Even as a young child listening to the story of the First Vision for the first time, Adilson de Paula Parrella knew it was true.
Now many years later, he is eager to share that testimony.
“This really is the kingdom of God on the earth,” said the new General Authority Seventy, who was called in April general conference. “Joseph Smith really saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the sacred grove just like he said he did. He was called to be a prophet and through him, the original Church of Jesus Christ was restored, and that’s the church we are members of.”
Elder Parrella was born in November 1962 as the 5th of seven children of Fioravante and Vany de Paula Parrella. He grew up in “humble” circumstances, in a place “close the end of the world” — Guaruja, a coastal city on the southeast corner of Brazil.
When he was 8 years old, his eldest brother asked their father if the LDS missionaries — who he had heard teach at his girlfriend’s house — could come and teach their family.
To Adilson’s shock, their father granted his permission. To this day, he’s not sure why his father relented. Up to that point, no preacher, teacher, minister or any one from any religion was allowed to pass the front gate. But, miraculously, the missionaries were invited to teach.
“I had no question that [Joseph Smith] had in fact seen God and Jesus Christ,” Elder Parrella recalled. “I never doubted from then on.”
Although his entire family was baptized, his father became less-active after one year. Still, members of their tiny branch in Guaruja — which only had about 10 members — supported and nurtured them, offering him and his siblings rides to and from youth activities and to church each Sunday.
Elder Parrella remembered the tutelage of one of his bishops, Angelino Borges De Freitas, a humble shoemaker. Bishop De Freitas would give 16-year-old Adilson assignments, who would respond, “How am I going to do it?” Bishop De Freitas would then offer the priest counsel and say, “I trust you are going to get it done.”
“He taught me how to be an Aaronic priesthood holder,” Elder Parrella said.
His father — in a round about way — also contributed to growing his testimony by sometimes making it difficult to go to church. Rather than being discouraged by this, Adilson found it strengthened his resolve.
“Because there was a price to pay, it firmed in my mind that it was something important to me.”
As Adilson approached mission age, his uncle, who had been a professional soccer goalie, arranged for him to attend tryouts with a professional team. He played well and scored one of the two goals of the game. But in the middle of the match the thought came, “What am I doing here? This is not where I’m supposed to be.”
“I knew I needed to go on a mission,” Elder Parrella said, so he finished the game and never went back.
After serving faithfully in the Porto Alegre Brazil Mission, he returned home to Florianopolis where he worked a variety of “very basic” jobs.
After about 18 months, his sister encouraged him to join her in Utah. At the time, he couldn’t even say “hi” in English. After some pondering and much prayer, he received a spiritual confirmation that it was the right thing to do.
After arriving in the United States, he was invited to a large birthday party by a missionary that had served in his mission. A few days after the party, Adilson received a phone call from his friend, informing him that an anonymous donor was willing to pay for his bachelor’s degree if he could keep his GPA above a 3.0.
“What a miracle!” Elder Parrella said. He attended what was then-Utah Technical College for a couple of quarters, worked to improve his English and transferred to Brigham Young University where he earned his undergrad in communication and a master’s in business administration.
His education, Elder Parrella said, completely shaped his life. “It has enriched my life and enriched me as a person in a way that I cannot describe.”
Partway through his studies at BYU, he returned to Brazil to complete an internship. One day his friend’s ward held a special mother’s day lunch at the meetinghouse. While walking down the hallway, he saw a beautiful girl. “I thought, ‘I don’t know who I’m going to meet today but I’ve got to meet this girl.’” He was introduced to the young woman, Elaine Finholdt, by a mutual friend. The two spoke for three hours after the lunch before Adilson invited her to go to dinner.
They dated for about six weeks before he had to return for another semester at BYU, and they continued their courtship long-distance. They sent each other letters and tape recordings. Every Saturday, her mother would wait up with her for his phone call, which he would make after midnight to capitalize on cheaper international rates.
“That was the best investment I ever made,” he said with a smile. The two married in December 1988 in the S?o Paulo Brazil Temple and are the parents of five sons.
Elder Parrella said a priority in their family has been to teach their sons to follow the prophet and be obedient to the counsel of Church leaders. “We feel very strongly about it because we see it as one of the keys to being protected in this world. That’s the way to be spiritually and temporally safe,” he said.
Serving in the Church — as a branch president, bishop, high councilor, stake president’s counselor, Area Seventy and president of the Brazil Belo Horizonte Mission — has taught him many lessons, including “everyone is a child of God.”
“I’ve learned that if we don’t judge and if we try to look at a person as God looks at him or her, then we’re not only not going to be judgmental but we’re going to extend a helping hand and follow Jesus Christ’s example.”
“It’s a manifestation of the love of Christ,” Sister Parrella added.
Looking back on his life, he said he can testify that “Heavenly Father has a plan for each one of us — no matter where we live, what language we speak, what race we are, what social economic situation we come from.”