Saturday, August 16, 2014

Our Call

Although we have been in Brazil for only six weeks, it has seemed like a long road already since our call just to get to this point.  It started with that fateful voice message back in the first week of October.  I had just been released as Bishop, and was feeling pretty relaxed. But as I checked at my transcribed voice messages one evening, I was shocked by one that read, “this is the secretary to Elder L. Tom Perry; he has been assigned to interview you and your wife; please call to schedule an appointment.” After listening to the actual voice mail I concluded that it was in fact real and not a prank by one of my sons.  The next morning, after little sleep, we scheduled the interview for the following day. During the drive to SL there was a lot of churning in our stomachs and silent reflection. We had a wonderful interview with Elder Perry. He was so kind and so inspiring and very personable. After some questioning, he told us that we were being considered to be called as Mission President and wife, but emphasized that he could not issue the call—that it would come from The First Presidency.

Elder L. TomPerry and Sister Perry at the seminar for new mission presidents.

On Tuesday, October 22, we received a call from Pres. Erying’s secretary asking if we could meet with him on Friday. Another agitating drive to SL. On our 40th wedding anniversary, October 25, 2013 we celebrated with an inspiring and amazing interview with President Erying. He was so kind and the spirit was strong. He was emotional and formal as he called us, and it was an emotional experience for us. He told us that this calling did not come from him or President Monson or any man, but that it came from our Father in Heaven and that we needed to receive a clear confirmation from the Spirit that this is true. 

He told us that the Lord has been preparing us for this calling for our entire lives. He said the Lord knows your missionaries and what they need and the experiences you have had and the things you have learned have prepared you to lead, serve and love them. 
We have enjoyed incredible blessings that have made it possible for us to be here. Although we never anticipated this calling, as we look back over the last few years, we see how the Lord has put so many things in place in our lives to make this a possibility. 


From the day of our interview with Elder Perry, Phil began studying Portuguese in earnest--reading Pregar Meu Evangelho and O Livro de Mormon aloud. We began listening to Portuguese language tapes whenever we were in the car, and Phil listened to Brazilian radio and TV. President Erying did not tell us where we would be serving--only that it would be Portuguese speaking. 

The Monday after our call we were contacted by the MTC in Provo and assigned individual language tutors. Phil's tutor was Douglas Destro, a Brazilian BYU student from Rio de Janeiro. He is an very bright young man and was a big help to Phil in his efforts to relearn Portuguese. We went to the MTC in Provo two separate times to spend a week in immersion in Portuguese. These weeks were a great help not only in learning Portuguese, but also an inspiration to meet with such wonderful young men and women who have returned from missions all over Brazil. 

Assigned to Brazil São Paulo South Mission

We received our assignment to serve in the Brazil São Paulo South Mission in mid December. One of the principal areas in the heart of our mission is Santo André, Phil's first area as a young missionary in 1968. This mission is what is left of the original Brazilian Mission, the mission to which Phil was called as a young missionary. During that time period, there were just 3 missions in Brazil, North, Central and South. The North and South Missions were created a short time before Phil's call. His mission kept the name of the original mission, The Brazilian Mission. It was composed of the states of São Paulo and Paranã.   

When Phil told his tutor, Elder Destro, about our assignment, he said, "my grandparents joined the Church in your mission." Phil responded, Wow, I thought you were from Rio." He explained that his parents had moved there some time ago, but that he still had relatives in São Paulo. Phil asked, "what area." He responded, "in Santo André." Phil said, "that was my first area as a missionary." He asked, "what year were you there?" Phil answered, "1968." He said, "Opá! that was about the time my family came into the Church--did you know any Destros in Santo André?" Phil said, "honestly, I don't remember, but it does sound a little familiar. Let me take a look in my missionary journal." As he pulled his journal off the shelf and looked at the page of people he baptized in Santo André he saw the name "Marizilda Destro." When he showed it to Elder Destro as they were talking on Skype, they were both stunned and emotional. Marizilda was Elder Douglas Destro's great Aunt. Here is a picture of her in front of the Santo André chapel in 1968 on the day of her baptism. (The young woman in yellow.)
It is amazing to consider how 44 years ago Phil helped teach this young woman whose relatives include the young returned missionary who helped him relearn Portuguese so he could serve another mission in Brazil.

Love of Brazil

Since his mission, Phil has always loved Brazil and Brazilians. This is what he told our missionaries when we arrived. "When I was called to Brazil as a 19 year-old, I didn’t quite know what to think. But after a few months I developed a love for everything Brazilian—the language, the food, the culture, the society, the music and the kind, generous, loving and accepting people, and yes, futebol.  I understand how futebol is more than a sport here—it is a cultural phenomenon. Since my mission, I have continued to love everything Brazilian all of my life. I especially love how the kingdom of God has grown among these people. I truly believe these are an elect people prepared to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I love them with all of my heart."

So Phil was really excited about our calling to Brazil, to speak Portuguese and to serve these friendly and loving people.

Preparing to Leave

Now that we have been here for several weeks, we fortunately have mostly forgotten how stressful it was just to get here. We were blessed beyond measure by selling our home. But getting out of it was ugly! It was a herculean effort to empty our house, and get rid of virtually everything. Packing our shipment, selling cars, etc., storing everything else, and packing our 8 suitcases while finalizing our affairs for 3 years was the most stressful part of this call. 

Just before being set apart, we attended the Provo temple where we were married more than 40 years ago.

Setting Apart

On Friday, June 20, 2014 we were set apart. We had all of our children with us (and I expect Chris was there). Phil was set apart by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve and Laurie was set apart by Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy (who is from São Paulo). Nicole, James, Laura, Brighton, Greg, Tina, Mark, Melissa, Emily and Laurie’s Mom and Dad and her Sister Betsy, her husband, Cliff and brother Doug were with us. It was a very inspiring and strengthening experience for us and the members of our family. We feel blessed beyond measure! 

Seminar for New Mission Presidents

We entered the MTC on Saturday, June 21, 2014 to begin this wonderful experience. We spent the next few days being instructed, inspired and trained by all of the members of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the 12 and many of the Seventy.  Our experience at the seminar was worth all the effort and sacrifice required by this calling. It was a very spiritual and strengthening experience.
Awaiting the First Presidency's arrival for Sacrament meeting on Sunday morning. President Monson was our Sacrament Meeting Speaker. 

Our friends from Gilbert, Arizona: Elder Craig and Debbie Cardon of the First Quorum of Seventy and President and Sister Lothaire and Connie Bluth, called to preside over the Chile Concepción South Mission.

Bem Vindos ao Brasil!

We left Thursday morning, June 26 for São Paulo and arrived Friday morning at around 7 AM. Phil spent most of his time on the airplane working on his "meet the new president" conference that was scheduled for Saturday morning, the day after our arrival with the entire mission. We traveled with several of the other new presidents and wives that were called to serve in other missions in Brazil. Here we are upon our arrival in São Paulo--4 Brazilian couples and 4 American couples. The other 4 couples who were beginning their service in Brazil traveled through other cities to their destinations.

The couple we replaced, President John and Susan Tanner, met us at the airport and gave us our introduction to driving through the world famous São Paulo traffic congestion from the airport as well as a brief tour of the mission office and the mission home on Friday. It was wonderful to finally greet them. They are friends from our days at BYU. We have admired them for many years and are humbled to be replacing them. 

Here we are together at the Mission Office. The Tanners left the same day we arrived, and we were grateful to finally get a nights rest after a couple of sleepless nights doing final preparations and on the airplane.

Our Mission Office Staff and Assistants upon our arrival. (L. to R.) Elder Batalla (Materials Secretary), Elder Beloni (Finance Secretary), Elder Ling (Executive Secretary), Elder Sena (Assistant), Elder Myers (Assistant), and Elder Johnson (Materials Secretary--training). What a job they had getting us up to speed! They are amazing!!

Meet the New President and His Wife

Saturday morning we arrived at the chapel in Bosque at about 8:30 with churning stomachs to meet the missionaries and give them our vision and expectations. We wanted to arrive a little early for final preparations, but when we walked in the chapel, nearly every missionary in the mission was there sitting quietly studying. It was impressive! From the time of our call until that moment, Phil had recurring dreams of standing at the podium looking at all of the missionaries (or alternatively congregations of Brazilians) struggling to speak in Portuguese the thoughts and feelings of his heart. Laurie worked on her talk with her tutor for a long time as well. An incredible blessing occurred when we sat next to an enthusiastic, young returned Sister missionary from Brazil on the airplane from SL to Atlanta. She helped Laurie with finalizing her talk and helping her with pronunciation the entire trip.

Phil talked about our vision and expectations as we begin this assignment and the missionaries seemed to understand his Portuguese. We felt relieved! It was so exciting and inspiring to finally meet all of our missionaries. The Lord has blessed us with a  strong love for each of them. It is such a blessing just to be around them!
Here we are with our entire mission in front of the Bosque chapel--all 224 missionaries. This chapel is the one that is most easily accessed in our mission and is the location of nearly all of our major mission meetings such as transfers and training meetings. After going there a couple of times, Phil started to think that he had perhaps been there as a young missionary. Upon carefully looking at his old missionary photos, he discovered these photos.
 This is a photo of the same chapel in Bosque taken in 1968.

Phil on the far right with fellow missionaries taken 44 years ago in the exact spot where our first mission photo (above). This was one of the first chapels built in São Paulo. It was dedicated in 1964 by then Elder Thomas S. Monson. It was built in large part by the contributed labor of members and missionaries at that time. Missionaries spent their P-days (at that time they were called Diversion Days) mixing cement and molding block stone for the construction of the building.

About Missão São Paulo Sul

There are currently 34 missions in Brazil. Ours is the smallest geographically, but one of the largest in terms of population. It is impossible to know for sure, but I think our mission has 3.5 to 4.5 million people. And half of our mission (geographically) is jungle with virtually no inhabitants.

It is made up of both very upscale areas with beautiful shopping centers and supermarkets and high rise apartment buildings and beautiful homes and very poor areas and even many favelas. Fevelas are often sandwiched between nice areas especially on hillsides where it is generally hard to do traditional construction. Some of them are extremely poor with little or no infrastructure such as water, electricity and even reliable sewers. However, most have limited infrastructure or all basic utilities. 

Typical poor housing neighborhoods in many areas of our mission.

One of the biggest challenges for our missionaries is that our mission is built on hills. They walk 6 to 12 miles each day up and down very steep hills on cobblestones or uneven pavement. It is very hard on knees, legs, feet and backs. We ask them to do exercises every day to help them maintain their strength. 

Approximately 60% of our missionaries are Brazilians or Latinos. 40% are Americans with a few Canadians. We speak Portuguese in all meetings, and ask missionaries to speak Portuguese always in public. We encourage all non-English speaking missionaries to learn English, so in their apartments, they may try to speak English occasionally with Brazilians or Latinos.

The mission home is in the northern part of the mission in a neighborhood known as Jardim da Saúde. The mission office is in Jabaquara, about a 10 minute drive away. Both of these are very nice areas. 

There are 11 stakes in our mission and no districts. There are about 4 branches that are part of the stakes. We are kept very busy with invitations to speak in the wards and stakes. Beginning in September we will be speaking at Stake Conferences most week-ends.

São Paulo is huge and very different from anywhere we have been. The traffic is truly frighting as well as almost paralyzing at times. Phil has adjusted quickly. Laurie, on the other hand has decided driving in São Paulo may not be in her future. It is very stressful and almost exhausting. One of the most stressful aspects is the number of motorcycles (motos) that travel at incredible rates of speed between the car lanes and weaving in and out of traffic. It makes it very dangerous to even attempt to change lanes. There is simply no space for them, and they avoid hitting the cars and trucks by inches as they weave and bob on both sides and even in front and back of you. To add to the stress, they are constantly beeping their horns so you are aware of their presence. Crazy! Unfortunately, we have already seen several terrible accidents.

The World Cup

We arrived right in the middle of the world cup. No sporting event in the U.S. is really comparable. To Brazil, soccer (futebol) is more than a sport. It is an expression of national pride, it is culturally and sociologically essential to their identity. Virtually everyone watches every match even if they don't necessarily love futebol. We began interviewing missionaries at the time of the World Cup, traveling to distant chapels for the interviews. We often would finish just after the start of a game with Brazil. It was eerie to drive on the streets during a match. The streets were almost empty. Trips that took an hour normally, took 15 minutes during the games. 

Here are a couple of videos of the end of the game against Chile where Brazil was victorious, taken from the balcony of our mission home. The first video, taken during the day, is to give you some perspective of where we live; the next two show the celebration after the game. 

The First Month

On July 1, a couple of days after our arrival, we received 8 new missionaries--all of them VISA waiters who had been serving in various missions in the U.S.  After a short interview with each new missionary Phil decided with whom these new missionaries should be assigned. It is a very important decision that has great impact on them not just during their time as missionaries, but throughout their lives, and the responsibility to do so by revelation is critical.

The new missionaries (all American VISA waiters) with their newly assigned companions in front of the Bosque Chapel on July 1, 2014

We were scheduled to begin interviews with all of the missionaries beginning July 2, but we were instructed by Elder Ballard at the Seminar for New Mission Presidents that the first thing we should do is meet with the mission leaders. So we pushed back our interview schedule a day to fit in our first Leadership Council. We did that on July 2. It was held at our mission home, which is on the 10th floor of a high rise apartment building. We are fortunate that we can fit 40 people in our living area. (We have lunch downstairs on the patio. Lunch is catered by a member sister and her husband. We prepare breakfasts for leadership and for newly arriving missionaries, and Laurie makes dinner for all departing missionaries here in the mission home. Feeding missionaries is a very big task--the amount of food they eat is astonishing. And the importance of food to them is equally amazing.)

Our first Leadership Council--which consists of all Zone Leaders, Sister Training Leaders, the Assistants, President and Sister Broadbent and, in this photo, our office staff. We are in front of our Apartment Building

The Sister Training Leaders with Sister Broadbent. These are amazing missionaries!

The day after Leadership Council we started what was scheduled to be 9 days of interviews, but extended to 10 days. This was the first real opportunity we had to visit with all of the missionaries and really start to get to know them. It was a wonderful, but exhausting.  We decided to do an hour of training with the entire zone before we started the interviews. We generally left the house at 7 AM and returned late every evening. But what a blessing to feel the spirit of love, dedication and goodness of each of these young missionaries. It is really easy to love them.

We traveled to different chapels throughout our mission to conduct the interviews near each of the 12 different zones. One of the chapels we visited was in Santo Andre. Phil was so surprised when he realized that it was the very same chapel that he attended as a missionary. He has photos with the people he taught and baptized in Santo André standing in front of this chapel! Here is a photo of Elder Broadbent with the missionaries in his zone in front of the Santo André chapel shortly after he arrived in Brazil in 1968.

And below is a photo of President and Sister Broadbent in front of the same chapel in the same spot some 44 years later.
The window and paint color are a little different, but everything else is the same.

Our first big transfer occurred on July 22. It was learning expereince to realize how much work it took to do a transfer. It is a big process, and inspiration from our Heavenly Father is obviously essential. There are exit interviews for those leaving, a dinner in the mission home for them the evening before the actual transfer; calling all of the new leaders; selecting and training the new trainers; receiving the new missionaries (which includes breakfast, welcome talks, individual interviews); training new missionaries; etc. 
All of the missionaries involved in our first transfer. It was a large one.

4 missionaries went home on our first transfer: (L. to R.) Sister Rojas to Paraguy; Sister Laura to Bolivia; Sister Marino to Rochester, New York; and Elder Sena (my assistant) to Campinas, Brazil

One day I was in the office meeting with the assistants, and our mission secretary came into my office and said there is a man here that says he knew you 44 years ago. When I went out to greet him he introduced himself as Marco Antonio de Carmargo. It took me a few minutes, but I soon recognized him. I taught and baptized him in Araquara (a city in the interior of the state of São Paulo) when he was 18 years old. I remember him as a skinny, shy young man, but full of faith. He is now a lawyer and lives in Campinas. He and his wife have always been faithful members of the Church. His son served a mission. He shared the gospel with many relatives and many were baptized, including his grandparents. He and his wife are temple workers in the Campinas Temple. It is impossible to describe the joy I felt as I have him a forte abraço! See D&C 18:13-16.
Marco Antonio de Camargo

The Sao Paulo Temple is only about 10 miles from our mission office, but depending on traffic it takes anywhere from 40 minutes to up to 2 hours to get there. The area offices are adjacent to the temple. 
Our missionaries go to the São Paulo Temple every 3 months.  


  1. I love this!!! Thank you for sharing all of your experiences with us! :)

  2. I found your blog today. Thank you so much for your service to our missionaries serving there. God bless you!
    Kelly Tagg in Maryland (Elder Nathan Tagg is my son)

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  4. My name is Clessius Destro and Marisilda Destro is my aunt. My grandparents (Julio and Antonia Destro) are also in the picture. Thanks to Elder Broadbent all my family is member of the church. Six Destro's served mission. Thank you!