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‘Like a dream’ in Rio: Elder Soares, Sister Soares return to mission roots to meet with members, missionaries and leaders


With her wheelchair strategically positioned on the chapel’s front row of the Rio de Janeiro Andaraí Stake center, 89-year-old Ruth Bergquist sat within a couple of meters from Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as he spoke during one of several weekend meetings with Brazilian Latter-day Saints in and around Rio.

Elder Ulisses Soares greets long-time Church member Ruth Bergquist, 89, before the start of the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Elder Ulisses Soares greets long-time Church member Ruth Bergquist, 89, before the start of the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Bergquist has had a front-row seat to the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rio de Janeiro as one of the city’s pioneer members, having been baptized Jan. 1, 1955. She’s been present for several visits to Rio from past and present Church leaders, including President Spencer W. Kimball, President Thomas S. Monson and President Russell M. Nelson.

And Sunday, March 20, provided Bergquist the first chance to personally be in the presence of Elder Soares, a native of Brazil. “Everything the apostles say is good for us,” she said.

Elder Soares is in Rio to help with the start of the open house for the new Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple and its media and VIP tours, as well as to participate in a symposium on religious freedom later this week. He and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, welcomed the assignment in Rio de Janeiro, where both served as full-time missionaries four decades earlier.

“Being back here is like a dream, because we go back in time and a lot of experiences come back to our hearts so easily. We connect with people,” said Elder Soares, mindful of the shared faith, experiences and testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ “and to see the difference that it has made in the lives of people that we love so much.”

Added Sister Soares: “It’s a real pleasure to be back after 42 years and to see the progress of the city and the progress of the people, because the gospel makes a difference in the life of each person.”

Latter-day Saints attending the Rio meetings “seemed like sponges” anxious to absorb instruction and invitations to act, she said. “They show their desires to learn from the prophets and apostles and to do what they are asked to do.”

Read more: Elder and Sister Soares share family and spiritual roots in Brazil during Family Discovery Day

‘Desires to see the temple’

As an honored long-time “pioneer” Church member in the city, Bergquist has been invited to one of the VIP tours for Rio de Janeiro temple open house. “When I was baptized,” she said, “I had this hope to have a temple here. I’ve had a lot of desires to see the temple.”

Elder Ulisses Soares speaks during the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Elder Ulisses Soares speaks during the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Rising to her feet with the congregation to honor Elder Soares when he entered the chapel, Bergquist was greeted by Elder Soares before the start of the Sunday morning special stake conference meeting, which was broadcast to the entire Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple district. Later that evening, a special family devotional broadcast followed, with Elder and Sister Soares, and others speaking from the Rio de Janeiro Jacarepaguá Stake center.

The meetings a day earlier at the Jacarepaguá meetinghouse included a special morning missionary meeting with the missionaries of the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North and Brazil Rio de Janeiro South missions, then a pair of leadership instruction meetings — the first with stake presidents and bishops, and the second with stake presidencies and bishops, elders quorum presidencies and stake and ward leaders in the Relief Society, Young Women, Young Men and Primary leaders.

Joining the Soareses and speaking in the weekend meetings were the three General Authority Seventies who comprise the Brazil Area presidency and their wives — Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella and Sister Elaine Parrella, Elder Joni L. Koch and Sister Michele Koch, and Elder Juan A. Uceda and Sister María Isabel Uceda. Also participating were Elder Luciano Cascardi, an Area Seventy, and his wife, Sister Inês Cascardi.

‘You baptized my grandfather’

Elder Soares made an interesting connection after the Sunday stake conference broadcast. It was thanks to a local Primary president wanting to provide children “an experience to feel the Spirit in a different manner and have the opportunity to shake hands with an Apostle of the Lord,” Elder Soares explained.

Elder Ulisses Soares greets Primary children following the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Elder Ulisses Soares greets Primary children following the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Announced one young girl: “Oh, Elder Soares, you baptized my grandfather.”

The Apostle learned that two of the children were grandchildren of Eliezer Wagner de Souza Santos — as a full-time missionary, Elder Soares had known and taught 17-year-old Eliezer, who was then dating a Latter-day Saint girl. He converted, served a mission, married the young woman and has continued a faithful life of service, currently as president of the Vila Velha Brazil Stake.

Visiting with the two grandchildren served as one of the weekend’s many tender moments and memories for the Soares. “It reaffirms in my heart that the faith we have in this gospel can change lives and bless people,” the Apostle said. “All the promises of the gospel are available to all who embrace this gospel — and I hope the people learn that from the Spirit.”

Much of Elder Soares’ teachings in the weekend meetings — particularly in the Saturday afternoon leadership instruction — focused on a similar point: “When people accept the principles of the gospel and when they are taught with love and by the Spirit, they will feel in their hearts and be ready to respond because they felt something and they were prepared [to act],” he said.

Anecdotes and experiences

Along with Sister Soares, he punctuated much of his remarks with recounted anecdotes and experiences — having served as missionaries in and around Rio and surrounding areas and having recognized familiar places and familiar faces.

Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, sing a hymn during the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, sing a hymn during the special stake conference broadcast in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on March 20, 2022.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Soares also recalled being called unexpectedly to help translate for then-Elder Russell M. Nelson — the current President of the Church — in a member devotional meeting many years earlier, an experience that resulted in first nervousness but subsequent encouragement and strengthening with the visiting authority.

He spoke about when he and Sister Soares were called to preside over the Portugal Porto Mission with just six weeks of preparation time, and how they received their visas for Portugal in that short amount despite the prospects of extreme delays.

And in several meetings, as he relayed the love and concern of President Nelson, Elder Soares spoke in depth of how he rejoices to meet weekly with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the power and blessing of having living prophets and apostles on the earth.

Saturday morning, he underscored the missionary purpose for attentive elders and sisters and spent time detailing the process of their calls by the President of the Church and their mission assignments by members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. And he shared his family’s conversion story from when he was a young boy in São Paulo, underscoring the principle of “helping others” in the “Your Purpose” statement found in “Preach My Gospel.

Elder Ulisses Soares, seated second from left, and members of the Brazil Area presidency — from left, Elder Joni L. Koch, Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella and Elder Juan A. Uceda — listen to a question during a priesthood leadership meeting Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Elder Ulisses Soares, seated second from left, and members of the Brazil Area presidency — from left, Elder Joni L. Koch, Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella and Elder Juan A. Uceda — listen to a question during a priesthood leadership meeting Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Through all their teachings and recalled anecdotes, Elder and Sister Soares — as well as other speakers — added to their gospel messages a special focus on the new Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple and the importance of the work of salvation and gathering on both sides of the veil and how temple ordinances will bless the lives of individuals and families.

In the Sunday evening devotional, Elder Soares explained how temples represent the love of the Father and the Son for all people, the love of living prophets for God’s people, and the expression of Latter-day Saints’ love for all past and future generations. He also emphasized the importance of personal preparation to enter the temple.

Learnings by the Spirit

Nádia Chaves Machado, Relief Society president of the Rio de Janeiro Brazil Campo Grande Stake, said the Holy Ghost confirmed to her the Prophet’s desire for the well-being for each individual.

Elder Ulisses Soares speaks during a leadership instruction meeting to stake and ward leaders Saturday evening, March 19, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Elder Ulisses Soares speaks during a leadership instruction meeting to stake and ward leaders Saturday evening, March 19, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“When we accept the invitations of God’s Prophet, the Lord blesses us with peace, comfort and the ability we need,” she said, mindful of 2 Nephi 25:23. “When we follow prophets, the Lord provides a way when there seems to be no way, and we are blessed with what we most need in life.”

Iranilson Machado, also of Campo Grande stake, said the words of the Apostle of the Lord strengthened his hope for a better future, with an emphasis on being obedient to the words of the Prophet, being patient, acting in faith and doing his best each day.

“I felt the love of the Lord when Elder Soares said that God will compensate for our weaknesses with His grace, and by grace, we will receive strength and encouragement to overcome our daily challenges,” Machado said.

“And the account of his experience in getting a visa for Portugal and the short deadline of six weeks to get there strengthened my understanding that with faith, we can do all things. There are no limitations that can prevent us from moving forward when we act with faith in Jesus Christ.”

Sister Carla Costa, from Santa Inês, Maranhão, Brazil, serving in the Rio de Janeiro North Mission, said: “I can become a new creature with a change of heart with the help of Jesus Christ.”

Elder Ulisses Soares greets missionaries of the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North and Brazil Rio de Janeiro South missions following a meeting Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro.

Elder Ulisses Soares greets missionaries of the Brazil Rio de Janeiro North and Brazil Rio de Janeiro South missions following a meeting Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Rio de Janeiro.

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

She added that knowing she shares the responsibility to preach the gospel with modern-day Apostles “has made a total difference in how I act now.”

Her companion, Sister Kylee Brost of Topeka, Kansas, added: “I learned that small actions of faith lead to blessings larger and farther-reaching than we can ever imagine. When we are discouraged with ourselves, our work or where we are, keep trying — and miracles upon miracles will happen in the Lord’s time.

Elder Ryan Turley of Mesa, Arizona, said he learned he can show love and gratitude to the Savior by being a dedicated missionary. “The Savior has love for each person, and we can feel the same love for others as we bear our testimonies of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Our calling and purpose are inspired. Whether you are an Apostle or a missionary, our purpose to share light with others is the same.”

Elder Fabricio Múrcia of Marilia, São Paulo, Brazil, said he learned the importance of humility, dedication and commitment. “We can bless fathers, mothers and children to become more like God … and we can change the lives of thousands of people by sharing the love of Christ,” he said. “And when a difficulty comes, remember that the Lord does not give commandments without first preparing a way by which his commandments can be fulfilled.”

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