“My testimony that Jesus is the Christ is very much connected with the Book of Mormon and the experiences I have had with that book,” said Elder Joni L. Koch, a second-generation member of the Church in Brazil and recently called General Authority Seventy.
“The Book of Mormon exists to provide another witness of Jesus Christ. It is one of the main elements in the strength of my testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Church and the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
Born March 1962, in Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil, to Luiz and Etleca Koch, Elder Koch grew up as one of three children to parents of great faith. Before his birth, his parents made a choice that would affect generations.
“My parents were looking for the truth,” said Elder Koch. “In 1953 they visited all the churches in town but nothing felt right. One day my mother said a final prayer and promised God that if there was a true church, she and her family would follow it.” Within a few hours, the missionaries knocked on the door. Less than six months later, the Kochs were baptized.
“One of the missionaries who baptized my father later told me that after my father learned about the principle of tithing, he asked how much he owed,” said Elder Koch. “The missionaries explained he didn’t owe anything. He wasn’t a member yet. But my father insisted and began paying tithing months before he even became a member.”
Elder Koch’s wife, Michelle, had a similar miraculous conversion experience in her own family. In 1958, at age 14, her mother, Vilma, investigated the Church. She gained a testimony and wanted to be baptized. The family lived in a cold region of Brazil called Uruguaiana and she had terrible asthma. Her father was concerned with her upcoming baptism in a nearby river.
Sister Koch said, “My grandfather told the missionaries he would be very angry if his daughter was baptized and got sick. But if she was baptized and did not get sick, he promised that the entire family would get baptized.” Vilma was baptized, didn’t get sick and never had asthma again. As a result, her parents and 15 brothers and sisters were baptized.
At an early age, Elder Koch’s testimony grew by association with faithful members in his local ward. “When I was a child I had a Primary teacher, Sister Eick, who wanted to teach us about what CTR meant,” said Elder Koch. In Brazil, a rough translation of CTR means “stay on the path.” And Elder Koch’s Primary teacher took her class to the small airport in town for a special lesson.
“There was a small plane that had just landed,” said Elder Koch. “She took the children out on the field, and they walked around the plane. She told us that this pilot arrived at the airport because he stayed on the right path. I remember that day I felt a very strong spirit, and I decided to choose the right for my whole life. It was a very touching experience to me.”
Another experience in Elder Koch’s youth involved the words of an influential stake president named Heinz Halter. “One day at school as a young boy, the secretary of the school came in and asked the children how many of them belonged to the Catholic faith and how many belonged to the Lutheran faith,” recalled Elder Koch.
When she was done, she asked who belonged to any other religion she hadn’t mentioned. “I sat there firm and immovable and said nothing,” said Elder Koch. “After the bell rang, the words of President Halter came to my mind. His favorite scripture, and one he used often in his Church talks, was Romans 1:16, which says, ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.’ I felt bad that day and promised myself that I would never again not stand up for what I believed.”
Seeing the longtime members of the Church live and remain true to the gospel was a great strength to Elder Koch. One of the bishops in his youth, Bishop Brassanini, made an impact. “He didn’t know how to read or write but he learned after he became the bishop in his 70s,” said Elder Koch. “I later served as his bishop in the same ward. When he could no longer attend church, I would take the sacrament to him. I spoke at his funeral when he passed away. It was very touching, for he was my first bishop and I was his last.”
After completing a full-time mission in the Brazil São Paulo North Mission, Elder Koch studied statistics at BYU in Provo, Utah. “On a trip back to Brazil, I visited the ward of a friend,” said Elder Koch. “I saw a beautiful girl walk by while I was talking to some guys in the ward. I asked them who this beautiful girl was. They told me I had no chance with her because everyone wanted to date her.”
Within a few minutes Michelle Ludwig walked up to the group. Everything went silent. She said her first words to him were, “Are you married?” Elder Koch said, “I told her no and immediately asked her to go to the shopping mall the next day.”
After an eight-month, long-distance courtship — and only 15 actual days together — Elder Koch married Michelle Ludwig on April 26, 1988, in the São Paulo Brazil Temple.
Additionally, Sister Koch said that her aunt and uncle had come to visit the weekend she met her husband and she had to decide whether or not to go to church or stay home and visit with them. She went to church. Had she stayed home, she may have never met her future husband.
Another faith-building experience happened to the Kochs just after their marriage. “We just got married and were staying in the Church-sponsored dormitories near the temple when there was a knock on the door,” said Elder Koch. The visitor at the door was President Gordon B. Hinckley, then Elder Hinckley, and his wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley.
“We were shocked,” said Elder Koch. “They had randomly knocked on a door so they could talk with members. They spent quite a bit of time with us talking about eternal marriage and congratulating us. President Hinckley also found out we spoke German so when he left, he said, ‘Auf wiedersehen’ which means ‘until we see each other again.’
“I thought for sure I would never see him again in my life but 20 years later when I was called as an Area Seventy, I ended up at a meeting seated at the same table with him. President Hinckley went around and asked everyone to share an experience. I told him the story about his visit with us at the temple and his German farewell ‘until we see each other again.’ He was prophetic. His words came true.”
A testimony building experience for Sister Koch occurred when she quit her job as a nutritionist in order to take care of her mother with Alzheimer’s disease. “I dedicated most of my time to help her stay alive and well,” Sister Koch said. “I learned a great deal about love, compassion and service during that time. It was not easy at all but it helped me to be sympathetic to others. It was a great experience.”
By following the example of their parents, leaders and the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Kochs built strong testimonies. “We are simple people who just try our best to live the gospel,” said Elder Koch. “I can’t point to an exact moment in my life where I knew the gospel was true. Rather my testimony was built gradually over time through spiritual experiences received through gospel living.”
Family: Born March, 9, 1962, in Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil, to Luiz Koch and Etelca Gascho Koch; married Michele Ludwig in the São Paulo Brazil Temple on April 26, 1988; two children and two grandchildren.
Education: Received a bachelor of science degree in statistics from Brigham Young University. Received an executive MBA in logistics from FGV/ São Paulo.
Employment: Employed by EMC from 1991-1995 as operations manager; international logistics manager at Cargill from 1996-2006; Brazil Inland Services CEO at AP Mollar Maersk from 2006-2013; and CEO of Conexao Maritima Ltd. from 2014-2015.
Church service: Full-time mission in the Brazil São Paulo North Mission and served as an institute teacher, bishop, stake mission president, stake president and Area Seventy. He served as president of the Mozambique Maputo Mission at the time of his call as a General Authority Seventy.