“Not Alone on the Isle of Graciosa,” Ensign, Apr. 1998, 78–79
Located some 800 miles off the coast of Portugal, the isle of Graciosa is the third smallest in a chain of islands called the Azorean Archipelago. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Graciosa is comparable in size to Utah’s Provo-Orem area and has a total population of just over 5,000. Among these residents are Antonio and Felismina Melo and their two children, Patricia and Hugo; they are currently the only four members of the Church on the island.
“I look at it as a challenge and an opportunity that the Lord has given us,” Brother Melo told missionaries who were visiting the island for a week. “Sometimes the things that are most difficult in life are the things that give us the most happiness.”
Introduced to the gospel in Lisbon, Portugal, by a close friend, the Melo family was baptized on 22 November 1987. “It was beautiful to see the whole family dressed in white. I felt we had started a new life, with a new hope, and a new way to view the world,” said Brother Melo.
The next two years in Lisbon, Brother Melo grew as he served as second counselor in the Amadora Ward bishopric. The family planted its roots firmly in the gospel. During this time a job opportunity came to Brother Melo to go back to the land of his birth and become the director of the local school in Praia, Graciosa.
The reality of moving to an island where only one religion existed and leaving the security of a well-established ward weighed heavily on the family, but placing their trust in the Lord, they accepted the position at the school. “I think that there was a reason for us coming, maybe more than a professional job,” Brother Melo said.
The move to the island did not go without notice. Word spread quickly of the Melo family’s religious beliefs. Cold shoulders and vocal neighbors were commonplace for a while as the family was trying to settle into the community. Loneliness and the spread of false information seemed to be the greatest challenges during the first months. The Melos’ home became their chapel and sanctuary.
“Church meetings have a great impact on us,” Brother Melo said, “especially in our own home. Sunday mornings we wake up knowing the day will be different. We always prepare as if we are in a chapel in the city.”
For the last eight years the Melo family has faithfully held the standard Sunday meeting schedule. Opening exercises start at 10:30 A.M., after which the family separates for priesthood and Relief Society classes. The past few years the children have been away at college in Lisbon, leaving the parents to conduct the lessons and meetings alone. Generally, Sister Melo holds Relief Society upstairs while Brother Melo stays downstairs, each studying directly from the lesson manuals.
“Every fast Sunday we fast together,” Brother Melo explained. “Every talk, testimony, hymn, and prayer has been recorded in a journal the last eight years. Sunday is a day to renew our baptismal covenants and to forget the problems of the world. If I can’t be here with a hundred, then I’ll be here with just two. It is my duty and my privilege.”
Gradually, acceptance and respect came from the community as the Melo family practiced consistent, quiet acts of kindness. Today, theirs is a trusted name on the island. Greater understanding has come through a weekly religious radio program conducted by Brother Melo every Tuesday. Words of the prophets and hymns of the Restoration are heard over the air waves.
“It is a Mormon radio program. At one time the people didn’t want to talk about the gospel on an individual level. I started talking about things like honesty, work, faith, et cetera. Today I speak of everything without any problems over the radio,” explained Brother Melo. The radio program draws a large audience. Now, Graciosa embraces the Melos.
The nearest organized branch of the Church is on the island of Terceira, 50 miles away, where the Melos are considered active members of the Angra Branch. Caring leaders from Terceira have always kept in close connection with the family. Over the past eight years missionaries have occasionally visited the Melo family. These visits have been a spiritual support, edifying both the missionaries and the Melos. The family hopes someday missionaries will be working permanently on Graciosa.
“This is a worldwide church,” said Brother Melo. “It is the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is here just as it is in America. We may not have a chapel, but we have our home. We have a strong testimony. We do not have any doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that President Gordon B. Hinckley is today’s prophet. We are on the smallest of the Azorean islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but we know these things. It is our wish that someday more people in Graciosa will be able to say the same things that we are saying today.”