SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Twenty-two years ago, President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, invited Elder Neil L. Andersen — then a General Authority Seventy — and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, to his office.
President Faust asked Elder Andersen if he was familiar first with guaraná, then maracujá and, finally, churrascaria. Elder Andersen answered that he knew nothing about any of the three words.
“Neil, you’ve lived such a very small life,” said President Faust with a smile, quickly adding “but you’re going to receive such an amazing blessing, and that blessing is that you are being assigned to Brazil. These are the most marvelous people — you will love your experience. You will love them. You will never be the same. It will shape the rest of your life.”
Fast forward to today.
President Faust passed away in 2007, but not until after Elder Andersen had served from 2001 to 2005 in the Brazil South Area presidency, the last three as area president. Elder Andersen worked hard to learn the Portuguese language and quickly learned to love guaraná (a national favorite soft drink), maracujá (passion fruit), churrascarias (Brazilian steakhouses) — and the Brazilian people.
As a member of the Presidency of the Seventy from 2005 until his 2009 call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he — along with Sister Andersen — made a half-dozen return visits to Brazil to minister to Latter-day Saints, missionaries and leaders. However, there have been no such ministry assignments in the last six years, with the COVID-19 pandemic interrupting one scheduled visit.
And so, with great appreciation and anticipation, Elder Andersen recently completed a nine-day ministry in Brazil — starting in the northeastern coastal city of Recife, traveling for a day to the capital city of Brasília in the nation’s interior, and concluding with five days in southeastern mega-metropolis of São Paulo, where he and Sister Andersen lived when he helped lead and mentor Latter-day Saints and leaders during their five-year area assignment.
During the March 4-12 ministry, Elder Andersen frequently related the story of his call and other highlights of their time in Brazil, from the 2002 dedication of the Campinas Brazil Temple to the 2004 rededication of the renovated São Paulo Brazil Temple, and from the friendships with local leaders and members to the Church’s overall growth in South America’s largest country.
Teachings and examples of prophets
Elder Andersen also often related how President Faust served as a missionary in Brazil in 1939, when there were only 200 members and the proselyting language was German, geared toward those of German and European descent in the southern reaches of Brazil. Today, nearly 1.5 million Latter-day Saints reside in Brazil, comprising more than 2,100 congregations.
The Apostle also spoke of learnings from visits during that time from President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Faust as well as from President Russell M. Nelson — then a member of the Twelve — who came to Brazil often and taught by word and example how to love the Savior and love the people.
“His example remains strongly in the hearts of the people. In our leadership meetings, they all referred to him as ‘our dear Prophet, President Nelson,’” said Elder Andersen of President Nelson, whom he quoted frequently when emphasizing the Savior, the importance of temple covenants and worship, and the need to “overcome the world.”
In emphasizing temple covenants, ordinance and worship, Elder Andersen underscored the increasing number of temples in Brazil. “The growth of temples is something very big in the future of Brazil — the temple ordinances and covenants will help solidify this country in the gospel,” he said. “We have nine temples operating now, nine more that have been announced and are in planning and construction, and — as the Lord directs His Prophet — more to come.”
Elder Andersen will return to the nation in September to dedicate the Brasília Brazil Temple, which he visited the morning of March 6, prior to meeting with the country’s first lady, Rosângela Lula da Silva, wife of recently elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Over the next several days, Elder and Sister Andersen — joined by members of the Brazil Area presidency and their wives — also met with a national senator, the governor of São Paulo state, the governor of Pernambuco and the mayor of Recife.
“We felt that it was a preview for the dedication and open house,” said Elder Andersen of the visits with government leaders that supplemented the usual leadership instruction conferences and devotionals with members and missionaries. “It allowed some preparation for the temple dedication, helping create some connections that we’ll be able to revisit during the open house.”
Spiritual visits with civic leaders
Of the meetings with government leaders, Elder Adilson de Paula Parrella, a General Authority Seventy and Brazil Area president, said that “though these are very critical relationships for the Church in Brazil — and we are grateful that Elder Anderson took the time to meet with these government leaders — I want to say that these were spiritual visits and experiences for each one.”
During the visits, substantial donations were made — from medical equipment to a cancer hospital in Pernambuco to playground equipment to 90-plus preschool daycare centers in Recife, from money to help field needy indigenous children in northern Brazil to financial assistance to aid victims of floods and landslides in northern São Paulo state.
In addition to the donations, personal gifts were exchanged. Elder and Sister Andersen and the area presidency members and their wives shared inscribed, leather-bound copies of the Book of Mormon and statues portraying a family. Even more important were the expressions of belief in and testimony of Christ, His teachings of caring for the poor and needy, His example of nurturing children and His gospel of life after death.
The latter principles proved to be particularly tender and timely to Pernambuco Gov. Raquel Lyra, whose husband unexpectedly died from a heart attack during last fall’s elections, leaving her a widow with two young children.
Elder Andersen also ministered to the many Saints in Recife and São Paulo — youth, members, local leaders and missionaries. In São Paulo, that included a Friday night, March 10, youth devotional; leadership instruction to stake presidencies, bishops, stake and ward Relief Society presidents and elder quorum presidents from more than a dozen São Paulo stakes on Saturday, March 11; and a special stake conference held Sunday, March 12, at the São Paulo Brazil Guarapiranga Stake and broadcast to two neighboring stakes.
While meeting with the many, he found ways to focus on the few — and the one. He and the participating members of the Brazil Area presidency answered questions from individual local leaders, asked to hear individual testimonies from youth, and tried to personally greet as many members as possible before and after meetings.
After the stake conference, Elder Andersen said he would greet members who wanted to come up to the rostrum but added that he likely couldn’t accommodate everyone — and then shook hands not only with the hundreds who came up to the front of the chapel but then walked the long line that stretched through chapel and back to the cultural hall until acknowledging each desiring attendee with a handshake.
‘I touched the hand of Elder Andersen’
President Thiago de Souza Ponder, president of the São Paulo Brazil Camp Limpo Stake, related the excitement of his 13-year-old son, Kaleo, following the youth devotional at the stake center adjacent to the São Paulo temple. There, adult leaders were asked to move to the building’s classrooms to watch the broadcast and allow the youth to be in the chapel, where young men and young women not only filled the chapel benches and chairs in the cultural hall but also stood along the walls and sat on the floor as Elder and Sister Andersen and area leaders taught principles from the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet.
“Dad, Dad, I touched the hand of Elder Andersen,” Kaleo said. When his father asked how that made him feel, he answered, “I feel great after being disappointed.” Kaleo had invited friends to attend the devotional that didn’t make it. Still, he felt a witness of the Spirit as Elder Andersen entered the chapel and again as he was able to reach out to the Apostle.
President Ponder said the youth devotional allowed his son to make new friends after the devotional and feel a part of the large gathering representing São Paulo’s rising, faithful generation. “The power of the youth when they come together, that’s what was really special for my son — that he’s not alone,” President Ponder said, adding “When the youth see they are not alone and there are others in the wards and stakes coming together, they feel more unified.”
For the leadership instruction, President Ponder expected to hear of a new program, initiative or emphasis — but instead listened to and welcomed the simple messages, reminders and encouragements about the Savior and the temple — that the temple is the house of the Lord, that one can best draw close to the Father and the Son through temple ordinances and covenants.
And those themes carried over to the Sunday stake conference as well.
“Elder Andersen spoke on ‘more of the temple’ — that the temple is the place we should go to learn more and strengthen our testimonies more, doing just as President Nelson has been teaching us,” said Elder Parrella. “So Elder Andersen’s visit to Brazil, for me, was inviting us to go to the next level of discipleship, obedience and following the Prophet.”
Promises come to pass
And so, two decades after their meeting with President Faust and their assignment to the Brazil South Area, Elder and Sister Andersen are enjoying the guaraná, maracujá and churrascaria of Brazil. But even more, they’re enjoying the fruits of their labors and the growth of stakes, temples, families and individuals and continuing to see President Faust’s words of promise come to pass.
“Brazil is going to play an important part to help prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior,” taught Elder Andersen repeatedly during his nine-day ministry. “We are preparing a people worthy to welcome the Savior at His Second Coming.”