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Elder Holland in South America: Brazil's rich history a prelude to future growth

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL

For Brazilian Latter-day Saints, 2016 is a historic year of gratitude and celebration.

A half-century ago, Elder Spencer W. Kimball — then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — traveled to Sao Paulo and organized the country’s first stake. Since then, Brazil has become one of the Church’s most inspiring success stories.

Some 1.3 million members live in this South American nation renowned for its soccer prowess, vast natural beauty and friendly people.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has been involved with Brazil at varying degrees for three decades. His most recent trip here offered him moments to reflect and rejoice upon the country’s LDS past. But that rich history, he declared, is but a prelude to the tremendous potential and growth that will define Brazil’s future.

While none can deny “the beauty and brilliance” of its past — “what you feel in Brazil [among the members] is the sense of momentum for what is coming and what can be,” Elder Holland told the Church News. “You cannot be in Brazil and not feel that.”

The apostle was in Brazil from May 12 to May 22 to conduct an annual review of the Brazil Area and preside over priesthood leadership conferences, a Brazil Mission Presidents’ Seminar, meetings with missionaries, a pair of stake conferences and a member devotional for parents and children.

He also helped strengthen friendships in the region, visiting with key religious and civic leaders in the capital city of Sao Paulo.

Elder Holland was accompanied by his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, along with Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Nancy Maynes, and Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.

Also participating in the area review and several of the meetings was the Brazil Area Presidency — Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, Elder Jairo Mazzagardi and Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis — and their wives, Sister Margareth Costa, Sister Elizabeth Mazzagardi and Sister Luisa Aidukaitis.

The Church in Brazil “is doing wonderfully well,” Elder Holland reported. “It is truly a blessed country.”

Yes, there are economic and political challenges that grab the day’s headlines. “But that is temporary and that will pass. The Lord loves Brazil and He loves the Brazilian people.”

The growth and maturity of the members and local leaders in Brazil are remarkably evident, added Elder Maynes. The nation is second only to the United States in Church membership. There are more than 4,000 full-time Brazilian missionaries serving in the country’s 34 missions with 26 of the mission presidents being native Brazilian. And, he said, “the names that the members are producing for the temple are at an all-time high.”

Bishop Waddell, meanwhile, marveled at the strength found in the Church’s many multigenerational families. He met one bishop, for example, who had served as a stake president and who now has a son serving as a stake president and another son as a bishop.

“It’s remarkable to see,” he said. “The local leaders are now in a position — economically, socially and spiritually — to provide a high level of service.”

The strength of the Church in Brazil, said Elder Holland, stretches beyond its congregations and ecclesiastical maturity. Latter-day Saint Brazilians are counted among the nation’s business, industry and government leaders.

Brother Moroni Torgan, for example, currently an Area Seventy, served several terms in the Brazilian Congress before being called to preside over the Portugal Lisbon Mission. When he completed his mission he was once again elected as a national lawmaker.

Still, the Church in Brazil is writing its maiden chapters. There is vast room to grow and much work to be done. “The present is very impressive,” said Elder Holland, “but the future is thrilling to anticipate.”

The apostle noted that several Brazilian municipalities with over 100,000 inhabitants “have never had a missionary enter the city limits.” Meanwhile, the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro — which will soon host the 2016 Olympic Games — is home to 6.4 million people, but only one mission.

“We have not come close to reaching our potential in Brazil,” agreed Elder Maynes. “The Brazilian Saints feel that, and there is excitement about where the Church will go in the future.”

The Church will continue to grow in Brazil, said Elder Holland, because of the strength and goodness of the people. In each of the many meetings where he presided, he was uplifted by the dedication and grit of the members, the missionaries and the local leaders. In the midst of the nation’s struggles “the gospel light shines and our people are happy.”

Much of the visiting Brethren’s counsel at the priesthood leadership conferences and member meeting focused on developing faith in Jesus Christ.

“A foundation of faith in the Savior and in His Atonement will strengthen their families and offer them a bright future,” said Bishop Waddell.

While the Church in Brazil has enjoyed impressive growth over the past half century, its membership represents but a small segment of the country’s population. But Elder Holland assured the members that their faith and devotion to the gospel will make a nationwide difference in difficult times.

“The prayers of the righteous few can have a wonderfully disproportionate impact on the rest of a population who may be struggling.”

[email protected] @JNSwensen

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