SAO PAULO, Brazil An explosion of growth, progress and joy followed the priesthood revelation in Brazil, and great progress has continued for the past 25 years.
The gospel can be preached to everyone in Brazil who has a desire to hear. Families from all walks of life are traveling to the temples in Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Recife, Campinas, and soon Curitiba, to be sealed for all eternity.
In 1978 there were 55,000 Latter-day Saints in all of Brazil. Today there are more than 800,000 members. In 1978 there were eight missions; today there are 26. Cities that were not opened to missionary work in the 1970s are now flourishing and have become incorporated as missions with expanding boundaries.
Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with an area of about 3.3 million square miles, making it larger than the 48 contiguous United States. The population of Brazil is 170 million, about 44 percent of whom have African ancestry. Missions in Brazil are baptizing approximately 25,000 new members per year, and the priesthood revelation is a key factor in this astronomical growth.
"This is a new day and a new arrangement," said the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve, speaking of the revelation in 1978. "Everywhere almost without exception, there has been rejoicing and a spirit of gladness. Now we can see a fulfillment of the scriptural promise that the gospel will be preached to every nation, and kindred and tongue and people."
Before 1978, said George A. Oakes, president of the Brazil North Mission from 1971 to 1974, "we only taught families who could hold the priesthood. The only exception was families who took the initiative and sought out the Church and requested baptism."
The Church was small then. "In those days there was just one mission where today we have 14 missions. I remember the small blue house we rented in Fortaleza for that tiny congregation of about 125 saints. Today, 30 years later, we have a mission, 10 stakes and 23,000 members in Fortaleza," and the same could be said of many other cities.
Growth has occurred throughout Brazil, including in the state of Sao Paulo, where Antonio Ricardo Sant'Ana was baptized two years after the priesthood revelation. He is the president of the Santo Andre Brazil Stake.
"I received the lessons and accepted all of the teachings with ease, everything seemed so familiar to me," he said. "There wasn't one moment of hesitation in my heart regarding my desire to be baptized even after I learned about the prior restriction regarding the priesthood. I knew that we are all children of God and cannot yet comprehend all of His designs, and that He is, in His perfect wisdom and divinity, just in all things and would never commit a single injustice against any of His children. I was at peace."
At age 27, after his military career was cut short by an accident, he married Marisa Tourinho de Assis Martins in the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple in 1991. She is the daughter of Elder Helvecio Martins, the first General Authority of African descent. "Two years after our marriage I accepted a scholarship in Business Administration from BYU. Upon graduation I received a job with General Motors of Brazil in Human Resources and am currently employed there," he said.
"It is a great privilege to be a worthy holder of the priesthood and to serve as an instrument in His hands in establishing His kingdom here on the earth."
Paulo Henrique Sabino Ferreira is an instructor at the Missionary Training Center in Sao Paulo. When Paulo was 9 years old he was baptized along with his mother. He served a mission, and while he was serving, his father and later his sister were baptized.
"Our neighbors were the people who got us interested in the Church," he said. "In fact, when their son returned from his mission he inspired me to prepare to go on a mission. I was told that my mission would be a great blessing to my family and indeed it was. I was able to lead many into the waters of baptism but the baptism of my father was my greatest blessing. My mother said that each time he would read one of my letters from the mission, he would cry and feel the Spirit."
On his mission, he recalled, "Once I was working in Bahia in an area they called the black neighborhood. People would come up to me and my American companion and ask, 'Can blacks belong to your church?' I would tell them, 'Yes, can't you see that I am not only a member, but also a missionary?'
"I was able to teach many families and see them baptized in Salvador, Bahia."
Elder Jose Domingos Silva Santos is from Belem, Parana, in the north of Brazil. He joined the Church eight years ago along with his entire family of 14 people. Elder Santos is the fifth missionary from his family of African ancestry to serve a mission. The family was tracted out by missionaries who were working on their street.
"We were all taught and baptized, and from that day forward none of us has ever missed Church," he said. "I am so thankful that my father asked the missionaries to come in and teach us the gospel. We will have 11 priesthood holders in my home. All will be able to use their priesthood to bless the lives of others. What greater blessing could I ask?"
According to sociologist Marcus Helvecio Martins, a Church member who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Church in Brazil, "The major growth in the Church in Brazil began in 1970 and there was an even greater acceleration in 1978." He projected that membership in Brazil would reach the mark of 1 million in about 2005.
He cited the statement by the late Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, who likened the Church in South America to an oak tree that sends out strong roots yet grows slowly.
In 1925 Elder Ballard predicted that the Church in South America would be slow at first, "as the oak grows from an acorn" but that eventually "the South American mission will become a power in the Church."