MANAUS, Brazil — The faith and commitment of Latter-day Saints living here can be likened to the Amazon River, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Both flow deep and strong.
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dedicated the Manaus Brazil Temple on Sunday.
The temple is the church's 138th worldwide and sixth in Brazil — where there are more than 1 million members.
Church leaders determined to construct the temple after years of sacrifice by Latter-day Saints in the Amazon River Basin to reach a temple.
For almost 20 years, Latter-day Saints from Manaus, a city isolated by major rivers and rain forests, have been traveling by caravan to attend the temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil — a 15-day round trip journey by boat and bus — and then Caracas, Venezuela — an eight-day journey by bus.
During the cornerstone ceremony for the new temple Sunday morning, President Uchtdorf praised the legacy left in Manaus today by pioneering Latter-day Saints of a generation ago.
"Who would have thought (30 years ago) that right here on the Rio Negro River there would be this beautiful edifice of a temple," he said.
"Now let us go forward and finish the work," he added
After applying mortar to the cornerstone himself, he called on others in attendance to do the same. Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, President Uchtdorf's wife, was followed by Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Mary; Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the church's Temple Department and his wife, Vicki; members of the church's Brazil Area Presidency and members of the temple presidency.
President Uchtdorf then called children — "the future of the church" — to come forward.
Torrential rain — or, as President Uchtdorf dubbed it, "liquid sunshine" — began to fall as the cornerstone ceremony ended.
Rain is common in this region, known for its life-giving water and lush forests. Both were celebrated by more than 1,200 Latter-day Saints in a cultural program Saturday.
Making reference to the river that defines this area, President Uchtdorf told the Latter-day Saints that they are strong.
"The Amazon River, in very many ways, represents your faith," he said.
Noting that he had seen some of the area along the Amazon River a day earlier, President Uchtdorf said the fish, animals and plants of the region are "impressive and beautiful."
And, he continued, just as the rainforests are essential to the world, "your example of dedication to the gospel of Jesus Christ will be a blessing to the world."
He closed by promising Latter-day Saints in Manaus that future generations will look back and "thank you for your dedication and faithfulness to make a temple possible."
Edith and Marcelo Gall, directors of the cultural celebration, said they hoped the production communicated the richness of the Amazon and beautiful animals, forests, and plants.
The musical celebration also highlighted French, English and American West cultures that have come together in Manaus.
The celebration ended with a tribute to the missionaries, who have helped the church grow in northern Brazil, and to the pioneer members in Manaus.
"We wanted to show the growth of the church in Manaus and the challenges of the members of the church to go to the temple," Edith Gall said.
Dozens who served as LDS missionaries in Manaus returned to Brazil for the cultural celebration and temple dedication. In addition, they attended a mission reunion and organized a local service project.
Ben Martinsen of St. George, has been following the progress of the temple from the United States since ground was broken in 2008. He served as a missionary in Brazil from 1999 to 2001. He said he can't believe the growth the church has experienced in the city in the 11 years since he returned home.
Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Seventy served as the president of the Manaus mission when it opened in 1990. At that time there was just one LDS stake in the city. Two years later, in 1992, the first group of Latter-day Saints made the long journey to the Sao Paulo Brazil Temple — selling much of what they owned to pay for the trip.
Without a temple in their city, members today would still sacrifice to attend the temple, he said.
"I have a trust that the Manaus temple will be very busy, every single day, because these people love the temple," Elder Costa said. "They teach their children to love the temple. The temple is very precious to them."