Vaccination talk has grabbed plenty of headlines in recent weeks.
Each day seems to bring another news story or opinion column debating the importance of being vaccinated against one form of physical illness or another.
But at a time when spiritual ailments are also afflicting people across the globe, “spiritual vaccinations” are proving both vital and reliable.
That was one message a Latter-day Saint apostle emphasized during his recent visit to Brazil.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ serves as a vaccination for the ills of society,” Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told the Church News.
Elder Stevenson and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson, spent nine days (April 19-28) visiting with thousands of members and missionaries across Brazil in a variety of meetings ranging from gatherings of local priesthood and auxiliary leaders to devotionals with youth and their parents.
Perhaps each time the Stevensons sat down, they instinctively reached for their seatbelts due to their sprawling itinerary including airport stops in Sao Paulo, Cuiaba, Juiz de Fora, Campinas, Goiania, Brasilia, Fortaleza and Rio de Janeiro.
“We were able to meet with many groups of people,” acknowledged Elder Stevenson, who was accompanied at various locations in his travels by Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis, Elder W. Mark Bassett and Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella — General Authority Seventies and members of the Brazil Area Presidency.
Regardless of their locale or audience, Elder and Sister Stevenson provided encouragement to continue living and teaching the gospel at home, worship in the temple and care for one another through ministering.
A latter-day success story
Brazil is one of the Church’s great centers of strength and success.
It’s home to almost 1.4 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comprising over 270 stakes. Six temples are in operation — with five more announced, under construction or awaiting dedication. One of which is the Fortaleza Brazil Temple, to be dedicated in a few weeks on Sunday, June 2.
But like anywhere else, the future of the Church in Brazil depends upon the devotion and capacity of the rising generation.
Connecting with Brazil’s youth, missionaries and young adults was a priority for the Stevensons.
In his meetings with young single adults, the Latter-day Saint apostle offered four items of counsel.
First, enjoy the blessings of a bishop.
“Get to know your bishop by name — and make sure the bishop knows you. Enjoy the blessings that come from the bishop.”
Second and third, maintain a gospel perspective and spiritual balance.
Young people, he said, are concerned about their education, employment, dating and marriage, and physical and emotional health. So, it’s vital that they maintain a spiritual equilibrium by attending church, taking the sacrament, praying, reading the scriptures and ministering to others.
“They need to properly balance anything that’s competing for their time and attention against their spirituality.”
Fourth, never forget that the Savior stands ready to minister.
“The Lord is aware of each of His children and will help in any of their trials, challenges and adversities,” he said.
In an April 21 devotional in Cuiaba for youth and parents, Elder Stevenson encouraged young men and young women to stand in front of the mirror each morning and say: “I’m amazing and awesome. I’m a son or daughter of God.”
Don’t fall into the trap, he added, of “comparing yourself to others” and worrying about “getting enough likes” on social-media platforms.
“The most important ‘like’ of all is knowing the Lord ‘loves’ you,” he said.
Listening to the loving counsel of a visiting apostle was a blessing for his many young audiences, said Elder Bassett.
“It was fulfilling to look into the eyes of youth as Elder Stevenson taught them about their divine nature. As he shared personal stories, scriptures and his witness, you could see their hearts being touched and changed.”
A legacy of apostles in Brazil
Elder Stevenson’s recent Brazil travels was a reminder of the apostleship’s cross-generational influence.
On April 24, he presided over a mission meeting and a member meeting in Juiz de Fora in southeastern Brazil. It marked the 60th anniversary of then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball’s apostolic visit to the city to organize a branch. A few months later, another member of the Twelve, Elder Harold B. Lee, also spent time teaching the fledgling members of Juiz de Fora.
But since those two visits in 1959, no apostle had been to Juiz de Fora until Elder Stevenson’s recent visit. Still, the power of Elder Kimball and Elder Lee’s ministering — six decades ago — remains indisputable.
“Juiz de Fora grew from only having a single branch to now having an established stake and a mission — the Brazil Juiz de Fora Mission,” he said.
Brazil’s rich history even offered Elder Stevenson opportunities for him to practice his Japanese — a language he used as a full-time missionary and as a mission and area president in Japan.
Brazil and Japan enjoy a long history of cultural and economic exchange. In fact, the South American nation has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. More than 1.5 million people of Japanese descent call Brazil home. Likewise, Brazilians represent one of the largest non-Asian ethnic groups in Japan.
That shared culture reflects Brazil’s Latter-day Saint community. Many Brazilians have served missions to Japan — and vice versa.
Elder Stevenson presided over an April 22 devotional for returned missionaries who served missions in Japan and their families at the Sao Paulo Brazil Stake Center. He shared his testimony and other remarks in Japanese, while other portions of the meeting were in Portuguese and English. About 150 were in attendance.
Hundreds of missionaries — including those serving in the field and at the Brazil Missionary Training Center — also enjoyed learning from the Stevensons and other Church leaders.
Elder Stevenson was amazed by the diversity found in the composition of missionaries at the MTC.
Besides an expected large number of new elders and sisters from South and North America, there were also missionaries preparing for service from Europe, Africa, the Pacific Islands — and even Dubai.
“It was incredible,” he said.
Joy for Brazil’s seventh temple
The Stevensons’ final weekend in Brazil included a stop at the open house for the soon-to-be-dedicated Fortaleza Brazil Temple in the country’s fifth largest city.
Elder Stevenson and Elder Aidukaitis hosted a tour at the temple along with President Paulo Grahl for local dignitaries and reporters that included Fortaleza Mayor Roberto Claudio and Vice Mayor Moroni Torgan, the latter a former Area Seventy.
“We had a spectacular experience in the temple and were able to discuss the importance of eternal families and the ordinances of salvation and exaltation while gathered together in the sealing room.”
Elder Stevenson was uplifted by the excitement for the new temple — and reminded of the protection found in the stakes of Zion, which prepare people for the blessings of the temple.
“There are 17 stakes in Fortaleza — it’s the model the Lord uses,” he said. “First, we strive to build the stakes of Zion in an area. Then, this continues to grow until we build a temple in their midst ‘for a defense and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth’” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:6).
“We have the antidote.”
Home-centered and Church-supported gospel instruction offers further protection, he counseled in priesthood and leadership conferences with local priesthood and auxiliary leaders. The home remains the most reliable place to prepare children and youth for conversion and future temple and missionary service.
A hopeful future
Just as pioneer members in Juiz de Fora have never forgotten Elder Kimball’s and Elder Lee’s visits to Brazil 60 years ago, a new generation of Latter-day Saints will always remember an apostle’s visit to their homeland.
“Elder Stevenson must have shaken close to 3,000 hands with a beautiful smile, God-given love and compassion,” said Elder Aidukaitis. “This handshake may have been the greatest thing he could have done for many that were there. The countenances of those who had this opportunity said it all.”