A donation to feed children and an invitation for a temple tour, as Elder Andersen meets with Brazil’s first lady
BRASÍLIA, Brazil — During a stopover of less than 24 hours in Brazil’s capital city, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited a soon-to-be-dedicated house of the Lord and a presidential palace — the glistening Brasília Brazil Temple and the Palácio do Planalto, the official workplace of the president of Brazil.
As part of a nine-day Brazilian ministry in this expansive South American country, Elder Andersen and Sister Kathy Andersen, his wife, received a brief tour through the nearly completed Brasília temple on Monday, March 6. Elder Andersen will dedicate the temple later this year on Sept. 17.
Later that afternoon, Elder and Sister Andersen — along with Elder Joni L. Koch, a General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Brazil Area presidency; his wife, Sister Michele Koch; and Nei Garcia, the area’s director of public affairs — went to the Palácio do Planalto to call on First Lady Rosângela Lula da Silva, wife of recently elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
In the end, the two visits connected, as Elder Andersen invited the first lady — commonly known in her country by the nickname “Janja” — to visit the Brasília temple prior to its dedication, sometime during the late-summer open house period. Thereafter, it will only be accessible to worthy members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
First Lady Lula da Silva told of traveling as a child and teen from her home in Curitiba to visit grandparents in São Paulo, knowing she had reached the right area of the city when she saw the São Paulo Brazil Temple.
“She said, ‘I’ve always seen the outside of the temple in São Paulo, but I never have been inside of it,’” said Elder Andersen, who quickly responded, “‘Well, this is your chance — not just to have a wonderful memory of the outside of a temple but to have a spiritual memory of the inside of a temple and what you’ll feel there.’
“We said either the Kochs or ourselves would certainly come and help her to have a private visit, and she immediately said to her assistant, ‘Let’s be sure to put this on my agenda.’”
Added Elder Koch: “She mentioned several times, ‘I know I’m going to feel emotional in temple.’”
Even with the open house invitation extended, the 30-minute visit was more than just a courtesy call. The Andersens and Kochs brought a leather-bound, inscribed Book of Mormon as well as proposed substantial donation from the Church of to help feed needy children.
Elder Koch said First Lady Lula da Silva mentioned an urgent need among Yanomami children from an indigenous tribe in northern Brazil, with more than 70 young children having died of hunger over the past several months in the state of Roraima.
Sister Koch said Brazil’s first lady was very grateful for the donation, saying that most people come to the federal government seeking assistance rather than offering it.
Sister Andersen underscored the project to help feed the children as two opportunities — one to help heal Brazil from lingering divisiveness following its latest government elections, and, more importantly, to follow the Savior’s example of caring for children.
“She is beautiful, warm and loving, and she was so kind to us in receiving us today,” Sister Andersen said. “We talked about how in the world today — in many countries — there is so much contention and how people have differing viewpoints. But we spoke about how there are also so many things we have in common that we can agree upon and that we can always show love and respect for each other.
“Her initiative with children — feeding hungry children and taking care of children in need — is a beautiful example of the Savior’s teachings.”
Elder Andersen added: “Jesus loves the children, and we please Him when our attention is turned toward them.”
Elder Andersen told the first lady that along with the Bible, Latter-day Saints love the Book of Mormon.
“She asked, ‘So you believe in the Bible and this sacred book?’” recounted the Apostle, explaining that he followed the example of President Russell M. Nelson of opening the book to 3 Nephi and asked First Lady Lula da Silva to read a few verses when Christ visited the people in the Western Hemisphere.
The first lady took the book and started reading the chapter to herself.
In the end, the first lady and Sister Andersen, who had been sitting beside each other, shared a tender embrace and expressions. “I’m feeling very emotional about what you’re saying to me,” the first lady said at one point.
The Kochs, who are native Brazilians, considered it an honor to be with the first lady. “She was so warm, so receptive and so happy to receive the help of the donation,” Sister Koch said.
Elder Koch said Monday afternoon’s call on the first lady “shows the members of the Church that ‘we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates’ (Articles of Faith 1:12) and that we respect the government. It was a gesture that we practice what we preach.”
He noted that the area presidency had paid a similar visit previously to former first lady Michelle Bolsonaro. “It shows that the Church is not partisan, that the Church is neutral, and that we’ll work with others to do good.”
As he walked with the Andersens and Kochs out of the Palácio do Planalto, Garcia said, “This is a historic day for the Church in Brazil — the first time a first lady has met with an Apostle,” he said.
And it proved memorable for the first lady, who told the Andersens and Kochs before they left, “I will always remember this day. This has been a special time for me.”