“Sacrifice of South American Saints Rewarded,” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 74–78
Excitement rippled through the crowd gathered on the observation deck of the Montevideo, Uruguay, airport terminal as the large jet taxied in. People strained for a better view as the plane stopped, the portable stairway was rolled into place, and the door opened. Emotion showed on the faces of the throng as President Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Camilla, emerged and waved.
The eighty-three-year-old Church leader had visited Uruguay many times before, both as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and as President of the Church. But this time he came for a new purpose—to conduct the first area conference of the Church to be held in Montevideo October 26–27.
The Montevideo conference was the second in a series of area conferences that took President Kimball and other General Authorities first to Johannesburg, South Africa, on October 23 and 24 and subsequently, following the Montevideo conference, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a temple was dedicated.
In Montevideo, President Kimball expressed his love and concern for the worldwide membership of the Church. And the spontaneous airport reception there, though not encouraged by local Church leaders, demonstrated the enthusiasm that had been building among the Saints in Paraguay and Uruguay. As the bus carrying President Kimball and his party rolled through the airport gate, hundreds of eager Saints moved toward the vehicle for a closer look. A momentary stop, and the bus was surrounded. President Kimball opened his window and began shaking hands. A baby was lifted upward, and the prophet responded with a hug and a kiss.
President Kimball and other General Authorities were driven to Palacio Penarol, a sports arena near the center of Montevideo, for the cultural program which marked the official beginning of the conference. The capacity audience of thousands nearly raised the roof with their vigorous renditions of the national anthems of Uruguay and Paraguay.
Early the next morning, President Kimball arrived at the House of Government for a visit with the president of Paraguay, Dr. Aparicio Mendez. During the cordial twenty-minute visit in a reception room near the president’s office, President Kimball received assurances that the Church’s standing in Uruguay is secure.
Later that morning, Palacio Penarol was filled to overflowing with Latter-day Saints awaiting the first general session of the area conference. Members of the Santa Lucia Uruguay Stake were especially anxious for the sermons to begin. Their trip to the conference in Montevideo had required careful planning and considerable sacrifice. They had prepared spiritually and temporally by fasting at least one extra day each month, saving the money to pay for the expensive 550-kilometer bus trip to Montevideo.
Addressing the conference, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve responded to the actions of the hundreds who had sacrificed to attend. “This is a day of sacrifice,” he reminded them. “If the burden ever seems heavy to you as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you think of a statement once given by a friend of mine: ‘It’s true, isn’t it, and nothing else really matters.’”
Another member of the Twelve, Elder Boyd K. Packer, touched the congregation with a sermon delivered in Spanish, a language he had been studying intensely in the months prior to the conference. “Learn to be spiritual,” he counseled them. “Each member has been baptized and blessed with the Holy Ghost, which is to be a gift and a blessing in our lives. We should try to live by the way of this quiet spirit which always guides us to do good.”
President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor in the First Presidency, asked the congregation to consider why the Church holds area conferences. He then answered his own question. “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God. We hold them so that people can meet a prophet of God. If people really knew that we had a prophet in our midst, we couldn’t find a building large enough to hold the crowd.”
President Kimball asked the people to pray that the doors of the nations would be opened to the Church’s missionaries, and he asked that every mother rear her sons to become missionaries.
“President Kimball’s visit is sure to have a very positive impact on Uruguay,” commented Enrique Brito, public communications coordinator for the Uruguay area. “It will open doors that previously were closed, especially among the millions of nonmembers, and it will dispel many of the misconceptions about the Church which are common among the people of Uruguay. People are changing their attitudes, and the news media especially is beginning to respond favorably.”
As the conference in Montevideo was coming to a close, thousands of Church members in Argentina were beginning to gather in Buenos Aires where they, too, would experience the joy of having the prophet in their midst.
One of those members, Jose Gomez, had looked forward to attending the conference and seeing the prophet since his baptism just nine months before. “But Brother Gomez is as poor as anybody could be,” said President Angel Abrea of the Argentina Rosario Mission. “So he sold the only thing of value he possessed for the money to buy two bus tickets so that he and his wife could attend the conference.” Brother Gomez, a fisherman in the seacoast city of Santa Fe, sold the means of his livelihood—his fishing net.
“He told me that he plans to work extra hours on his return to Santa Fe to earn money for another net,” said President Abrea. “And within six months he plans to make another journey, this time to Sao Paulo so he and his wife can be sealed in the new temple.”
The city of Posadas in northeast Argentina is an eighteen-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, but sixty-five members from that distant city loaded into a bus for the journey. They had worked hard together selling empanadas (meat pies) in their branch and neighborhoods to raise money for the expensive fare that for many amounted to half a month’s salary.
In all, some 2,800 Church members and visitors from outside Buenos Aires came to the capital city for the conference. Members in the host city opened their homes to the visitors. President Tomas Lindheimer of the Buenos Aires East Stake counseled with his wife and six children and decided to help as many as possible. Twenty-one persons showed up at their front door and somehow found room to sleep in the Lindheimer home.
Although the housing committee had worked feverishly, homes could not be found for some 400 of the visitors. Most found shelter in the various Church buildings around Buenos Aires, although some reportedly slept on their buses.
Organizers of the Buenos Aires Area Conference firmly believed in mass involvement, particularly for the traditional cultural program. They chose for a theme the story of Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Some 750 young people were recruited from five stakes to participate. Since no money was budgeted for costumes, the participants accepted the challenge of contributing about $5 per month apiece for a three-month period to cover the cost of costumes. The average monthly salary in Argentina is between $100 and $140.
Conference coordinator Juan Avila testified that the project had a tremendous unifying effect on the people involved. Mothers stayed up late at night in groups sewing costumes their children would wear to portray Lamanites and Nephites. Five hundred members of the Buenos Aires Argentina Banfield Stake accepted the assignment to make wooden swords to be used in one of the epoch battle scenes. They worked together for more than a month.
“Cecil B. DeMille, move over!” commented Elder Boyd K. Packer after watching the colorful spectacle with the thousands who crowded into the Luna Park Arena.
The enthusiasm generated by the cultural program surfaced again the following morning, when the first session of the conference was about to begin. While prelude music was playing, the huge congregation burst into spontaneous applause as President Kimball and other General Authorities appeared on the stand for the start of the conference. The unusual standing ovation continued as the Church leaders made their way to their seats.
President Kimball’s opening session address was broadcast by several Argentine radio stations. “The home should be a place where reliance on the Lord is a common experience,” President Kimball said. “The home is our peculiarity. The home and the family is our base. This we’ve heard much about and will continue to hear more about. Family life, home life, children, and parents loving each other and depending upon each other—that’s the way the Lord has planned for us to live.”
Elder Robert E. Wells of the First Quorum of the Seventy, area supervisor for Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, directed his remarks to listeners who were not members of the Church. He suggested five principal paths to the gospel: learning that the missionaries are true messengers of God, that the Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ, that Joseph Smith actually saw and spoke with the Father and the Son, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follows the blueprint for the true church contained in the Bible, and that faithful members of the Church set an example of righteous living.
That night, President Tanner addressed a congregation of more than 11,000. “What is there in the gospel of Jesus Christ to be ashamed of?” he asked.
“We believe that we are the spirit children of God and were made in his image. Is that anything to be ashamed of, or would you rather believe that you descended from a monkey? Are we ashamed of the fact that we believe that we will be resurrected and that we can go back into the presence of God, the Eternal Father?
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” declared President Tanner.
President Kimball concluded the “glorious conference” with these words: “We will never forget it, and we hope you will not forget it. We send you home with our love and our affection to serve more faithfully all of the doctrines of the Church.”
It was hard to say good-bye. The Argentine members had come to Luna Park to be fed spiritually, and they had enjoyed a feast. “I’m going to start crying,” said Sister Pilar Lindheimer of the Buenos Aires Argentina East Stake, when asked what the prophet’s visit had meant to her. “We often see his picture and read his word as he gives it to the Church, but we don’t get many chances to see him in person and hear his counsel especially for us.”
“It gives new push to the stake leaders to set higher goals,” said President Lindheimer, underscoring his wife’s remarks. “The main thing is for people to see that there really is a prophet of God who gives counsel specifically for this area. At general conference, he gives counsel for the world; but when he comes here, he has counsel for us.”
In Brazil, still more Church members were waiting to be strengthened by President Kimball’s presence and counsel. It was destined to be a special week in Sao Paulo, one of the most important occasions in the history of the Church in South America. A beautiful temple had been erected on a sloping hill in the sprawling city of Sao Paulo, and after its dedication the South American Saints could begin the holy ordinance work for themselves and their dead.
Over a four-day period, October 30 through November 3, nearly 13,000 Saints participated in what President Kimball termed “one of the most significant events that ever occurs in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the dedication of a temple.” After the initial ceremony, which was held in the temple itself, nine additional services were held next door in the Sao Paulo Brazil Stake Center. President Kimball spoke, repeating the beautiful dedicatory prayer at each service.
As the temple dedication services concluded and the Sao Paulo Area Conference convened, many wondered if they would continue to feel the rich outpouring of the Lord’s spirit that had touched thousands during the four-day dedication. Could that spirit possibly continue into the conference? Would the Saints be willing to take additional time off work to attend more meetings?
Coordinating the two major events was a challenge—and, in fact, “it was not two events, but three: the temple dedication, the area conference, and the week of temple work by those who were prepared to receive their endowments. The housing committee, for instance, had to find housing for 3,000 people,” reported Osiris G. Cabral, coordinator of the dedication and conference.
But Brother Cabral had plenty of help. He estimated that 2,000 people donated more than 150 years of time for the events.
“Take, for example, the brother from Curitiba,” Brother Cabral said. “Each Friday for a month he took off work and drove 406 kilometers to Sao Paulo to attend the Friday night rehearsal of the choir that was preparing to sing at the initial temple dedication service. After the rehearsal, he would drive all night back to Curitiba.”
Brazil is a large nation. Distances between cities are enormous. One group of about a hundred came from the northern city of Fortaleza, some 4,000 kilometers from Sao Paulo. The nonstop journey by bus took three days.
Preparations for the conference had been underway for at least two years. A committee was organized to write and produce a dramatic presentation that would be appropriate for the temple dedication and the area conference.
The conference planning committee members, knowing that a large crowd would attend the area conference, had only been able to reserve an inadequate 5,000-seat facility at a cost of $30,000. Though they had applied two years before to use the 20,000-seat Ibirapuera Stadium, it had already been booked by a Czechoslovakian ballet troupe.
The committee sought the Lord’s help. About four months before the conference was to be held, Brother Cabral received a telephone call from an official at the stadium. The ballet troupe had postponed its trip to Sao Paulo, and the facility would be available for the Church conference. And to complete the blessing, the stadium was a state-owned facility so the only cost to the Church was a nominal fee for maintenance and cleaning.
The stadium was an ideal setting for the area conference, as 8,000 Latter-day Saints and visitors came to continue their week-long spiritual feast. Nine general authorities were present to offer counsel to the receptive congregation.
Elder William Grant Bangerter of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy had served in Brazil as a young missionary and as a mission president. At the time of the conference he was area supervisor. He had seen the Church grow in South America.
“As much as any man living I am a witness of what is happening,” Elder Bangerter told the congregation. “But what we’re seeing now is only a seed of what is to come.
“I can see a thousand Brazilians serving missions in 1979. In 1981 they will be ready to organize a thousand Zion homes. We will have a thousand potential bishops and quorum presidents. We will have a thousand happy young women with a man worthy to take them to the temple. We will begin to see ten thousand more babies born in the covenant of God with the privilege of growing up protected from the errors of the world. I can see a hundred thousand Brazilians joining the Church in a year. That means ten missions. It means twenty-five, fifty, or one hundred stakes in Brazil. It means more temples, because this temple will be too small to hold us. We will see enough faithful members paying their tithing that the Church in Brazil will be financially independent. We will begin to give the ordinances of the gospel to this nation of 120 million, and then take it to those who have died. We have the vision of salvation of a mighty nation, and we know how to do it.”
Elder O. Leslie Stone of the First Quorum of the Seventy had a message for parents, who “have a responsibility to teach their children.”
“We as parents are responsible for helping them achieve their full potential by training them properly in their youth,” he said. He added that many homes today have become merely a base of operations, for convenience only.
Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy continued this theme by listing ten things that help make fathers effective. He said a good father will be an example of righteousness and will be a great husband. He will lead out in prayer, scripture study, and family home evening. A good father watches for teaching moments, holds regular interviews with his children, blesses his children, teaches his children to work, and establishes a spiritual attitude in his home.
Elder Faust said: “We have now arrived at the last moments of this glorious week, which has been one of the most important in the history of South America. We will never be the same. We have heard a wondrous dedicatory prayer. We have been in the presence of a prophet. The Spirit of the Lord has been close, and the spirits of angels have been present.” Like Elder Bangerter, Elder Faust has served among the Brazilian people. He supervised much of the construction of the Sao Paulo Temple. “I’ve spent a tenth of my life with you people,” he said. “I’ve walked your streets and entered into your homes. I love you. I love your country.”
The congregation was prepared for the final sermon of the conference, a message from President Kimball. “We have been gloriously received by our Father in Heaven today,” he said. “I think the better part of four million people have their eyes today on Brazil and Sao Paulo in particular. I think they will be waiting for reports from us to tell of the dedication of this beautiful temple. There are numerous places all over the world that have been asking for temples. We tell them, ‘Yes, we will build temples for you, but we must wait until the people are ready for it. It takes a great many people to handle a temple and keep it active.’”
President Kimball said that some temples have not been used sufficiently, and that work is too precious to “spread out in that fashion. So we hope the work of this temple will be greatly accelerated.”
President Kimball advised the Saints to record in their personal journals the “very unusual and special events” that had happened in their lives during the week.
After the benediction was pronounced, the large congregation in Ibirapuera Stadium stood in silence. All eyes were on President Kimball as he surveyed the faces of the faithful Brazilian Saints. Nobody wanted to say farewell. When the organist began playing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” the arena immediately filled with song. Someone took out a white handkerchief and began waving it. Another followed, and then another, and soon there was a sea of waving white handkerchiefs as the multitude began another song—“God Be with You Till We Meet Again.”
“South America gives us many, many hopes for the future,” commented President Kimball as he evaluated his journey through South America. “It looks to us like there is almost no end to the growth and development. We have an immense population in South America, especially in Brazil. And we hope that there will be many, many people who will be converted to the gospel and will join the Church and become a part of the growing process in this tremendously important part of the kingdom.”
President Kimball’s expressions echoed those of Elder Melvin J. Ballard who, as one of the Twelve, on Christmas Day in 1925 dedicated the continent of South America for the preaching of the gospel. A few months later, during a testimony meeting in Buenos Aires, Elder Ballard spoke of the future of the Church in that part of the world:
“The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. The work here is the smallest that it will ever be.” (Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1949, p. 100.)
As President Kimball departed from South America, the evidence was clear that the acorn has sprouted roots. Church membership in South America numbers 250,000 in forty-five stakes and twenty-four missions. The first temple on the continent has been dedicated. Surely prophecy is being fulfilled.