Career with diamonds traded for life’s work of even greater worth

Elder Claudio Roberto Mendes Costa is a "get-the-job-done" type of man with a reputation for honesty and a willingness to work.

The son of an industrious upholsterer in the Brazilian seaside city of Santos, he started cleaning shoes and peddling ice cream on the streets at age 8 and has worked ever since."I have worked for many, many years and I love to work," he said in a recent interview following his call as a General Authority. He was sustained as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy April 2, the third Brazilian to be called as a member of the Seventy. Other Brazilians previously called as General Authorities were Elders Helio Camargo and Helvecio Martins.

The energetic convert of 1977 is a former mission president, regional representative, stake president's counselor, high councilor, bishop and elder's quorum president.

Throughout his life, Elder Costa has applied himself with great intensity to important goals in his life. His goal as a child, youth and young adult was to earn money. By the time he was 17, he'd worked his way from part-time store custodian to full-time store manager.

Following his conversion, however, he adopted new goals centered on strengthening himself and others in the gospel.

Elder Costa, who at 45 has salt-and-pepper hair and stands a lithe 5-foot-9, has spent most of his Church life working with youth as associate Church Educational System director. He is currently director of the Sao Paulo Caxingui LDS Institute.

As the first president of the Brazil Manaus Mission, he opened missionary work in the heart of the Amazon Basin.

His wife, Margareth, is also a convert. She began attending LDS services at age 13 with a friend, but her parents did not give her permission to be baptized until she was 17. She has served as leader of the Brazil Area girls camp that was developed under the direction of the area presidency in 1991, and as ward Young Women and Primary president and seminary teacher. They are the parents of four children.

Elder Costa's first encounter with the Church came in 1961 at age 12. Young Claudio became acquainted with missionaries as they were helping build a meetinghouse near the Costa home. Missionaries invited him to play soccer and in the following weeks, struck up a friendship with him. He, in turn, wanted them to meet his family.

The Costas were a typical Brazilian family – devoted to each other, diligent in labor but with meager means. The family consisted of his parents, Nelson Mendes Costa and Luzia T. Simoes Costa, and their two sons and two daughters. From this contact, most of the family was eventually baptized some five years later. Sister Costa, the daughters and a son were first baptized, with Brother Costa following a few months later.

Claudio, however, wasn't baptized at that time as he had joined the Brazilian army at age 17 for a mandatory one-year service. As his family was being baptized, he was with an army that skirmished against pocket revolutions that plagued Brazil.

Army life was not his preference. In 1968, after completing his year of service, he moved to Sao Paulo where he found work in the mail room of a national bank's branch. Six years later, at age 24, he was the branch bank's sub-manager.

He left the bank to help manage five diversified companies. Within three years he had become financial director and administrative manager over all the companies. He also attended the Paulista School of Marketing.

At age 27, he returned to Santos to live with his parents, who had become faithful members – faithful member-missionaries, in fact. His father was ward mission leader.

Claudio was often invited to hear the missionary lessons, but he wasn't interested. However, "Every day, the missionary sisters came to our home to have a little meeting with our father," he recalled. "One afternoon the sisters were teaching a young lady in our home. I was in another part of the home, but I listened to the message. Then I listened to a film, `Man's Search for Happiness.' "

Afterwards, he said, he went for a walk but couldn't forget the words of the missionaries.

"Their message came very strong to my mind. The message came and came and came. Around 7 p.m., I decided to return home and to pray about Joseph Smith, but only about Joseph Smith. This was my thought. I prayed about it, and meditated and read for 14 hours.

"I had a very special spiritual experience; I don't talk about it because it is very personal and very sacred to me. The next morning I had a strong testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

"Because I received a strong testimony, I have never been inactive for one second. I worked hard in Church. I love to serve the people."

Once he was baptized, his will to succeed was channeled toward spiritual goals. One month later, he was serving as Young Adult representative, and supervising a regional activity in Santos when he met and was attracted to Margareth Fernandes Morgado, a young adult from Sao Paulo.

"She was very surprised to learn that I had been a member of the Church for only one month," he said. "She told her friends, `He looks like he's been a member all his life.' "

The two began corresponding and he felt a "good feeling" about the relationship. He soon moved from Santos to Sao Paulo and continued the courtship. A year later they were married in the Sao Paulo Temple.

In Sao Paulo, he found a job selling jewelry and entered a professional course at the Paulista Institute of Gems and Precious Metals, where he learned the art of diamond cutting. Following his lifelong pattern, he soon began to advance. He became manager of a jewelry store. When an opening came to manage the chain of Vivara and Florenza jewelry stores, he was one of 60 to apply for the job.

The owner, who was Jewish, had visited Salt Lake City many years earlier and had confidence in the honesty of active Latter-day Saints. He chose the young LDS jeweler to be manager.

"He told me, `I chose you because you are a Mormon," said Elder Costa.

For the next three years, "I had a good job and a very comfortable and stable situation," he said.

In 1981, he was invited to work full-time for the Church Educational System as associate area manager. "I accepted, at about 20 percent of my salary," he said with a smile.

But the rewards of working for the Church's educational system were fulfilling. He said that after working closely with the youth for about nine years, he learned that more than 171 of them had been married in the temple.

"This is the most important for me. They are in the correct way of the gospel," he said. "I am now seeing my students become bishops and stake presidents. It is the same experience as the sons of Mosiah had, to see people after many years and verify that they are in the way of the gospel."

He also taught goal setting at the Brazil Missionary Training Center for nine years. In 1990, he was called to preside over the new Brazil Manaus Mission.

"I learned to love the people of the north," he said. "We had many spiritual experiences. The main experience was to see the lives of the missionaries change. They arrived as young men and young women and returned home as men and women, prepared to be leaders in the Church, to get married, and to continue to live a good life. My missionaries are my good friends, and sometimes like my sons and daughters."

Opening work in the rain forest area was very challenging, he said. For example, just to visit the city of Barcarena, he took an airplane about 1,000 miles to Belem, took a taxi for a 20-minute ride to the harbor, boarded on a ship for 40 minutes, rode a bus for half an hour, took a boat for another half an hour, and then rode a bus for a half hour.

One of the cities of the rain forest that he opened was Itacoatiara, about 160 miles from Manaus. "When it was opened, we didn't have a single member there, absolutely no one. Missionaries received considerable opposition. Today we have two branches, and these will soon be divided into four branches. The Church is now the second strongest church in the city. I believe it is possible that everyone in the city of 75,000 people will some day be a member of the Church."

In one distant city, Oriximina in the Para state, lived the brother of one of the counselors in the Manaus stake presidency. This brother was very eager to receive the missionaries and be baptized. He waited three years for the missionaries.

When the Manaus mission was created, the brother's request could finally be fulfilled. Elder Costa sent his assistants to teach him the gospel. The trip required the missionaries to take a one-hour flight, and then ride a boat for 13 hours. Elder Costa described boat trips on Amazon rivers as "very interesting. The rain forest is a very beautiful place."

When the missionaries arrived they baptized the brother, and within two weeks 36 other people. The city is now home to missionaries, and the attendance at sacrament meeting averages about 100 each week, he said.

During his service as president of the Manaus mission, Elder Costa took more than 300 flights over the rain forest. "When I was in the airplane, I looked out the window at the forest. Once, when I saw one little home in the middle of the forest, I suffered in my heart to see it in that place. I knew that I was responsible to teach the gospel to these children of God in that place, and it was not possible.

"I have a dream in my heart that one day, each family in the middle of the forest will receive the missionaries and the ordinances of the gospel and will be very faithful in the Church. I love the people of the Amazon regions with all my heart."

Elder Harold G. Hillam of the Seventy and Brazil Area president, summed up Elder Costa's influence:

"Claudio Costa has been an outstanding man in the life of everyone who has met him. Many people had their lives changed and inspired by him, through his influence, his teaching and his willingness to live the gospel principles.

"His work at the Educational System has always provided a sweet influence in the lives of all his fellow workers, ecclesiastical leaders, students and all who have met him. He has also been a constant source of inspiration in teaching and motivating the youth.

"All Brazilians were very happy with his calling. Maybe his most valuable trait is his ability to love people, something he does naturally. He is always concerned in being true to his word, in keeping all his appointments, and in being honest in all his deals. He is always friendly and kind to everyone and is never tired when someone needs a helping hand. He cannot stand sin, lies or dishonesty; however, he is always willing to love and forgive the sinner."


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Elder Claudio R. M. Costa

Family: Born March 25, 1949, in Santos, Brazil, to Nelson Mendes Costa and Luzia Tassar Simoes Costa. Married Margareth Fernandes Morgado July 4, 1978, later sealed in the Sao Paulo Temple; parents of four children, Moroni, 15, Moises, 12, Camila, 11, and Mariana, 5.

Education: Graduated from Colegio Pio XII, attended Paulista School of Marketing, professional course at Paulista Institute of Gems and Precious Metals.

Employment: Manager of department store at age 17, account and vice manager of Banco de Credito Nacional at age 24, finance director and administrative director of diversified Almeida Prado Co. at age 27, diamond cutter, manager of Vivara and Florenza jewelry stores at age 29, Church Educational System associate area director, director of the Sao Paulo Caxingui Institute.

Church Service: Converted at age 28; young single adult representative, elders quorum president, Young Men president, bishop's counselor, bishop, high councilor, stake president's counselor, president of Brazil Manaus Mission, regional representative.