“Cultivating the Lord’s Vineyard,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, 41
After Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley visited friends in Portugal and observed the tiny branches struggling without enough priesthood leadership and fellowshipping, they submitted their papers for a mission. Before long they were living in an apartment above a cafe in the Portuguese city of São João de Madeira. They bought a car and began bringing hope and joy to a discouraged little branch. They came to love the beautiful country and the warm, caring people.
Sister Wheatley taught with the sister missionaries, showed branch sisters how to lead singing, organized a branch choir, and trained Relief Society leaders how to help and bless each sister. Her laugh was contagious, and the people loved her. She demonstrated her enthusiasm through the recurring theme of the talks she wrote, memorized, and haltingly delivered in Portuguese: “Sempre em frente,” which means “Always forward.” When she was called as district Relief Society president, she worked alongside two Portuguese-speaking counselors and a bilingual secretary. Together they organized programs, visited branches, trained branch leaders, and initiated a scripture study program.
Meanwhile, Brother Wheatley visited less-active members and fellowshipped new members with his wife, trained branch leaders how to preside, and went on companion exchanges with the missionaries. Young full-time missionaries had been presiding over the district, and Brother Wheatley soon accepted the calling of district president. His first challenge was to find a capable priesthood leader to be his counselor and eventual replacement.
Around that time, the Wheatleys met José and Otilia Perreira. The Perreiras had joined the Church while living in Venezuela, then had moved to Avanca, Portugal, where they built a beautiful home and José became a gentleman farmer on 15 acres of beautifully manicured land. Over the years, Otilia remained active, but José had only recently returned to activity. In fact, José was a wine producer, and his wine cellar was stocked with thousands of bottles of fine wine.
“As we visited,” Elder Wheatley recalls, “my feelings were reinforced that José, with the support of his wonderful wife, should be called as my counselor in the district presidency. But how could I ask him to give up his lifelong dream of being a producer of fine wines? Would he humble himself and leave this pursuit to serve the Lord and his brothers and sisters?”
Brother Perreira accepted the call, and together the two brethren immersed themselves in strengthening the district. Brother Perreira responded to the call with love for the Lord and the people in his district. “He got rid of the wine as serving others became his full-time pursuit,” says Brother Wheatley.
The leaders realized that at that time, with the nearest temples in Germany and Switzerland more than 48 hours away by bus, the district had no temple-endowed members. They immediately focused on preparing people to attend the temple, and 55 members did so during the Wheatleys’ time in Portugal. When the couple went home a year later, José Perreira became district president, and his wife was called to be the next district Relief Society president.
“We felt the Lord’s presence so intimately in our lives,” says Brother Wheatley. “He sent His Spirit in such abundance, and we felt the joy and sweet peace that come from serving Him. He repaid our every effort, and we knew He was at our side. When we testified, we felt His Spirit touch peoples’ hearts. Watching those people commit to follow the Lord and become strong Saints of God brought us unimaginable joy.”—Antoinette Brown, Sandy, Utah