Just miles from where he grew up as a child in northern Sao Paulo, Brazil — not far from the city’s Guarulhos International Airport — Elder Ulisses Soares drove the streets and thought about his youth.
In the area where there used to be three little Latter-day Saint branches — filled with humble, hardworking families — the Church now has four stakes.
Elder Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided at the Sao Paulo Brazil Cumbica Stake conference and leadership meetings March 23-24.
Just 12 years ago, in 2007, Elder Soares created the the Sao Paulo Brazil Cumbica Stake. Going back to Cumbica — known for its ancient, indigenous name — “was a sweet, sweet experience.”
“It was wonderful to return to my origins,” he said.
He loved getting acquainted with the families who have been working to build the Church in the area. “It is beautiful to see the growth of the Church in Sao Paulo.”
Sao Paulo has made a place for the people and cultures of the world, he said. “It is a city that embraces people from all over — even Brazilians leaving Northern Brazil and moving to the city to find work.”
In the area included in the Cumbica stake boundaries, humble people are able to find jobs and work hard. Residents of the older, established community continue to welcome those moving in.
And as the community grows, so does the Church, he said. “The people have hope, and that hope brings them to the gospel of Jesus Christ because the gospel is a gospel of hope.”
A special moment of the stake conference came as Elder Soares was leaving the chapel and saw a woman who had been his Primary teacher years ago. She asked to take a photograph with Elder Soares. “I need to see you,” she told him, looking him up and down.
“Do you recall the hard time you had with us?” Elder Soares asked her.
“No,” she said, “You were all good.”
“She was very nice,” he said. “We know we were very active youth in the Church. We had questions. We had personalities that came across while we were growing. She managed that so well. Being in her class was a very sweet experience.”
A dear friend of Elder Soares’ mother, the woman reminded Elder Soares of sweet memories, associations, mentors and friends from his homeland.
He said he was grateful to be with them, teach them and learn from them.
During the meeting, Elder Soares replicated the teachings of President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors in the First Presidency — President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring. He taught about ministering, teaching in the home and Sabbath observance. He asked them to seek and act in faith.
“It was a celebration to see how well the members of the Church in that part of Brazil are engaged in these principles,” said Elder Soares. These principles are “blessing more and more families and individuals in the Church.”
The members and leaders asked questions of deep significance, allowing for meaningful discussions, he said. “You could see that they understand the teachings, they practice them, they have implemented them, and they are finding joy by following them.”
Elder Soares said he will never forget the opportunity to return to the area after a 12-year absence. “It is beautiful to see people from my youth growing up and being faithful and enduring to the end, facing their trials and serving the Lord. Their faith was edified in their early life — like mine was — and they remained faithful.”