PROVO, Utah — Turning to the geography of his native Brazil, Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles likened the two separate rivers forming the Amazon River as a similitude of blending new converts to the Church with existing ward members.
The Solimoes River, which starts in Peru, and the Negro River from the Amazon Basin, join to form the Amazon River, which carries a fifth of the world’s fresh water. For a number of miles, the two rivers flow together — without the waters immediately combining because of differences in origin, temperature, chemical compositions, acidity, densities and speeds.
“After they flow together for some miles, the water actually blends,” Elder Soares said. “Only after this takes place, the Amazon River becomes so powerful that when it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, it pushes back the seawater, and for more than 100 miles out into the ocean, fresh water can be found.”
Speaking Monday morning, June 25, at the 2018 Mission Leadership Seminar at the Provo Missionary Training Center, Elder Soares said the similarity of the river’s flow to successful convert retention is apparent.
“In a fashion similar to the Amazon River, those our missionaries teach and new converts arrive at church from very different social backgrounds, habits and cultures. They are all moving at different speeds,” he said.
“When they receive help, support and encouragement from missionaries, members and local leaders, new converts and members blend together and become sufficiently strong to resist the attacks of the enemy, who tries to deviate them from their path to return to the presence of God.”
Elder Soares cited “Preach My Gospel” repeatedly in suggesting helps for the 112 new mission presidents and their wives attending the seminar in helping missionaries and local leaders in retention efforts. The seminar was taped and will be made available also for currently serving mission presidents and their companions.
As “Preach My Gospel” states, every convert needs three things:
- A friend at Church — Elder Soares pointed to the strong and faithful members “who will reach out to them, will listen to them, will guide them, and welcome them to church even before baptism.”
- An assignment — “Activity is the genius of this Church,” he said. “It is the process by which we grow. Faith and love for the Lord are like the muscles of our arms. If we use them, they grow stronger. If we put them in a sling, they become weaker.”
- And to be nurtured by the good word — Missionaries can “provide a new convert an opportunity to ‘feast upon the words of Christ’ by reading the Book of Mormon with them before and after baptism.”
As an example, Elder Soares recounted the fellowshipping and conversion experiences of the Diniz family, a family in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which at the time included two boys, ages 8 and 11. The father was a proficient piano player. He was invited to play in the ward talent show, with the bishop later asking him to play hymns for Church meetings, despite the ward having six qualified pianists already.
Members visited the Diniz family in their home, invited them to ward activities and included them in social activities outside of church. Teaching by the missionaries continued, with the family attending church and making friends with ward members.
Eventually the family was baptized, the missionary lessons were retaught and the parents soon went to do baptisms in the temple for their ancestors.
“One year later, my wife and I had the privilege, as their friends and stake president, to accompany them as they received their own endowments and were sealed for time and eternity in the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple,” Elder Soares said.
The boys grew up, one served a mission, both were married in the temple and are raising their own families in the gospel. Their youngest daughter, born after the family’s baptism, just returned from serving her mission.