arranged to go the caravan if seats were available.
Temple workers in Sao Paulo and other temple cities were touched as they welcomed members arriving in the bus caravans.
Sao Paulo’s Nilo and Sheila Leal served in the Campinas Temple from 2011 to 2013, he as a presidency counselor and she as an assistant to the matron. They saw plenty of members arriving in caravan style.
Sometimes the temple’s daily counts reached upwards of 2,000 members — overflowing the 30 apartments used for patron housing. Local members sometimes helped house traveling Saints.
“It was like a city — so many people, so many children,” Leal said, adding “It was a spiritual feeling — very strong. They came once a year. They worked all through the year to afford the bus transportation, the food, the accommodations.”
Ivete Soares of Recife knows well the road to Sao Paulo and the temple — first their own family temple work, then serving as a temple missionary couple there for two years with her since-deceased husband, Moacyr Soares, and then a three-year temple calling for the two — he as a counselor in the temple presidency and she as an assistant to the matron. Once the temple in Recife was finished two decades ago, she became a long-time faithful temple worker there, only pausing to help care for her extended family.
She remembers the bus caravans coming — from her hometown of Recife, from Manaus and from all across Brazil. “Some of their stories were so moving,” she recalled. “They had sold everything they had to go to Sao Paulo. They were so poor — I knew of their sacrifices and what it meant to them.”
Still a challenge
Even with six operating sacred edifices and another four on the way, temple travel still remains a challenge for some Brazilian Saints.
“The Church helps those who come to the temple for the first time,” said Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis, a General Authority Seventy serving as Brazil Area president. “But those who return have to do it on their own, and sometimes make great sacrifices, great sacrifices of money.”
Distances are still great in some cases, especially in the nation’s interior. Right now, the Campinas Brazil Temple district is comprised of some 90 stakes — one of the Church’s largest numbers of stake in a single temple district, Elder Aidukaitis said. The new temple in Brasilia will help with accessibility in the country’s central region.
Elder W. Mark Bassett, a General Authority Seventy and Brazil Area presidency counselor, points as an example to a recent mission tour he conducted in Palmas, where he emphasized the temple as a goal for members and converts.
“I turned to the mission president and asked, ‘What’s your temple?’ He said Campinas — I was stunned by it, because it’s a long, long way away," he said.
Actually, 1,726 kilometers away — or nearly 1,100 miles and a nonstop drive by car of 20-plus hours. A temple in Brasilia will halve the time and distance — but it will still be more than 10 hours to cover the 809 kilometers (502 miles), and ground has yet to be broken for the new temple.
For the Saints in Palmas and many of the more remote locations in Brazil, the statement of President Thomas S. Monson in April 2011 general conference — that 85 percent of Church membership then lived within 200 miles (320 km) of a temple — is still a dream for them.
Until then, they will sacrifice their earthly possessions in order to lay up temple and spiritual treasures, no matter the time, distance or travel required.
From her apartment in Recife, Ivete Soares leans in closely and speaks in quiet but firm tones, her voice choking with emotion.
“I want you to know something. I love the temple. I love it with all my heart,” she said.
“I would want to die at the temple if I could. It’s everything that I dream of — to be in the temple.”