Brazil and the Gospel in the Luso-Afro-Brazilian Community
As Brazil celebrates the 200th anniversary of its independence today, September 7, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can contemplate the role of the nation – one of three in the world with more than one million members of the Church – in the preaching of the restored gospel on three continents linked by the same language.
Brazil, “the country of the future”
During the dedication celebrations of the São Paulo Brazil Temple in 1978, a piece titled “A door” [The door]depicts the restoration of the gospel in the Americas, with the following refrain:
Come on, Columbus, open the curtain
from my eternal studio
and bring America out into the open.
In 1492, Columbus “opened the curtain” of part of the Americas, and eight years later, in 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral presented to the world a place compared to “a paradise on earth”, where everything that was planted grew. This discovery has proven true, throughout the centuries, both literally and symbolically.
At the beginning of the 19th century, on September 7, 1822, Brazil declared its independence from Portugal. The newly established nation began to receive influence from other countries, opening up to European immigration.
In 1913, German immigrants Max and Amalie Zapf became the first members of the Church in southern Brazil. The seed of the gospel had been planted and, as expected, the fruit was delicious and quickly spread throughout the land. Missionary work officially began in 1928, with the gospel preached primarily in German, including pamphlets and the Book of Mormon, and the first chapel was built in 1932 in Joinville, Santa Catarina.
In February 1935, President Heber G. Grant called Rulon S. Howells to preside over the first Brazilian mission. But no place had been designated as the seat of the newly created mission. On May 25, 1935, after traveling much of the country, President Howells chose São Paulo as the official headquarters of the mission. The Book of Mormon was translated into Portuguese and published in 1940, beginning the greatest Church growth recorded in South America at that time (see “From Acorn to Oak Tree,” by Frederick S. Williams and Frederick G .Williams).
Despite persecution from missionaries and a world war, Brazil proved to be the gateway to the gospel for Portuguese-speaking nations. In June 1978, with the revelation giving the priesthood to all worthy men in the Church, followed by the dedication of the São Paulo Temple in October, a new stage in the growth of the Church worldwide began.
The community created by the Portuguese discoveries sharing the same language facilitated missionary work, and the Brazilians were able to bring the message of the restored gospel to two other continents abroad.
While today the heart of Emperor Dom Pedro I literally returned to Brazil to celebrate 200 years of independence, another heart deserves mention. During his trip to the country in 2014, then-brother Russell M. Nelson said that “Brazil is what I call part of the heart of the Church,” which has been shared with other nations in across the world, taken by the hand of God.
From Brazil to the Luso-African community
The arrival of the first members of the Church in Portugal took place in the mid-1950s, when American troops were stationed at various military bases across the country. But it was not for nearly a quarter of a century before the Church received legal recognition on October 27, 1974. Shortly after, four missionaries were transferred from Brazil to begin preaching the gospel in the country. . Many Portuguese members then said that Portugal had discovered the territory of Brazil, but later Brazil had discovered the gospel for Portugal.
In 1988, missionary work began in Cape Verde, the first Portuguese-speaking country in Africa to receive the gospel. In 2002, the Cape Verde Mission, created from the Portuguese Lisbon South Mission, was announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley. The Praia branch was created on April 29, 2012, together with the first participation in the country. About 150 Cape Verdean missionaries served their missions in various parts of the world, including Brazil. The growth of the Church in the country culminated with the dedication of the Praia Cape Verde Temple on May 21, 2022 by Neil L. Andersen.
The history of the Church in Mozambique began in 1990, when Chico Mapenda, a Mozambican living in Germany, was baptized. Back home, he and his brother “organized congregations and began serving as itinerant ministers to those ‘Latter-day Saints’ who had not yet been baptized” (“Faith Lessons from the Story of the Church in Africa”; in Portuguese).
In 1992, as the Mozambican civil war drew to a close, Church leaders traveled the country and found small groups of people worshiping as “members of the Church,” including in a chapel built by the inhabitants of a remote village. Today, Mozambique celebrates the announcement in 2021 of the Beira Mozambique Temple, which will be the first built in the country.
The Church was officially recognized in Angola in 1992, and in 1996 the first branch, located in Luanda, the country’s capital, was organized. In 2018, the first stake is organized. This year, on July 9, Church leaders dedicated the first Latter-day Saint Church in Angola. For 37 years, members have met in borrowed or rented buildings. The new building, announced in 2016, is expected to be completed in 2023.
Four other Portuguese-speaking countries – Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, São Tomé and Príncipe and Equatorial Guinea – still do not have official data on the Church.
From Brazil to the world: leaders who made the difference
From the “curtain” that opened over Brazil, the reversal of the empire-colony relationship took place when Brazilian missionaries began to be sent to Portugal and Africa, starting in the 1970s. Other leaders, already familiar with Brazilian Portuguese, also began to conduct in Portuguese-speaking areas. Among them was William Grant Bangerter, who served his mission in Brazil from 1939 to 1941. Thereafter, from 1958 to 1963 he served as president of the Brazil Mission, and in 1974 he was called president of the first assignment in Portugal.
Another contribution of great impact to the advancement of the gospel in the Luso-Afro-Brazilian nations concerns one of the descendants of President Frederick G. Williams.
Frederick G. Williams, past president of the Brazil São Paulo Interlagos Mission, past president of the Brazil Recife Temple, and former professor of Portuguese at Brigham Young University, contributed in many ways to establishing the Church in Mozambique.
He led seven BYU study abroad programs over a 10-year period, participating with students in divisions with missionaries, as well as the growth of two very small branches that led to the creation of Mozambique Mission and Stakes.
And the fruits of the leaders, members and many others are seen with the 11 dedicated temples and nine others announced or under construction in the Luso-Afro-Brazilian world.