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Zoom empowered Latter-day Saint apostles to continue their ministry while the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited travel. Face masks eventually allowed limited in-person meetings and temple worship to resume.
But neither video conferencing nor masks are better than unrestrained, person-to-person interaction with a full view of every facial expression, Elder Ulisses Soares and Sister Rosana Soares said during an interview in Rio de Janeiro.
I asked them about masks because just a few days earlier, the First Presidency had announced that Latter-day Saint temples could eliminate mask requirements when local health conditions permitted. Several temples did so immediately.
“The temple is a place of reverence. You can’t be very demonstrative in a temple, but your countenance, your smile, your look can really make a difference,” Elder Soares said. “It’s a connection that is established in the Lord’s way inside of the House of the Lord.”
Elder and Sister Soares were living a dream last week, returning to Rio where each had served as young missionaries 42 years earlier and seeing old friends.
“The mask hides much of our feelings, because with a smile you can say a lot,” Sister Soares said. “We as human beings, we express so much with our smiles, with our lips, the way you move them when you you are talking.”
In Rio, the couple continued to take precautions, wearing masks when meeting with large groups of people but also taking them off in smaller settings.
“We are a team who love to be with people,” Sister Soares said.
“It’s beautiful to be with them to look at their eyes and faces, and they can see our love for them through our eyes and faces and the way we look at them. It is a connection or exchange of heartfelt feelings.”
Elder Soares called video conferencing technology a blessing from the Lord that has allowed apostles and missionaries to continue to deliver the message of Jesus Christ. It is transforming missionary work.
“But there is nothing like being face to face with people,” he said, specifically referring to the uncovered faces on church members who sat in Rio chapels while he conducted member meetings, a missionary meeting and training sessions. Citing 72 % vaccination levels, local authorities lifted indoor mask mandates on March 10 in the city — just before Elder Soares’ visit.
He was grateful to look in members’ faces, where he said he could see the spirit of the Lord testifying to their hearts.
“At that point in time you can see that they are pondering and making decision about how their life will be different, what they will implement as a result of that conference and meeting,” he said. “I think there is nothing like being in person and I rejoice at this opportunity.”
Elder Soares also shared a fun example. At one of his meetings in Rio, a woman came up to him to spark a memory.
“This good sister brought me this little special food that she used to give to us when we were missionaries here,” he said. “I ate in her home so many times and she reminded me how happy we were eating that thing, and then she was moved by that feeling to bring a little plate of the same food she’d prepared for us.
“She said to me, ‘Elder Soares, I know you love this, and I prepared it for you to remind you of the great time you were here as a missionary and visited us and and helped us and blessed us.’”
“It was a sweet, sweet experience,” he said. “That cannot happen over Zoom, definitely cannot happen over Zoom. So, it’s an amazing experience to be face to face with people and rejoice in this special moment, especially during this week when we are here to participate in the VIP open house of the (Rio de Janeiro Brazil Temple) and see so many people that are working so hard to make it happen.”
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