SANTOS, Brazil — When Elder Ronald A. Rasband spoke recently to a nationwide gathering of young people in Brazil, he concluded with a simple message: I love you. The Brethren love you. And, most importantly, Heavenly Father loves you.
Then the unexpected occurred.
“From far in the back, a youth held his hands up high and made the heart symbol,” he said. “So I gave the heart symbol back from the pulpit.”
That spontaneous communication of love between a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a Brazilian youth triggered an immediate and vast response. Thousands of young people, gathered in 92 locales to watch Elder Rasband’s Nov. 15 remarks, lifted their hands and, in unison, formed the heart symbol.
“It was phenomenal what happened,” he told the Church News. “We all adopted the heart symbol that day as a symbol of unity and love for our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
As the meeting concluded, Elder Rasband and the legions in his nationwide audience exchanged the heart symbol one last time. Soon photos of young people forming the heart symbol were being posted online in Brazilian cities from Porto Alegra to Curitiba, and far beyond.
Days later, Elder Rasband said his spirit “was still soaring” at the memory of that spontaneous moment. It transcended language, culture and nationality.
“When I told the Brazilian youth that the Lord loves them, they gave me a response that said to me, ‘We love the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel.’ ”
Elder Rasband said he knows the Lord wanted him to be at that nationwide “Meet Up” event for LDS young people — even though it was not on his original itinerary.
The day before the “Meet Up” event, Elder Rasband and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, and the Brazil Area Presidency, were in the city of Santos for a Mission Presidents’ Seminar with the country’s 34 mission presidents and their wives.
“I was told that the next day was a national holiday and that Latter-day Saint youth from across the country were gathering in many locations for what is called a ‘Meet Up’ event,” he said.
Elder Rasband decided he wanted to join the young people. So adjustments were made to the next day’s schedule so he could speak to the youth.
“It was meant to happen,” he said.
A childhood connection to Brazil
Elder Rasband’s Nov. 10-19 trip to Brazil marked his first visit to the country since being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2015. During his 10-day tour he participated in the Brazil Mission Presidents’ Seminar, several member and missionary meetings, a devotional with Young Single Adults from three stakes in Cariacica, and Priesthood Leadership Conferences in Florianópolis and Vitória.
The Brazil Area Presidency — Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis, Elder W. Mark Bassett and Elder Joaquin E. Costa — joined him and Sister Rasband in their travels.
At each gathering, Elder Rasband’s thoughts were never far from the stake president of his youth, President James E. Faust.
The late First Presidency member served a mission in Brazil from 1939 to 1942 when the Church in the South American nation consisted of a single mission and a few branches.
“When I was growing up in the Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake, President Faust often referred to his experiences as a missionary in Brazil. He loved Brazil,” said Elder Rasband.
“So for me to be in Brazil — as a former member of President Faust’s stake and, now, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve — was very special. I felt very connected to his legacy in Brazil and spoke of him often while there.”
“The Brazilian members,” he added, “still feel their own connection to President Faust and to the other early missionaries such as Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter.”
Young Elders Faust and Bangerter would marvel at the Church growth that has occurred in Brazil over the past several decades. There are over 1.3 million members in more than 2,000 congregations in Brazil. Six temples are in operation, with four more announced or under construction.
There are many more opportunities for growth in Brazil. There are still many cities, each with more than 100,000 residents, where the Church is not yet established.
“We are really just getting started,” observed Elder Rasband. However, he was quick to add Brazil is “a perfect place” to share the gospel. “The Brazilian people are a happy people; they care for their families, friends and neighbors, and they love each other.”
Ministering “one by one”
Despite their full itinerary, Elder and Sister Rasband made time for one-on-one moments with the Brazilian members. On one occasion, they paused to chat with a “pioneer” woman who was among the first converts in Brazil. In another quiet moment, Elder Rasband comforted a senior missionary couple mourning the recent death of their son.
Many members “were touched by the words of Elder and Sister Rasband,” said Elder Aidukaitis. They appreciated the time Elder and Sister Rasband spent shaking hands, offering kind words and sharing smiles.
Local leaders who participated in the two Priesthood Leadership Conferences added thanks for how Elder Rasband answered their questions with sensitivity and kindness.
“In addition, Elder Rasband told them how much he valued their service and the support of their wives and families,” said Elder Aidukaitis. “He specifically asked those present to extend that appreciation to their wives and families as they returned home.”
Elder Rasband returned from his ministry in Brazil with a renewed certainty that its best days are in the future.