In Spring 2005, a group of former missionaries attended Morris Murdock’s first “Mission Reunion Tour.” The missionaries, most with spouses and many with their children, ventured back to their old proselyting grounds to visit four of the cities that were in what was then the Brazil South Mission.
For most it had been years since last seeing each other, and the gathering of the group was like that of a large family reunion. Missionaries embraced each other with tight hugs and excitedly chatted about mission memories. For most, this was the first return to Brazil since completing their missionary service so many years ago. Needless to say, the group was nervous and excited to get the adventure under way.
A Call to Return—and Not Just for Fun Next Time
The first stop on the tour was to a beautiful, modern city called Curitiba. In Curitiba the group visited the construction site of a future temple to be finished in 2007. Amazement and pure happiness washed over the faces of the travelers. Some of the missionaries served in and around the Curitiba area when there was only a small branch and just a few members. Now they were standing where a future temple would be built.
It was a special moment for the missionaries to stand on this sacred ground. Many hugged each other and patted one another on the back. Some walked alone and quietly cried tears of happiness. Larry Stamps said of the experience, “It’s so great to be here—to stand where the future temple will be. I can’t believe how much the Church has grown in this city.”
As part of the tour, the missionaries were invited to a special fireside with the current mission president of Curitiba, President David Webster. The main topic of the fireside was a discussion of the growth and change in the city since the time of the former missionaries’ service. Much had been accomplished in recent years, but there is still much work to be done. Elder Reed, a senior missionary serving in Curitiba at that time, told the group how grateful he was for the foundation the missionaries laid so many years ago. There were also several requests made by the various speakers for more senior couples to serve as missionaries in the area.
It was pointed out that because many in the group had served in Brazil as younger missionaries, it would be easier for them to come back and serve as senior missionaries. They already had a deep love for the Brazilian people, and were familiar with the land, language, and culture. It was explained that more senior couples were needed to assist the younger missionaries and to serve in areas where there simply aren’t enough missionaries.
A Joyous Reunion
Many of the converts who were baptized by the traveling missionaries attended the fireside. Many of these people are still active and they couldn’t wait to visit with those who had baptized them. As Nilza Aoto scanned the chapel for familiar faces, she expressed her feelings (frankness is said to be a respected Brazilian trait): “It is so fun to see the missionaries. It’s hard to recognize them, though. Now they’re all old and fat.” Bringing pictures of their former selves might have been a good idea.
Dora Blanski had no trouble finding the familiar faces. “Joining the Church is the best thing that could have happened to me. The Church gave me direction and purpose in my life. I don’t know where I would be without it.” Dora was baptized forty-two years ago when she was nine years old by Elders Alf Gunn, the coordinator of this reunion tour, and his companion, Elder Douglas Marker. Alf Gunn has been able to keep in contact with the Blanski family over the years and enjoyed seeing Dora and her children once again. Alf remarked, “Some of the best things I have done in my life were as Elder Gunn.”
Dora now has four children, three sons, and one daughter. She says that her dream in life was to be a good example to her children and to see her sons serve missions. All three of her boys have completed full-time missions and her daughter is currently at school studying to become a veterinarian.
Now Dora’s goal in life is to see all of her children marry in the temple and raise good, strong Latter-day Saint families. Dora still enjoys having the full-time missionaries in their home, but now it’s both to hear their words and to give them a good meal as a faithful member. Dora has kept in contact with the elders who baptized her and could hardly wait for this special opportunity to visit with them during the trip.
A Chance to Reunite and Rebuild
The next stop on the tour was a city called Florianopolis, a beautiful beach town with amazing ocean views. While most of the group enjoyed swimming and riding the waves, some, like Bill Farley and his wife Teresa were more interested in finding people they had taught or baptized.
After some searching Bill found a phone number for Carlos Roberto Franciscori, a convert he hoped to contact. Carlos, his mother, and his three sisters had been baptized thirty-five years ago. “I had hoped and prayed to be able to call this family. Now that I had the phone number, I couldn’t believe how scared and excited I felt to dial it,” Bill said.
Carlos’s wife answered the phone and seemed hesitant to talk to Bill. She didn’t seem to understand who Bill was or why he was calling. The longer they talked, though, the more she seemed to relax. The wife explained that Carlos had never mentioned the Church to her and was not active. She asked Bill to call back after dinner so she could talk with Carlos.
After what seemed like forever, Bill called again hoping to speak with Carlos. Carlos’s wife was very helpful this time. She gave Bill the phone number for Carlos’s sister Nazaré, whom Bill had also baptized. Nazaré was shocked when she received the call. She remembered Bill right away and repeatedly told him how much she loved him and how excited she was to talk to him.
She explained that her father had never joined the Church. Her mother and two sisters had passed away and neither she nor Carlos was active in the Church. Bill told her that could all be changed. She agreed to keep in touch and talk with the missionaries in her ward.
Bill’s wife Teresa summed up their feelings of the tour. “What a wonderful experience and opportunity of service we all shared on this tour. It was humbling to see these return missionaries shine once again.”
Bill has now regained his contact with Nazaré, and was happy to report that she has started to return to Church.
Celebrating Eternal Friendships
Travelers Ron and Linda Talbot were invited to a party held in their honor in the next city of the tour, Porto Alegre. The humbling and exciting event that awaited them there is one that neither will ever forget.
In March of 1961 Ron Talbot, who currently serves as a temple sealer in the Los Angeles temple, and his companion were working in an area of Bage, in the southern state called Rio Grande do Sul. When they arrived at the end of a street, the very edge of the city, they noticed two small farmhouses off a dirt road about a half-mile from where they stood. The companions thought it would be too far to walk for only two houses. They began running for a bus that was coming down the block when both immediately stopped and thought, “We must go and visit the two houses.”
The two arrived at one of the homes and found a man working outside in his garden. The man, Albino Grahl, invited the pair into the home and introduced him to his family: Iracema, his wife, Paulo (age thirteen), Ana (age nine), and Angela (age seven). Three days later Albino and Paulo attended an LDS Church meeting; it happened to be a testimony meeting. After several testimonies were born, Albino stood and said, “I feel something special here and I want to learn more about this Church.” Two months later Albino, Iracema, Paulo, and Ana were baptized.
Knowing that the Talbots would be in Porto Alegre, the Grahl family held a special party for them. There were about thirty Grahl family members in attendance: Albino, five of his daughters, several granddaughters, and many great-grandchildren were in attendance, all faithful members of the Church to this day. Each expressed love and appreciation to Ron for bringing the gospel to their family. “It made me very happy and emotional to know that I had been an instrument in the hands of the Lord in bringing the gospel to this family of four generations,” Ron said. Needless to say, this party was a highlight of the trip for both Ron and Linda.
After the tour ended, the Talbots left the tour group to visit Paulo and his own family where they live in Sao Paulo. Elder Paulo Grahl currently serves as the second counselor in the Brazil South Area Presidency. Elder Grahl also assists in translation for the General Authorities and President Hinckley when they come to visit. Ron said, “I baptized Paulo when he was just thirteen. I knew he was special and that the Lord had led us to his family for a great and wise purpose.”
He added, “The visit to Brazil introduced [my wife] Linda to the Saints there, who she loved immediately. It also showed me that I could re-learn Portuguese. We hope within a short time we can receive a call to serve in the temples of Brazil with our beloved Brazilian brothers and sisters,” said Ron.
Inspired by Beauty and by Memories
The final city on the mission reunion tour was a visit to the awe-inspiring Iguaçu Falls. The majesty of the falls, some of the largest in the world, and the fresh smell of the dense rain forest filled with lush vegetation and unique wildlife were a perfect ending to a perfect trip.
Twenty-three missionaries set out to rediscover the land of their missions, many very curious about what they would find. Each missionary had beautiful experiences with converts and friends from decades ago. Like in the missions they served as young men, this trip was full of highs and lows. Whether it was the joy of reuniting with families who were still active in the Church, or the hope of reactivating friends like Nazaré, emotions flowed during nearly every minute of the memory-filled trip.
At the fireside in Curitiba, President Webster noted, “It is better to be a blessing than to receive a blessing.” Everyone in the group saw the joy of service and the exponential difference the gospel can potentially make when just one soul is touched.