When Elder Ulisses Soares was 5 years old, his parents began meeting with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their home in São Paulo, Brazil. They were baptized a few months later, and Elder Soares followed at age 8.
Elder Soares and his parents didn’t have support from their extended family who attended another church. “I grew up in the Church without any relationship with my extended family,” said the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The Church became my family, and many of my friends were from the Church. They all helped me and supported me as I was growing up in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
As Elder Soares reflects on his early years in the Church, he remembers his parents finding strength and courage in the teachings of the gospel. He remembers his leaders in the branch and their efforts to teach him. He remembers his friends who would support him since he was the only Latter-day Saint at his school and work.
For Elder Soares, his parents, his leaders and his friends were all pioneers. “I believe that a Latter-day Saint pioneer is one that helps to pave the way for others,” he said. “I owe much of what is happening today in my life to these wonderful people who helped me to pave the way.”
“My children are the third generation in the Church, and I now see my grandchildren growing in the gospel and enjoying the blessings of my parents — the blessings that they brought into our family because of their sacrifice to change their future,” Elder Soares said.
Sitting in front of the Family of Man mural on the Conference Center roof in Salt Lake City as Pioneer Day approached, Elder Soares expressed gratitude for the pioneers in his life and offered encouragement to Latter-day Saint pioneers worldwide.
Pioneers in every country
Today, Elder Soares’ native country of Brazil is home to 1.5 million members of the Church and seven temples, with four more either announced or under construction — growth that began with a few individuals “guided by the Lord,” Elder Soares said.
Two families, the Zapfs and the Lippelts, were baptized in Germany and emigrated to Brazil in 1913 and 1923, respectively. In 1929, Bertha Sell and her four children became the first to be baptized in Brazil.
Sell escaped life in poverty in Germany after the First World War and fled to Brazil with her family, Elder Soares said. “She was a faithful member of the Church and helped establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a strange country to her.”
Outside of Utah, there isn’t a specific day to honor pioneers, Elder Soares noted. “But we retell their stories on special occasions,” such as creating a new stake, dedicating a meetinghouse, or dedicating a temple — “which is the real fruit of their sacrifice.”
Some of Elder Soares’ most memorable experiences meeting with pioneering members include:
- The creation of the first stake in South America in São Paulo in 1966
- The Regional Conference in São Paulo in 1975 when President Spencer W. Kimball announced the first temple in South America, the São Paulo Brazil Temple
- The dedication of the São Paulo Brazil Temple by President Kimball in 1978
- The groundbreaking of the Brazil Missionary Training Center in São Paulo by Elder James E. Faust in 1993
- The dedication of the Brazil MTC by Elder Russell M. Nelson in 1997
- The creation of the 100th stake in the Philippines with Elder Neil L. Andersen in 2017
- The dedication of the Fortaleza Brazil Temple in 2019
The Fortaleza temple dedication was particularly special for Elder Soares as the temple is located in an area that was part of his mission as a young man. He invited the early Saints to a meeting where they shared their conversion experiences. “I cannot forget the expressions of gratitude of those pioneers who attended that marvelous and memorable meeting,” he said.
Elder Soares’ mission president, Helio da Rocha Camargo, was also a pioneering Brazilian Latter-day Saint. While studying at a Methodist University to become a pastor, he and two colleagues found the true doctrine of baptism in the Church and were baptized in São Paulo. Elder Camargo later became the first Brazilian General Authority in 1985.
Meeting with some of the early Saints in the Philippines prior to the creation of the 100th stake, Elder Soares said there was one man’s testimony he will never forget. “We could relate to his love for the gospel and for the sacrifices he made to live through the testimony he received, and for his efforts to invite others to join the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Elder Soares said.
“We find those people in every country, in every place. … They sacrificed so much to establish the kingdom of God in their countries.”
Encouragement for modern-day pioneers
Many Latter-day Saints throughout the world are facing hardships as they sacrifice for the gospel. As the early pioneers emulated a spirit of happiness and optimism, modern pioneers can feel this same joy as they focus on the Savior, Elder Soares said.
“The Lord said this, ‘Wherefore be of good cheer, and do not fear for I the Lord am with you and will stand by you, and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was that I am, and that I am to come’ (Doctrine and Covenants 68:6).
“I believe that promise sustained the pioneers in those difficulties and trials they went through, but also sustains us because those promises are valid to all of us in our day,” Elder Soares said.
“My encouragement is an invitation to pray before the Lord, to ask for help, to humble ourselves before our dear Heavenly Father who loves us so much. He’s our Father, and He wants us to be happy in this life. He wants us to go back to Him.”
Unexpected challenges are part of mortality, said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The early pioneers struggled and they weren’t “perfect.”
“In some ways, the pioneers learned some great lessons by the mistakes they made,” he said. “As they suffered, as they made their way, and as they came to know God and the Lord Jesus Christ through their faith and prayers, they became stronger and stronger spiritually.
“That is the quest that all of us have. We are trying to become better people.”
Primary General President Joy D. Jones added, “The early pioneers relied on the Savior, and today, as modern-day pioneers, we rely on Him as well. … We share the same faith that they had.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be an unexpected hardship for many, she said. “We have an opportunity right now to choose to be happy and choose to have hope and to realize this is temporary. And the Lord is with us. He has blessed us tremendously over these past months in so many unusual ways, ways that perhaps we would never expect.
“And that’s the secret: He blesses us through hard things.”
Elder Soares said, “The pioneers in the Church have left a great legacy to us new generations. And we have to carry that on through our service.”
Latter-day Saints today can actively choose to be pioneers “as they decide to follow the gospel, as they decide to be good examples to the world, as they decide to reflect the light of the Savior in their countenances,” he said.