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For week ended August 01, 1999 Posted 7 Aug 1999

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LDS Church growth in Brazil and Latin America (In Latin America, A Newer Faith)

Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Church growth in Brazil and Latin America (In Latin America, A Newer Faith)
Chicago Tribune 27Jul99 C3
By Laurie Goering: Tribune Foreign Correspondent

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL -- The LDS Church is enjoying significant success in the urban areas of Latin America, including Brazil, the source of this Tribune story. 60 years after the Church first entered Brazil, growth is coming primarily in urban areas, the same areas that have fueled the growth of Pentecostal churches and transformed the religious structure of Latin America.

LDS Church membership in Latin America is now over 2.2 million, nearly half the size of membership in the U.S. Almost 300,000 of those live in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which has the largest number of LDS Church members in a single city outside of Utah, due mostly to the city and suburb population of 18 million.

Brazilian sociologist Ludmila Capela, who wrote a master's thesis on the LDS Church in 1994, says that the growth is due to a fascination in Latin America with all things American. "There's a lot of curiosity about American culture," she says. "That's why people come to the church. Of course on the other hand, you also have those who don't like Americans, and that can be a handicap in conversions."

But helping along this fascination is a corps of volunteer missionaries, 4,500 strong in Brazil alone. Each month more than 300 new missionaries arrive at the new (since last October) mission training center in Sao Paulo's Casa Verde neighborhood, some arriving from the U.S., but increasing numbers arriving from all over Brazil. In the Sao Paulo MTC, missionaries spend 19 days practicing conversation and conversion skills, depending on their fluency in Portuguese.

LDS convert Washington Nogueira, who converted with his brother four years ago and is now serving a mission admitted that it will be tough to convince some Brazilians to join the Church. "I've got a lot of friends who say, `What's that?' " he said. "But people are looking for happiness and I think this religion gives it."

Logically, the Church is very different culturally from Brazil, with many of its teachings running counter to normal Brazilian behavior. In addition, LDS theology, based on revelations received in the U.S., may seem distant to some Brazilians. And even the name, with its reference to Saints, can confuse Brazilians, who connect Saints with the Catholic church. MTC president James Palmer admits, "We're not well-known."

And even the way that missionary work is conducted is in conflict with Brazilian culture. Missionaries rise at 6:30 am, long before most Brazilians, and end their work by 9:30 and go to sleep at 10:30 pm, again before most Brazilians.

But what does seem to work, in spite of the clash of cultures between the U.S. and Brazilian members, is the Church's emphasis on families, an area of shared values between the LDS Church's teachings and the Brazilian culture. But the Church exploits this commonality differently, contacting prospective members one-on-one instead of in mass meetings like the Pentecostal Churches, leading some religious scholars to claim that this difference will limit LDS Church growth. Oddly enough, the Church gets respect because it isn't asking for as much tithing as some Pentecostal churches. "We're not interested in their money," Palmer says. "We just want to talk to them."

And in Brazil, unlike other ares of Latin America, some of which have become dangerous because of the attitude of citizens towards the U.S., the Church has found acceptance. Elder Mark Hansen of Bountiful, Utah says, "Religion is an ongoing topic of interest here. They want to share their feelings and know yours. In the United States, people slam the door in your face. Here they're very courteous, even if they reject you."

Still, its hard to argue with the LDS Church's success in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. And this success is changing the Church also, "You can't say this is just an American church anymore," says Antonio Macedo, a church spokesman in Sao Paulo. "It's everywhere."

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information