Delaine C. Smith and Dr. Mark Groberg, Latin American Studies Librarian
Brazil is a much talked about location for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of the growing amount of convert baptisms that take place there in recent years. Has the growth of the church in southern Brazil always been so dramatic? How and when did the Church start in this remote location, and what was it like in its early days? These are intriguing questions that sent me and my family to southern Brazil to uncover the stories of the early pioneers of the LDS church in Brazil.
Prior to my research I dedicated time to learn the facts that had already been exposed concerning these early pioneers. I learned that of the first Mission President and his many challenges while presiding over the Argentina and Brazil area. The General Authorities of the church asked the President to focus the majority of his time in Argentina and to strictly teach the German immigrants. Eventually he and some young missionaries went to Brazil and found a large contingent of Germans who were willing to hear about this new church. Hence, the Church blossomed in Brazil, although not as fruitfully as it does today.
My task, therefore, was to go to the earliest mission areas in Brazil in order to unlock the history of the land and Church. My primary focus was in and around the cities of Blumenau, Jaragua, and Navigantes, all of which are in the predominantly European state of Santa Catarina. Upon arrival, I contacted the bishops or branch presidents of the areas to learn of members or people of the town who may have lived or known stories of the early time. Fortunately I received a good amount of contacts. I thereafter interviewed these persons with a complete and thorough survey which was supplied to me by my mentor, which he had used for his previous research visits to Brazil.
Some of my findings led me to the information I was seeking, other information led me in circles, and other information was very saddening. Very early in my searching I came upon a family who were descendants of the first converts to the church in Brazil. Their grandmother and father became members of the first branch in Brazil called Ipomea. As the children and grandchildren of these converts were interviewed, they truly unlocked the mystery of what the church was like at the time, and who these stalwart converts truly were on the inside. Upon the Blinde baptism the missionaries moved into their home. Soon, Opa (Grandpa) Blinde was made the branch president. The family would walk eight kilometers to church mid-week and Sunday. For example, on Saturdays the family and others held the responsibility to clean the wooden church. This family cleaned every inch of their church, and delicately they did so because this was the place that they would worship their God. Oma (Grandma) Blinde faithfully read and adhered to the principles in her scriptures. I learned from her grandchildren that she was a very firm woman, who never wavered from her faith. Many more stories of the faith of the early Saints of the time were shared with me during these compelling interviews.
I desired to learn of the history of Blumenau and the Church because very little had been uncovered concerning this topic. The ward in the area was delightful. The members opened their arms and homes to help me in my research, however every interview that I conducted lead me back to where I had started. I learned that for an unknown reason, the early branch of Blumenau was closed and that the Saints in the city were left without the Church, waiting for its return. Sadly, when the Church again established operations, few of these members were found, and the others were lost. Some believed that it was due to the unrighteous acts of the young missionaries, which caused the area to close, others believe that it was an unfaithful branch president who set a bad example and thenceforth the area was closed. Each member I asked knew little of the history of the church there. I found one man who could clear up the misunderstanding, but ever since this sad event took place, he had never returned to the Church, and he refused to be interviewed. I also found an elderly woman who lived at the time, but I was unable to obtain the answers I needed from her because with age she had become senile. I found a similarly puzzling situation in the town of Jaragua. The mission history states that the missionaries were stoned in the early beginnings of the Church in the town, and most members there believe that this is the reason that the missionaries left the area and never returned. However, this speculation is not proven, and the history of Jaragua is yet to be discovered. Currently, there is a functioning branch that is growing, even though the branch was only recently reopened in the early 1990’s.
I believe the most difficult task in collecting this data was interviewing persons who knew of the history and beginnings of the church, because they were involved in it or were related the early pioneers, and yet they had left the church. Unanimously these persons admitted to knowing of the truthfulness of the gospel, and yet they had left for various reasons. During these interviews the spirit was present and I would see a spark of desire to return to full activity. My research was being accomplished, but in all actuality something greater was being brought about; individuals who had left the church were forced to remember and feel the happiness they once enjoyed, and therefore aspired to feel this way once more by putting their affairs in order. What joy I felt when I saw changes occurring in the hearts of those whom I interviewed.
I feel honored to have fulfilled this research assignment. Not only was I able to learn of the history of these pioneers but I was fortunate enough to become genuine friends with many Brazilians. This experience changed the entire dynamic of my family because we experienced it all together. My husband truly understands my love for my mission and the people I served in Brazil many years ago because he learned of their kindness, faith, history, and love firsthand in the land that we now both adore.