The little moments: How Elder Uchtdorf’s ministry in Brazil made an unforgettable impact on Latter-day Saints

The mid-February itinerary for a nine-day assignment in Sao Paulo and Salvador, Brazil, for Elders Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Patrick Kearon looked similar to any global visit by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and one of the Presidency of the Seventy — a review with the Brazil Area leaders, several leadership conferences and devotionals with members, a stake conference, missionary meetings with four missions, an evening devotional at the Brazil Missionary Training Center, a government visit, a stop at the new Sao Paulo Brazil Temple Visitors’ Center and more.

In short, plenty of opportunities to minister to the many.

While impressed and thankful for those experiences, Elder Uchtdorf returned to Church headquarters telling others of events he termed “on the sidelines” — the smaller settings and personal interactions. Those included consoling the family of a recently deceased full-time missionary, attending two ward’s sacrament and Sunday School meetings, going to teach with several companionships of missionaries as they visited part-member families, and being recognized by a recent convert while riding the Sao Paulo subway.

In short, opportunities to minister to the few — or to the one.

On Feb. 17, Elder Uchtdorf visited the sacrament and Sunday School meetings of the Jaraqua and Taipas Wards in Sao Paulo, attending a meetinghouse in a small neighborhood sandwiched between two favelas, or Brazilian slums. He commented on how the meetings followed the intent of recent “home-centered, Church-supported” schedule and curriculum changes.

After a young child of the Jaraguá Ward of the Sao Paulo Brazil Jaragua Stake rushed up to give him a post-meeting hug, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles returns the gesture in February 2019.
After a young child of the Jaraguá Ward of the Sao Paulo Brazil Jaragua Stake rushed up to give him a post-meeting hug, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles returns the gesture in February 2019.

“It was amazing how focused everyone was there on exactly what these changes brought,” he said, complimenting the appropriateness of the talks and the vibrant class discussions. “I’ve not seen very many Sunday School classes with such an active and profound participation.”

On the same day, Elder Kearon — making his first visit to Brazil — presided at the Baueri Brazil Stake conference.

“The vastness of the country comes as a surprise, but more impressive is the warmth and generosity of the people,” said Elder Kearon, noting his several rush-hour metro rides in the city of more than 20 million people and marveling “at the constant good nature of those on their way to work. This is not the norm in world cities of this size. This congenial approach to life was manifest wherever we went.”

With the two-day area review conducted in offices adjacent to the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple, Elders Uchtdorf and Kearon visited the recently dedicated temple visitors’ center, greeting the sister missionaries serving there. Learning that half of the sisters were away on their preparation day, they returned the second day to meet those they had missed.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf greets sister missionaries serving at the new Sao Paulo Brazil Temple Visitors' Center in February 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf greets sister missionaries serving at the new Sao Paulo Brazil Temple Visitors’ Center in February 2019.

Since the temple grounds and area compound are surrounded by a new subway station, bus station, busy streets and intersections and a myriad of stores and a major shopping center, Elder Uchtdorf called the location “a lively spot — a place for a visitors’ center that couldn’t be better.” The high-traffic area provides ample visibility of the large Christus statue seen through the second-story display windows.

Elder Uchtdorf and others took a short subway ride from the new metro stop adjacent to the temple. While in transit, he was recognized by Manuela Barrosa, a convert of six months and designer of computer games, who approached and introduced herself in English, a language she had learned over the internet.

“This is a country of people so diverse that you see every race of the globe represented — it’s on the streets and in the Church,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “No one is looking down their nose at anyone, whether you’re black or white or a mixture in between, whether you are tall or whatever it is. It’s a perfect place where the thought that we are all children of Heavenly Father is really visible and practiced.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pauses for a photo with Manuela Barrosa while riding on a subway in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Barrios, a convert of six months, recognized the Apostle while riding the subway and approached him to introduce herself.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pauses for a photo with Manuela Barrosa while riding on a subway in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Barrios, a convert of six months, recognized the Apostle while riding the subway and approached him to introduce herself.

On Feb. 19, the visiting leaders joined the Brazil Area presidency in meeting with João Doria, the recently elected governor of the state of Sao Paulo who previously was the city’s mayor. Besides gifting a small Christus statue to Doria, Elder Uchtdorf pulled out a pocket-sized summary of “For the Strength of Youth” and the regular booklet to give as well, explaining how they summarize the values and principles of the Church’s youth specifically and the general membership as well.

The governor spent several minutes reading topics and passages aloud before pocketing the smaller document.

Elders Uchtdorf and Kearon conducted missionary devotional meetings with the Sao Paulo Interlagos and South missions on Feb. 20, a devotional at the Brazil MTC later that evening, and a similar meeting with the Salvador and Salvador South missions later that week.

“Elder Uchtdorf brought encouragement and enthusiasm to these great missionaries,” said Elder W. Mark Bassett, a General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Brazil Area Presidency. “He reminded the missionaries of their divine calls and responsibility while leaving them feeling excited to press forward giving their very best.

Also, Elder Uchtdorf took part of an afternoon to go teaching with several companionships of elders from the Sao Paulo West Mission — something he hadn’t done with missionaries since serving in the Europe Area presidency a decade and a half earlier.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, pose for a photo with Zenon and Natalia Spaveevskas in their apartment after lesson with Elders Brennan Lance Stimpson, Gabriel Luiz Rodriguez Silvério and Leonário Lima Pereira of the Brazil São Paulo West Mission in February 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, pose for a photo with Zenon and Natalia Spaveevskas in their apartment after lesson with Elders Brennan Lance Stimpson, Gabriel Luiz Rodriguez Silvério and Leonário Lima Pereira of the Brazil São Paulo West Mission in February 2019.

The Apostle and the elders visited part-member families — one including a woman and her teenage granddaughters and another of a returned missionary and his non-member wife. For one appointment, Elder Uchtdorf climbed stairs to the eighth-floor apartment.

“It was a completely unexpected privilege to have an Apostle not just visit but actually work in our mission,” said President Thomas W. Thomas. “I knew this would be a life-changing experience for our missionaries — one that they would never forget.”

Said Elder Robert David Monson from Pleasant Grove, Utah: “Elder Uchtdorf is a man of God and it was amazing to see how easily he was able to connect with people he was in contact with.”

Elder Leonário Lima Pereira, from Fortaleza, Brazil, said he was grateful to have the experience with the visiting leader: “I was able to learn and better understand how to testify as the Savior.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, center, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visits with Elders Robert David Monson and Herick David Sousa Ventura of the Brazil Sao Paulo West Mission as he goes out teaching with the pair in February 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, center, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visits with Elders Robert David Monson and Herick David Sousa Ventura of the Brazil Sao Paulo West Mission as he goes out teaching with the pair in February 2019.

Elders Uchtdorf and Kearon conducted a Feb. 16 priesthood leadership conference in Sao Paulo with 955 in attendance and then held a Feb. 19 family devotional in the city with another 981 attending in person and another nearly 10,000 viewing by broadcast.

They followed with a Feb. 23 leadership conference in Salvador, the city on the central-eastern coast of Brazil which will be home to a new temple, as announced by President Russell M. Nelson at the October 2018 general conference. Nearly 600 leaders attended that session, with several hundred viewing a broadcast of the meeting.

“Everyone was deeply touched by Elder Uchtdorf’s kindness, love and closeness,” said Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella, a General Authority Seventy who is second counselor in the Brazil Area presidency. “These leaders were amazed not only by the teachings they received but also the attention Elder Uchtdorf dedicated to everyone he encountered.”