In June 2012, I sat with Nazaré Negreiros in the bleachers of an arena in Manaus, Brazil, and watched her granddaughter and other youth practice for a temple cultural celebration in the Amazon River Basin.
With the help of a translator, Negreiros and I spoke about a new temple in Brazil, which would be dedicated that week by then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency. It had been two decades since the first group of Latter-day Saints from the Amazon River Basin had embarked on a 15-day journey by boat and bus to the São Paulo Brazil Temple.
Many in the small caravan had sold their land and belongings to reach the temple. Some became sick on the journey; the muscles of others cramped after sitting for long hours in the same crowded position.
Negreiros spoke about that first temple caravan — and the dozens that followed it — with a casualness. Going to the temple, she said, is a journey — and has always required sacrifice.
To illustrate she spoke about her own journey.
In 2001, she and her mother, Delzuita Guerreiro, had joined a group of Latter-day Saints on a caravan to the São Paulo temple when their bus was assaulted by robbers.
Negreiros was asleep on the bus and awoke to see five masked men with guns. The bandits stole the Latter-day Saints’ money, cameras and cellphones. But the thieves were disappointed; they expected the group to have more money. Negreiros said the men asked her why a group of poor people were traveling together.
“Why are you going to São Paulo if you don’t have money,” they demanded.
Negreiros told them they would never understand. “We are going to the house of the Lord,” she said.
Her words stilled me.
For a few seconds, we sat in silence in the bleachers and watched the rehearsal below, and then I asked the question that consumed me.
“Don’t you think the Lord should have protected you and the other members of your caravan because you were sacrificing to go to the temple?”
The question made Negreiros very unhappy.
She pointed her finger at me and spoke in rapid Portuguese. My translator shared her sentiment in a few simple words. “No one ever said that.”
I thought of her words again in April, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the doors to the renovated Washington D.C. Temple, marking the first time the public has toured the iconic edifice since its 1974 dedication.
The 160,000-square-foot temple sits on 52 acres located 10 miles north of the White House. The temple closed in 2018 so the Church could update mechanical and electrical systems, refresh finishes and furnishing, and improve the grounds. For decades, Latter-day Saints east of the Mississippi River and north to Canada and south to Central America, traveled to the temple, the Church’s first temple in the eastern United States. Like the São Paulo temple, the Washington D.C. Temple was the destination of long, hard temple journeys that often included trial and sacrifice.
Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said during the open house that all of us are on a journey to the temple.
Using the renewed, refurbished and restored temple as a metaphor, she said, “It’s just the same with us. We need to keep cleaning our life and pondering the things that we can improve every day. And that is a journey.”
Every day, Latter-day Saints find themselves facing the challenges of the world, she continued. “We have troubles, we have worries.”
The temple empowers Latter-day Saints who love the Savior and want to learn about and worship Him. “That is why it is a journey,” she said, “because we are always trying to be better.”
Sister Aburto’s words were an echo of the sweet lesson I learned in Manaus from Negreiros.
Read more: The drive behind why Brazilian Saints traveled by bus and by boat for decades to attend the temple
In the years since then I have come to understand her message. Negreiros’ journey to the temple — the one she spoke about as if it was the experience of every Latter-day Saint — is indeed a journey we all share.
In the simplest terms, it is a journey that starts where we are and ends at the temple. For some, like Negreiros and Guerreiro, the journey is physical. For all of us, however, it is spiritual, a refining process that — just as occurred with the Washington D.C. Temple in recent years — renews, refurbishes and restores us.
Negreiros’ mother told me that after their bus was assaulted, the Latter-day Saints arrived in São Paulo with nothing. Still they found food and clothing — donated by local Church members — waiting for them. The temple president helped them.
Guerreiro spoke of feeling an explosion of emotion in the temple. She didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. A temple worker told her both were acceptable. “You can laugh. You can cry. You are OK,” the worker assured her.
Guerreiro said she looked at the woman in the safety of the temple, counted her “wonderful blessings,” and replied, “Yes, I am OK.”
Both women said not one person on the trip questioned how something bad could happen to faithful Latter-day Saints. After the assault, they were afraid, but they were not hurt.
“We were very happy,” she said. “We had reached the temple.”