SAO PAULO, Brazil Anyone who meets Mara Elizabeth de Abreu Lima is soon enchanted by her sweet eyes and an open smile she is always smiling when she talks about family history.
She literally gives her life for the dead.
She has dedicated herself to family history for the last 30 years, even before the construction and dedication of the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple in 1978. At that time, she worked extracting names for what was to become the first house of the Lord in Latin America. She has been family history consultant for the Casa Verde Ward, Sao Paulo Brazil Perdizes Stake, for nearly 10 years.
Since then, 90 percent of all of the families in this ward, including new converts, have taken advantage of family history and genealogical resources. Each month, the Casa Verde Ward makes the journey to the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple, taking the names of their deceased ancestors with them, where they will receive their ordinances. Between 1996 and 2003, the stake submitted 124,100 names to receive vicarious ordinances, and a large portion of those were from the Casa Verde Ward.
Her work consists of more than giving classes or helping with name extraction. Sister Lima, when she accepted the calling, began to adapt the Church manual, "From You to Your Ancestors."
"It was a tool that had become outdated, for it was created before the time of computers," said Sister Lima.
She recognizes that following the Spirit is the key to every success within the Church. This principle is exemplified by the experiences of those who are taking advantage of her classes.
She herself had a great experience when she and her husband, Estanislau Lima, who is the high priests group leader in the ward, visited the elderly and widowed sisters. "One time, while visiting a very old sister, Dolores Aguilhao, who had stopped attending Church due to health problems, I was inspired to ask her for pertinent information about her deceased relatives, so that I might take their names to the temple. I obtained several names and dates, and eventually submitted them for the vicarious ordinances to be done. Imagine my surprise when just days later I learned that this sister had died. If I had not followed the whisperings of the Spirit, those dead may not have had another chance, since that sister was the only member of her family in the Church and her children had not accepted the gospel."
Sister Lima insists that much of the credit must go to her husband, who is also the coordinator of family history and temple work, their seven children, and the leaders of the Casa Verde Ward, especially Bishop Aureliano Cardoso. However, her complete dedication makes her stand out: "I accepted the responsibility to create a way for ward members to be helped and trained and to identify their ancestors, at least four generations. I talked with all of the families in the ward, seeking to stir up in their hearts a testimony of this marvelous work. I showed them that the first step is to awaken a love for those who have already passed to the other side of the veil."
The family history class that Sister Lima teaches lasts three months and can accommodate eight students. She teaches it year-round. During the course, the students learn everything from how to read documents and contact family members for information, to how to fill out family group sheets and use the stake family history center. Sister Lima introduces PAF software and trains class members to use it. For those who do not have computers or who cannot see well enough to use them, she does the work in her own home. And she teaches each participant to make a record, whether written or photographic, of what they know about their ancestors. For her family, she compiled folders for herself, her husband and each of her children and grandchildren.
In this way, Sister Lima not only prepares information so that the dead can receive their ordinances, but also prepares the living to make covenants in the temple. Her husband teaches the temple preparation class. "The greatest secret to the success of this work is to always be conversing with people, reminding them that their ancestors are waiting and that only they have the key to save them," Brother Lima said.
To support and spread this work even more, Sister Lima has teamed up with others, including Maria Jose Antunes and Aurora Cordeiro, to present a play, "This Could Happen to You!" The script was provided by Alvaro Santin, director of Family History in Brazil, and portrays the spirit world.
The play has been presented since 2000, as an element of a three-part program. The program begins with a talk by a high priests group leader, who speaks about the responsibilities, the blessings and the miracles that come with family history work. The second part introduces the four generation program and includes presentation of the play. Participants in the play bear their testimonies for the third part.
Notable experiences have resulted from the presentation of this program, which has been shown in several Church units in Brasilia and Sao Paulo. One such experience was shared by Sister Lima herself: "I talked about this presentation with my friend Vera, who worked with me in the temple, and she showed some interest in helping with the play and wanted to bring her husband to see it, hoping that it would touch his heart and help him become converted to the gospel. He had been acquainted with the Church for 35 years and, despite her example and testimony, had refused baptism. On the day of the presentation, they both came. A strong spirit was there. I could see tears in the eyes of those attending. The power of the play, when presented under the guidance of the Spirit, is great, touches hearts and has the power to convert."
About two months later, Vera's husband was baptized, having been touched by the Spirit. Some time later, Vera died and this man, who also had serious health problems, was able to attend the temple and receive his ordinances, including being sealed to his wife.
In telling such experiences, Sister Lima's eyes glow, she becomes emotional, and the Spirit manifests itself. It is very difficult to be near her and not begin to feel a surging desire to participate in family history work. "I feel that I have such love for vicarious work that passes to the people around me," Sister Lima said.
It is common for her children to respond when someone asks about their mother, sometimes late at night, "Mother? She's there at the computer, taking care of her dead and those of the ward." Fulfilling her mission in mortality.
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