JOAO MONLEVADE, Brazil — Lucid, with good eyesight and a great sense of humor, Floripes Luzia Damasio, who turned 115 on Dec. 13, is the oldest member of the Church in Brazil — and perhaps in the Church.
Some Sundays, she and her daughter don't wait for their ride and instead walk half an hour to the meetinghouse.
Born about 60 years after the Restoration, long before the Church arrived in Brazil, this small woman of the state of Minas Gerais lived long enough to be baptized in 1993 at age 103.
She saw the changes of a new century. She can recall slavery, because even though she was born a year after its official abolition here, vestiges remained long afterwards. Born in 1889, she worked in the fields where, to weave her own clothing, she first had to plant the cotton and later pick and prepare it. She learned early to value the basic principles of a good life: faith in the Lord and hard work.
"One time, I remember that we had a very dry season," she said. "The sun was so hot. So I prayed and asked the Lord to send rain and a breeze to help us. A short time later it began to rain, and it even hailed. It appeared to be a punishment. So I prayed asking that the rain be stopped. And He heard me. The rain passed, the sun warmed up, the sky cleared," Sister Damasio said.
The gospel was introduced to her by two missionaries who often passed by. After hearing from a neighborhood child whose mother had been healed after a priesthood blessing by the two missionaries, she and her daughter, Maria Raimunda, who was 63 at the time, sought out the pair.
At age 103, Sister Damasio accepted the gospel and was baptized by Elder Pinheiro, followed by her daughter Maria, the only one of her seven living children (she had 12) who has accepted the gospel.
She is affectionally called the "little grandmother" by the members of her Joo Monelvade Branch, Ipatinga Brazil District.
Sister Damasio and her daughter always read their scriptures, sing hymns and hold family home evening, said Conceico Maria da Luz, former Relief Society president. Sister Damasio also participates in Relief Society classes and makes good comments.
"Everybody in the room feels a strong spirit when Sister Damasio goes to the pulpit on fast Sunday to bear her testimony of the truth of the gospel, or when she prays in Church," said Sister Luz.
"She always testifies of Christ, of His atonement for all of us, of His death and resurrection. She always prays for those in need and even mentions some of them by name."
Even with physical discomfort and some pain, she travels 14 to 16 hours to visit the temple at least once a year with the rest of the district.
"I love to be in the temple, to see all of the people dressed in white, treating each other well and being so happy," said Sister Damasio, adding that in her living room at home she displays a picture of the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple, which was given to her by Elder Athos Amorim, formerly of the Seventy, when he was president of the Brazil South Area.
For the little grandmother to be in the house of the Lord and perform ordinances for her ancestors is a great blessing. Her first visit to the temple was 10 years ago, on Dec. 2, 1994. She has since completed the work for three generations of her family. In 1997, she was sealed to her deceased husband, parents, grandparents and children who had passed away, and to Maria.
This was her greatest dream, and it was realized thanks to the help of members such as Ianaja Quaresma, the wife of the former branch president, Jose Maria Quaresma. They helped Sister Damasio and Maria fill out the pedigree chart and other necessary papers, accompanied them to the temple and supported them during that time.
Evandro Florentino da Silva, president of the Ipatinga Brazil District, told how he admires the perseverance, disposition and willingness to serve of this "oldest little lamb."
"She has always been a great example of faith and love of the Lord," he said, and emphasized that it is Sister Damasio and her daughter who pay for their trips to the temple and their lodging while they are there.
"She never complains, and we always do several sessions each day," said her daughter Maria.
Having suffered discrimination and lived with great difficulties, Sister Damasio counsels any who would live with wisdom and happiness: "Live the law of God; don't take away from your neighbor; don't judge others; don't speak ill of anyone; and never bear false witness." For her, the recipe for long life and energy is obedience, reverence for parents and a diet based on the fruits of the earth.
"I never ate meat when I was a child. We had goat's milk to drink. My father planted manioc, potatoes, yams, vegetables, and that's what we ate." Although she received only one vaccination, she has never been hospitalized except when she fell and broke her hip.
The city of Joao Monlevade honors Sister Damasio each year as the oldest woman in the city. The branch commemorated her birthday on Dec. 13, 2004, to honor her 115 years of faith and sacrifice. From the branch president to her visiting teachers, many came to visit her, bringing her gifts and affection.
"To visit the grandmother is a life lesson," said Angelica, one of her visiting teachers. "And a joy, for she is always telling us stories and teaching us a great deal." Along with the traditional "Parabens a voce" (Happy Birthday), her favorite hymns were sung at her request: "High on the Mountain Top" and "Hark, All Ye Nations!"
Asked if she had a birthday wish, Sister Damasio declared, "I just want to live a lot."
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