Sarah Jane Weaver: What I learned from a child in Manaus about temples, faith and sacrifice

Not far from Manaus, Brazil, two major rivers meet. For almost four miles, water from the dark-colored Rio Negro runs adjacent — without mixing — to the water from the lighter colored Rio Solimoes.

The phenomenon, dubbed the “Meeting of the Waters,” is the main tourist attraction in this isolated city in northern Brazil and is due to the differences in temperature and speed of the two rivers, which eventually merge to become the Amazon River.

The rivers are also symbolic of Latter-day Saints in this region of the world — where faith and commitment merge to form deep and strong testimonies.

Church work began there in 1967, with the first congregation created in 1978 in Manaus — an isolated city of 1.7 million people surrounded by water and rain forest and accessible only by boat or plane. Members asked the Area Presidency to send them missionaries, paid to fly elders from southern cities in Brazil to Manaus, gave the missionaries free board and room, and found people for them to teach. The first stake was created in the city in 1988.

On Nov. 25, 1992, a small group of pioneer members left the Amazon River Basin and traveled the 2,389 miles to the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple — which is farther than the distance between Salt Lake City and New York City. They arrived at the temple on Dec. 10, 1992, after a long and difficult journey by boat and bus. They were sick from traveling for a long time in a confined space.

Near Manaus, Brazil, for almost four miles, water from the dark-colored Rio Negro runs adjacent -- without mixing -- to the water from the lighter colored Rio Solimoes.
Near Manaus, Brazil, for almost four miles, water from the dark-colored Rio Negro runs adjacent — without mixing — to the water from the lighter colored Rio Solimoes. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

For almost 20 years, other members in Manaus sacrificed to visit the temple, traveling by caravan to attend the temple in Sao Paulo and then the temple in Caracas, Venezuela.

I traveled to Manaus in June 2012, to cover the dedication of the Manaus Brazil Temple. While there, I joined Flávio and Kenia Brito in the lobby of the Manaus temple patron housing for family home evening. Before we began, I helped their 10-year-old son Nefi practice his English.

When the conversation turned to temples, I began to list all the temples near my home in the Salt Lake Valley. There’s the Salt Lake Temple, the Jordan River temple, the Oquirrh Mountain temple and the Draper temple, I said. Then I told Nefi about beautiful temples in Bountiful, American Fork, Provo and Ogden.

I intended to list all the temples in the state of Utah, but Nefi interrupted.

“Oh, Sister,” he said. “How do you sacrifice?”

The question stilled me. I didn’t have an answer.

There in the heart of the Amazon River Basin— a place defined by faith-sustaining testimonies more powerful than the life-sustaining Amazon River — a child had grown up with the understanding that temple work and sacrifice were interdependent. For him, this understanding was like a spiritual “meeting of the waters.”

I came home from Manaus vowing to appreciate the temple more, to attend more often. But then life happened. We raced to and from the temple, rarely thinking of the blessings that flowed to us from those sacred experiences.

Then as COVID-19 intensified last March, my daughter — preparing for missionary service — made an appointment to receive her living ordinances in the Draper Utah Temple. At that time, temple ordinances were limited to only those doing work for themselves and their families. When she told me the appointment was on a Thursday morning in late March, I hesitated.

Manaus Brazil Temple
Manaus Brazil Temple Credit: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

“Thursdays are very busy days for me,” I said, “but I will make it work.”

The night before she was to enter the temple, however, the First Presidency announced the closure of all temples worldwide. She was devastated. So were we.

Her temple bag has sat in her room — ready to be used — ever since.

She started online MTC at home last week. And when the First Presidency announced that temples would open again for living ordinances, she did not hesitate.

She received a new appointment — once again on a Thursday morning — to enter to temple. She will enter the temple just days before leaving for her mission assignment.

This time, a Thursday appointment did not give me hesitation or pause. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have learned that entering the temple is a great blessing — not something I have to fit into my schedule or to work around.

I think today I would talk to Nefi Brito and the other faithful Saints I met in Manaus a little differently.

Nazaré Negreiros, for example, was with a group of Latter-day Saints on a caravan from Manaus to the Sao Paulo temple in 2001 when the bus was assaulted by robbers. The bandits stole the Latter-day Saints’ money, cameras and cell phones. The Saints arrived in Sao Paulo with nothing.

A few years later, Nazaré’s son and daughter-in-law, Alexandre and Claudia Negreiros, were in a bus accident with other Church members while returning from the temple in Caracas. Claudia was paralyzed from the neck down.

One evening during my trip to Manaus, I sat with Nazaré. As we spoke, I asked her if she was discouraged by their temple journeys. “Do you feel like the Lord should have blessed you and protected you since you were going to the temple?” I asked.

Nazaré did not like the question. She shook her finger at me: “No one ever said that. No one ever said that,” she said.

Words on hillside along shore of Rio Negro send message to visitors: "Welcome to Manaus."
Words on hillside along shore of Rio Negro send message to visitors: “Welcome to Manaus.” Credit: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Then, trying to help me understand, she added, “We were happy. We had reached the temple.”

As the years have passed since that exchange, I have tried to understand what Nazaré was trying to teach me. I think she was saying that each of us — Nefi, my daughter, and Claudia included — are walking the same covenant path.

It is a journey — in good times or hard times — that requires both faith and commitment. It starts where we are and leads to the temple. It is the opportunity for each of us to answer a most important question: “How do you sacrifice?”

The answer is found in waters deeper and more powerful than the Amazon River — where faith and commitment merge into the Living Water of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.