I really enjoyed reading Mom's letter this morning. I will add a few things. The ride to Aracatuba was gorgeous. Farmland as green as green gets. I was wondering how São Paulo gets its food supply as the supermercados are full always. After our ride, now I know. The size of the fields is breath-taking and they go farther than the eye can see. We even saw the Embraer airplane factory. If you have ever taken a connecting flight to somewhere on a two prop jet engine plane, you have flown on Embraer. They are the third largest producer of airplanes in the world behind only Boeing and Airbus. We saw huge sugar factories and thought about Evan. They produce sugar and alcool (gas for vehicles).
Arriving in Aracatuba, we checked into the Ibis Hotel, same one we were at in Curitiba. I sleep good on their beds and they have hot water and AC. They also have excellent food. We then headed to the chapel, an area where as a missionary I could have found with my eyes closed. Yes, we got lost. So I rolled down the window and asked directions. We finally made it. We parked inside the gates to the church. It sits on the exact property that the old rented chapel sat on when I served there. Right across the street where we lived in a tiny hut sits a 20 story fancy apartment building. The corner is now just an empty lot which got me choked up. There, years ago sat a home in which I baptized all five children in the family. The oldest, Selma Martins wrote to me after I returned home. I wonder where they all are. At that meeting moment I just wished I could hug each of them. Elder Gallup and I had a funny experience where we lived. There was a mexerica tree right by our hut and when the fruit was ready, we began eating it over the course of a couple of weeks. We thought how convenient it was to have breakfast right outside our door. Then one day our landlady, Dona Alice (pronounced Aleecy), came to our door all excited and cross. She said, "Elders, make sure you lock your doors at night as their are thieves in the area. They have stolen all my mexericas right off the tree." Oops! We were naive, thinking it was just a tree especially for us. We didn't dare say anything, but after all these years I wish we would have. I got to see her in 1993, but she has since passed away.
As we went into the chapel, there were the elders and many other people helping the cadeirantes get into their new wheelchairs, 109 of them. We found the organizer and MC of the event in the chapel, Marcio Saito whose father Horacio had been the branch president when I served there. I was present at Marcio's baptism on his eighth birthday. He and I had visited together five days before in SP. He invited us and the Guimaraes to be there. We sat back toward the cultural hall. Marcio began the meeting. He said a lot of kind things to the dignitaries in attendance and for their help in making the event possible. The Church is well known and highly thought of in Aracatuba. The first speaker was the vice mayor who really lambasted the federal government for doing nothing for the crippled and maimed people of Brazil. He then went on to say that if not for the LDS Church, these type of events would never happen. The Church has done numerous projects there including wheelchairs, painting, cleaning, fixing, donating and many others. I can tell you that your fast offerings mean everything to both members and non members here in Brazil and around the world. Several others spoke and really praised the Church and Marcio Saito. Marcio is a doer and has accomplished much in Aracatuba. His sister is Elder Costa's secretary and I had a great visit with her and told her how much her father meant to me. I see her in our offices quite often. Their brother Marcelo is the stake president in Perdizes here in SP. He is paralyzed from the neck down and is in a wheelchair. He still serves valiantly. Elder Zaugg was at a stake conference and he said after the meeting practically every member of the stake came by to hug him. The Saitos came from Japan after world war 1 because Brazil had opened it's doors to foreigners. They have done much good as a hard working and faithful family.
Marcio the surprised us by introducing the two Welfare Program couples who had come from São Paulo. Then he said, "........And interestingly, Elder Sonderegger served here in Aracatuba 44 years ago just like all these young men you see here today." I got really teary-eyed. I never wanted to get transferred from Aracatuba. I loved the people and it is where I baptized sister Cavinati. I was a junior companion, but I worked with a young Brazilian companion anywhere from age 5 to age 17 many days as my companion was often in SP for meetings. Aracatuba is where I learned to be a missionary and that I could do the work with the help of the Lord. The day I transferred by bus to work in Campinas, all the branch members of Aracatuba gathered at the bus station and began singing hymns to me. I will always remember that. Before the meeting, a sister about my mom's age came up and talked to me and said she remembered me. After the meeting, a fellow came up to me and said that I had been to his home when he was a young boy and taught some discussions. His father however finally kicked us out. This young man eventually became a military policeman and then finally joined the Espiritualist Church. A member of the Presbyterian Church eventually convinced him that the Espiritualist Church was a Satanic Church. He became so distraught as he then thought, "There is no God and there is no truth." He decided to commit suicide. He was 30 years old. But he then began thinking about the Mormon Church and took the lessons again. He decided, "My father can no longer stop me from being baptized", and so he did. He has been a bishop and currently serves in the Stake Presidency. He just wanted to thank me. Can you imagine how I felt? There are no words to describe my feelings. We never fully know the extension of our efforts until many years later.
After the meetings all of the missionaries wanted their picture taken with the "old" Aracatuba missionary. If you look at the photo Paula took, there are only four Americans including me. I never imagined a day when there would be more non-Americans serving here. Several of the elders in the picture are from Paraguay, Argentina and Peru. We then went to Marcio's and had a churrasco. We started eating at and my system is still not used to that. But it sure was good. I got to visit with Marcio's mother who is still alive. She is a sweet lady and has so much faith. In 1993, we had our picture taken with the Saito's cute little girl. She was darling. Sister Saito, Marcio's wife talked a lot about their two wonderful sons and their accomplishments. One is living in Salt Lake and the other preparing to go on a missionary. The one in SLC wants to go to BYUI. I kind of wondered how their daughter was doing and then all of a sudden, the conversation switched to her and that at age 15 she had committed suicide by jumping off a ten story building. I was shocked. They said she had always been so quiet and withdrawn, but that they as parents had not recognized anything. A woman who saw her jump said she never said anything or cried out, she just jumped. It was a heart-wrenching story to say the least. They have created faith that all is now well with their daughter.
The Guimaraes are awesome. We love them. We took them back home which was a miracle. You just can't believe SP traffic. Everyone hates it. The Guimaraes live in what is basically a small cement home. It is not much to see on the outside, but they have fixed it up nicely on the inside, They had nice sofas, kitchen appliances and a Flat screen tv and even some Florence Hansen sculptures (we are related). They are so faithful and have accomplished much. Sister Saito was looking at Irmai Jose G. And said, "You look familiar."They finally figured out that Elder Guimaraes was the BP and sister Saito served in his branch. It was really neat to hear their story. Well, I better quit for now. We sure enjoy hearing feedback on our emails as we know you read them. We just enjoy hearing anything from home and those we love and miss so much.
Love you all,