Alf Gunn’s Brasulista
Newsletter of the early Brazilian missions, #138
October 12, 2011
In this issue:
Wilford Cardon’s tribute to his first companion and recollections of São Paulo in 1960.
Olá, irmãos! Did you notice that Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado celebrated its 80th anniversary this month? I love what the city and the Catholic Church did when they erected that beautiful statue of the Resurrected Christ. Last December I stood at the foot of Cristo Redentor with a large group of returned missionaries and their spouses and sang a hymn of the restoration, in Portuguese. See this site for some history of Corcovado:
Click on “start slideshow”
Dear Elders and Sisters,
Every once in a while I receive something that is so enjoyable and touching that I can’t wait to share it. Here is one of those, shared with me by Brother Wilford A. Cardon (BM 60-62). This is a letter that President Cardon sent in 2006 to the family of his first companion, Elder Norman Dale Rex, who had died of cancer many years before. Brother Cardon and Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter had traveled to Randolph, UT, to attend Elder Rex’s funeral, and later the family asked him to share memories of their father. “The whole letter describes a great missionary for whom I am eternally grateful and to whom I am eternally indebted,” Brother Cardon explained to me. In paying tribute to Elder Rex, Brother Cardon shares experiences as a young missionary in São Paulo, complete with the foibles, the faith and the facts that a younger generation of missionaries should know to understand that earlier era of memorized discussions and before language training. My special thanks to Brother Cardon for letting us share his letter in its entirety.
October 28, 2006
Dear Family of Norman Dale Rex,
To recall a few of the many outstanding missionary experiences I had with Elder Rex has been a delight for me. Thank you for this opportunity.
Elder Rex was my first missionary companion following my arrival in Brazil in January of 1960. At that time he had been serving as a missionary in Brazil for almost two years. We served in the Vila Mariana area of the city of São Paulo. Elder Rex was the Zone Leader. He finished his mission in that area having served 11 months in the same zone as a Zone Leader…a mission record. He was loved and respected and revered by all of the members and many of the non-members in that area of the city of São Paulo.
No missionary ever had a finer trainer than Elder Rex. I served with him for the first four months of my mission. As you probably know, the first months of anyone’s mission help to set the tone and work pace for the rest of his mission. Elder Rex provided me a base that blessed my mission and has continued to bless my life. We started work early every day and quit work late every night. He was the hardest working missionary with whom I served. Often we would arise shortly after 4:00 a.m. to catch a 5:00 a.m. bus to Santos, arriving at 7:00 a.m. to study with the missionaries and then leave the apartment to proselyte. We would work all day and catch an 11:00 p.m. bus and arrive home at 1:00 a.m. only to get up again the next morning at 4:00 or 5:00 to travel to work with another set of missionaries. From time to time we were able to take a nap in the afternoon, but I remember distinctly always feeling like I needed to just drop and sleep because of the hectic pace that Elder Rex set in his missionary work. I asked him once why he worked as hard as he did. He said that it was his desire to do all that he could to serve the Lord while he was on his mission.
There were many comical instances that occurred in our mission together. One involved our mode of transportation, which was by bonde. The bondes were electric streetcars that ran throughout the city of São Paulo. In Portuguese they were called bondes because they were financed by bonds issued in England. The Brazilians turned the word bond into bonde. Some bondes were open streetcars. Their sides were open, with running boards to facilitate climbing into the seats. As they would leave the city center of São Paulo and pass out through the Vila Mariana area they were always filled with passengers hanging on both sides. Arriving at the bonde stop, there would be absolutely no room on the car itself. Elder Rex said, “Now, Elder Cardon, when the next car stops, you put your foot up on the running board high on the leg of two of the passengers and then shove it down between their legs. Because your foot with your leather shoe will be on their shins, they will part their leg and you can plant your shoe on the running board between their feet. Then you hop up on that leg and grab the bar that’s on the side of the bonde so you will be standing on the running board with one foot and holding the bar with one hand.” Because I was taller than most Brazilians I could grab the bar above their hands. Since Elder Rex was taller than I, he would put his foot between my leg and the leg of the man next to me, plant his foot on the running board, and grab the bar above my hand. Then, with all of his strength, he would push. While I pushed with Elder Rex I would be squashed against the person in front of me. Because we were pushing so hard, on the opposite side of the bonde the passengers would start to topple off as we pushed the whole herd of folks through the bonde. In this way we “caught” our bonde to our tracting area. After we learned that technique we were able to get on every bonde even though it was full.
One day I was so fatigued I could barely keep my eyes open. We taught a lesson that afternoon. It was a hot afternoon. We had never seen the family before. We were tracting in their area and a kind family invited us in, so we taught. It was so hard to stay awake because I couldn’t understand the language, it was hot and I slept just a few hours each night. Studying my language book in the afternoon while Elder Rex was taking a nap had made me so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open. In fact, I didn’t keep my eyes open. While I sat in a soft easy chair listening to the lesson Elder Rex was teaching I fell asleep. I woke up about 8:00 p.m. in a strange home, sitting in a very comfortable chair, with a Brazilian family eating supper near by, and there was no Elder Rex. The Brazilian family, whom I had never before met, was kind. I could speak just a few words of Portuguese, so I asked them where Elder Rex was. They said, “Well, your companion saw you asleep and knew that you were tired. He said to leave you here and let you sleep, and when you woke up to send you home.” Elder Rex had departed, picked up a member of the church, and gone on to teach another discussion and left me to sleep because he knew how tired I was. I always felt that was a kind thing to do.
Elder Rex’s system for teaching the Gospel was to explain thoroughly all the lessons and then continue to teach the Gospel until the family was integrated into the church and on their way to full activity and fellowship. Those he taught continued to receive his love and attention long after they were baptized. They became part of his sacred stewardship to help them return to their Heavenly Father. When I later returned to Brazil as a mission president, several of the families whom Elder Rex and I had taught in Vila Mariana came up to me and expressed to me their great love and affection for Elder Rex and their eternal appreciation for the love that he had given them. The Leon family we baptized always expressed their deep affection for Elder Rex. He was a savior in their lives. The Milton Camargo family was another that we found and baptized together. Milton and Zélia Camargo were Spiritualists when we found them. They believed in reincarnation and Zelia was a medium who contacted “departed spirits.” They were a loving, affectionate couple who wanted to hear the truth. We taught them over many weeks and months the beautiful truths of the Gospel which they understood and adopted into their lives. They were a caring, giving couple. Milton was a relatively wealthy man who, at that time, owned one of the few vehicles in São Paulo. He would take us wherever we wished to go in his Jeepster. On weekends Milton and Zélia would load the Jeepster with excess clothing and food and go out into the poor areas of São Paulo to distribute their bounty to the needy. They finally joined the Church because of the love and faith of Elder Rex. They have since served a full-time mission and been faithful Latter-day Saints. I recently heard from them. They expressed their deep appreciation for the missionary who changed their lives and the lives of all their descendents, Elder Rex. They love him with a love that will never fade.
Elder Rex spoke Portuguese with a cowboy accent. It was fun to hear him teach the Gospel in Portuguese with his cowboy accent. When I first arrived, I was studying Portuguese from a grammar book. I was studying the third lesson in the book. It was a hot afternoon in the basement of the Vila Mariana Chapel where we lived as missionaries. We had a room with two single beds and a shower across the hall. In the afternoon upon returning to our room, Elder Rex would lie down to take a nap and I would study my grammar book. I asked him if he could help me with my grammar. He said, “Elder Cardon, what lesson are you on?” I said, “Lesson 3.” And he said, “Well, that’s three more than I know. I never studied that book. I just learned how to speak Portuguese by talking to the Brazilians.” And that was really the way he spoke Portuguese. It was the Portuguese that he had learned by speaking with the Brazilians.
To satiate our hunger we bought large stalks of bananas. There seemed to me to be hundreds of bananas on each stalk. Elder Rex would secure a piece of wire to a hook in the ceiling of our bedroom. Then we would both lift a stalk – it was too heavy for one to lift – and tie it to the wire in the middle of the room. For the whole week we would eat like monkeys, pulling bananas off the stalk. Every day our breakfast consisted of bread and milk and bananas. After crossing the street to a bakery, Elder Rex would buy a quart of milk and a loaf of fresh bread. We would break the bread into a bowl, pour milk over it, pull some bananas from the stalk, and that was breakfast. Elder Rex’s favorite evening snack was ice cream. Most evenings he would stop by the bar (a bar in Brazil serves liquor but also is the food store, ice cream store, and general store for the neighborhood) and buy a brick liter of ice cream. When we arrived home, out came his ceremonial knife, as he called it, cutting with a flourish the brick of ice cream without removing the cardboard wrapping. He would take his half, remove the wrapping and place it on a plate. Then he poured over the ice cream a generous covering of honey that completely covered it. Every night we had honey and ice cream. To this day I still love honey and ice cream. Elder Rex taught me to love a big brick of ice cream covered with honey. The honey almost turns to caramel. It is delicious. I don’t know why it didn’t kill us, but we loved it.
Elder Rex also never owned an umbrella. In São Paulo it rains almost every day and his theory was, “The junior companion is to carry the umbrella and I’ll get under it with him.” So I always carried an umbrella. Every day it would rain and every day we would both try to get under that umbrella. Because he was taller than I, in order to cover his head I had to hold the umbrella as high as my arm could stretch. That meant that down below, where I was, there was no protection from the rain. I often said, “Elder Rex, I’ll buy you an umbrella.” He said, “No, I don’t need one as long as we’ve got yours.” That was a great learning experience for me, teaching me how to share. Elder Rex knew that I needed to learn that early in my mission. Elder Rex did know how to share. Everything he had he shared with those around him. I don’t think I have ever met a more unselfish person.
He also had a unique physical characteristic. His hair had a wave that partially covered his forehead. I asked him about that wave and he said, “That’s my girl catcher.” Lovingly, he combed that wave every day. He was meticulous about his “girl catcher.” He said he was planning to use his “girl catcher” after his mission. During his mission he was totally dedicated to teaching the Gospel and blessing the lives of those with whom he worked. Elder Rex was one of the top baptizing missionaries in the mission. Every month that we were together we were one of the highest baptizing companionships in the mission.
While we were together we were instructed that it was no longer necessary to teach our investigators for six months before they were baptized. We could baptize them in a much shorter time – maybe a few weeks. No one in the mission had ever baptized in less than six to eight weeks. One Friday evening, Elder Rex and I taught for the first time the Riveira family. Since I was a new missionary, he always made me teach everything that I had memorized. I had finished memorizing word for word the First Discussion. Although I couldn’t understand what the other people were saying in response, I had memorized the discussion so that I could speak, although not very well, the words I needed to speak to give the discussion. As always, Elder Rex had me teach everything I had memorized. Brother and Sister Riveira, along with their two children, were gathered together on the couch. Elder Rex and I were sitting on some straight-backed chairs in front of the couch facing them. Elder Rex said, “Okay, now Elder Cardon will give the lesson.” So I started giving what was then called a 3-in-1, which consisted of the Godhead, Apostasy and Restoration and included a baptism challenge that was never given. I gave my memorized part which always ended in a question; and then I listened. When they stopped speaking I asked the next question. I could not understand their answer because I couldn’t understand Portuguese; however, I had memorized enough to ask the questions. Elder Rex felt my inability to understand what the investigators were saying was an advantage because if I could not understand their answers I would not be easily sidetracked. At the end of the lesson I came to the baptismal commitment. I had memorized the commitment so I invited the Riveira family to be baptized. In the memorized discussion the commitment date was left blank. I didn’t know how to say anything except tomorrow – amanha. Consequently, in extending the baptismal commitment I said, “Will you be baptized tomorrow?” Brother Riveira said yes, he and his family would like to be baptized tomorrow. Elder Rex had been a bit sleepy during the discussion; however, hearing “yes” galvanized him to full awareness. His body jerked to life. With that, his chair fell backwards. He and his chair toppled over just as Brother Riveira committed to be baptized the next day. Elder Rex quickly picked himself up off the floor, straightened up his chair, sat down, and said, “Okay, Elder Cardon, I’ll take it from here.” For the next hour he tried to convince Brother Riveira of all the reasons why he couldn’t be baptized. He told him he would have to quit smoking and Brother Riveira said, “Okay, here are my cigarettes.” He said he would have to go to church and Brother Riveira said, “I’ve already been to church,” adding that his in-laws were already members and he had been to church with them several times. He told him he would have to pay tithing. Brother Riveira stood up, pulled out his wallet and said, “Do I pay my tithing to you? I’m happy to pay it right now.” I listened as Elder Rex tried every way that he could to convince them that they could not be baptized the next day. He finally lost the argument. The Riveira family was committed to be baptized the next day in the font at the mission home.
I’ll never forget the shocked voice of the mission secretary, Elder Dutson, when Elder Rex called and said, “We’re bringing a family tomorrow to be baptized. Could you give them their baptismal interview?” Elder Dutson said, “How long have you been teaching them?” Elder Rex replied, “We met them and taught them last night.” Elder Dutson exclaimed, “You can’t baptize anybody that you just met and taught last night.” Elder Rex said, “Well, this is a new era and we’re going to ‘cause they’re ready.” Elder Dutson didn’t know what to do. He called President Bangerter who was traveling in the interior of the state of São Paulo. President Bangerter responded, “If they’re worthy, go ahead and baptize them.” We took the Riveira family in to the mission office, Elder Dutson gave the interview, following which he said he had never found a family more worthy and prepared to be baptized. So we performed that ordinance for them that Saturday afternoon after having met and taught them for the first time the Friday night before. (As an aside, Ivani Riveira, who was then one of the young children of the family, about 14 years old, has since been the wife of a mission president; and her husband has served as a regional representative and is now an Area Seventy. She and all of her family have been true and faithful throughout their lives to the covenant they made that day.)
Well, it is time for me to shut this down. There are many other stories that I would like to share with you about Elder Rex. No missionary ever had a finer companion than Elder Rex. I loved him with a deep and abiding love. He changed my life and set for me a solid foundation on which to build for the rest of my life. Later, as a mission president, I spent hour after hour teaching our missionaries the principles I learned from Elder Rex. All of our 500 missionaries were taught the “Elder Rex stories” that helped to mold in them the eternal principles of hard work, love, faith in Jesus Christ and dedicated service to guide their missions. Elder Rex’s influence has reached far beyond his grasp. Many call him blessed for the beautiful influence for good that he has had in their lives. With a grateful heart I call him blessed for the beautiful influence for good that he’s had in my life. He is a great and noble soul.
With great fondness, Wilford Allen Cardon
Alf’s note: Wilford Cardon with his wife Phyllis served as President of the Brazil São Paulo South Mission (78-81) and President of the São Paulo Missionary Training Center (06-08). His landmark educational initiatives, in partnership with Duke Cowley (BM 59-61), are mentioned in a cover story in a 2004 BYU Magazine: http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=1508. He also served a Perpetual Education Fund mission beginning in 2004, and notes that Brazil has seen the most success of any country in the world with the PEF. Brother Cardon has lived nine years of his life in Brazil and his love of the saints of Brazil and the Church are evident in all he does. He is a great missionary for the Lord. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gig Harbor, WA