News Release

Elder Gong Spreads Hope in Flood-Devastated Porto Alegre, Brazil

The Apostle also visits Operation Smile, a government leader and a communication executive

On Thursday, June 13, 2024, Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles met with officials of Porto Alegre, Brazil. In this city, several meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been used as shelters from devastating floods earlier this year.

The Apostle met with some of those who have been displaced and who have volunteered to help the community.

“It’s been very tender to be in this area, which has been so devastated by floods,” Elder Gong said. “We’ve been greeted by senior government officials who have been very appreciative for the wonderful cooperation as neighbors and friends and community members, as brothers and sisters with our Church members and our Church leaders. It’s just tender and sacred to be reminded that in the hardest of times we’re never alone. In the hardest of times, the Lord is with us, and He helps us and He blesses us — and we do it together. It’s part of covenant belonging.”

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Earlier in the week, the Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met with officials from Operation Smile, one of the faith’s humanitarian cooperation organizations. Operation Smile is a global charity that performs free surgeries for children with cleft lip and cleft palate.

Cristina Marachco, executive Director of Operation Smile in Brazil, expressed gratitude for Church funds that help them do their work.

“We know that it comes from the donations of all the people around the world,” she said. “This is very important and helps us achieve everything that we want to offer to the cleft patients around the country.”

This year alone, Operation Smile has performed more than 800 surgeries in Brazil.

“It’s wonderful that there’s a way to bring hope and smiles to those who have a particular need for hope and smiles, and that we do this in different places that have particular need, and that we’ve been doing it together for a period of time and will continue,” Elder Gong said.

He presented Marachco and her colleagues a plaque of appreciation for the work they do.

“This really touched my heart to receive this recognition from the Church as an organization,” she said. “It shows us that we are in a good way, in a good, direction, that we are working well together.”

Elder Gong also met the man who oversees the rights of the disabled in São Paulo, Marcos da Costa.

“One of the specific things we discussed was one of the core competencies the Church has — working with mobility devices, wheelchairs and other things,” Elder Gong said. “We’re going to explore ways to specifically see if there aren’t peoples and projects that can be worked on together because this is his area of expertise that might help bring freedom to somebody who can have a mobility device, maybe for the first time.”

In 2023, the Church of Jesus Christ distributed nearly 26,000 wheelchairs around the world. Da Costa said São Paulo has 3.3 million people with disabilities — including 1 million with motor disabilities. He expressed gratitude for the “values that inspire the Church and that also inspire our work, which is to bring dignity to all people, helping these people to have a full life, to have citizenship, to be respected.”

Elder Gong gifted Da Costa a Book of Mormon. He opened to the account of Jesus appearing to the people and healing them.

“We said, ‘When the Savior came, He took the people who were blind and He gave them back their sight, and the people who are deaf He gave them back their hearing. And people who were handicapped, He helped them to be able to walk again.’ And we said, ‘Dr. De Costa, this is what you’re doing. And this is the work that, because God loves us and we love Him, we are able to, in some small way, in His, our Savior’s image, do together.’”

“There is a lot of synergy of work that we can and will do together,” Da Costa said. “I left the meeting very happy, certain that we can build a lot in favor of all people, especially people with disabilities.”

At Church offices in São Paulo, Elder Gong welcomed João Carlos Saad, the owner of one of the country’s largest communication groups. In 2007, Saad produced a documentary about the Church that was seen by as many as 50 million people.

“He said, ‘I want to help make sure that your message gets out because we’re concerned about the same things about society being open and fair,’” Elder Gong said. “We’re delighted to have that wonderful conversation with him.”

“I am one of the fans, admirers of the Church and the work you do here in Brazil, in the United States and in the rest of the world,” said Saad, who brought his daughter with him to meet the Apostle.

Elder Gong gave them a small family statue and discussed the Church’s teachings about eternal families.

“It was wonderful to talk heart to heart and knee to knee about families to give him a small statue of the family,” Elder Gong said. “To speak of those things in spiritual terms was a tremendous privilege and blessing.”

Sister Gong, who accompanied her husband on these visits, said she is grateful to see so many people in the world doing good.

“It makes me happy that we’re friends with so many of them,” she said. “I’m grateful that we were able to share who we are more broadly with them here, and to have them understand that this is not just a Salt Lake operation. This is a global church, and it’s strong and vibrant here in Brazil.”

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