Elder Helvecio Martins, 75, died May 14 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, of heart problems.
"My God, I know you are there some place, but I don't know where. Is it possible you don't see the confusion my family and I are experiencing? It is possible you don't realize we are searching for something and that we don't even know what it is? Why don't you help us? Why don't you help us find that something which will bring relief, satisfaction, joy?"Two weeks later, missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knocked at their door—and the moment the two young elders entered their home, the spiritual gloom and confusion disappeared. In his autobiography, Elder Martins wrote:
After everyone was seated, the missionaries said they were representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ and that they had a blessing for our family if we would like one. I told them yes, but stated that I first had some questions I would like them to answer.Helvecio Martins invited the missionaries back for further discussions, and soon he and his family were baptized into the Church. As Elder Martins wrote, "The Holy Ghost confirmed to us that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the kingdom of God on earth." The entire Martins family—including his wife, Ruda Tourinho de Assis Martins, and their four children—joined the Church together. His first question to the missionaries was, "Are you racist?" After the missionaries taught the Martins family, the entire family was baptized together—including son Marcus, now Religion Department Chairman at BYU-Hawaii. (After the revelation on the priesthood, Marcus postponed marriage to serve a full-time mission.) Click here to read "All Are (Really) Alike Unto God: Personal Reflections on the 1978 Revelation," which Marcus presented at one of the Genesis meetings.
Receiving the Priesthood: An Unexpected Blessing
A deeply humble man who was not able to hold the priesthood after his conversion, Helvecio Martins once told his bishop, "My family and I are dependent upon your priesthood. Remain worthy and faithful, and we will always enjoy the blessings you have for us." He wrote that he and his family "continued to do what we felt was the Lord's will and to appreciate the good example of the many faithful members we knew."
Elder Martins wrote of several experiences that indicated that the Lord had more in mind for him:
Strong spiritual promptings began for us in 1973 when Ruda, Marcus, and I received extraordinary patriarchal blessings—extraordinary because they promised blessings that, at the time, seemed impossible for our family to fulfill. The patriarch informed me that I would be privileged to live on the earth in the joy of an eternal covenant. Ruda received the same assurance. But how? How could we enjoy an eternal covenant when, as Blacks, we could not go through the temple to be sealed?Soon after being baptized, Helvecio Martins was called to be a Gospel Doctrine teacher, and after several years, he was appointed to become one of the two Public Affairs Directors for the Church in Brazil. Then came that eventful day in 1978:
On June 8, 1978, I returned home from a typical day at work to find Ruda extremely excited. Two women were with her, one of them Yara Lucia, the daughter of Ruda's friend Teresinha Bezerra dos Santos.Soon after receiving the priesthood in 1978, Brother and Sister Martins were sealed in the Sao Paulo Temple for time and all eternity with their children. Their son was one of the first three black missionaries for the Church since Elijah Abel—a period of more than a hundred years.
At the time of his calling as a General Authority, Elder Martins was president of the Brazil Fortaleza Mission. He served as a counselor to two stake presidents and as a bishop. He also served as regional public communications director and as branch, district, ward, and stake Sunday School president.
The "kingdom of God on earth is for all of God's children," Elder Martins said. "The requirement of a calling is not skin color, or the size of your bank account, but your personal honor and integrity and your desire to serve."
"Long before I received the priesthood, I could feel His power in the bosom of my family," he added. "I know with absolute certainty that the power I have today is the power of God."
From Rags to Riches: A Story of Professional Success,
Founded on the Truths of the Restored Gospel
His was a story of rags to riches through personal accomplishment in education and industry.
Elder Martins was born in 1930 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a descendant of black slaves brought from Africa to Brasil in the 18th and 19th centuries. He dropped out of school at age twelve to help his family, which was suffering from dire financial circumstances, but continued his education when he could—usually at night—eventually graduating from high school at age twenty-six. He later graduated from Rio de Janeiro State University and took post-graduate courses. He later became an assistant professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.
Through self-determination and hard work, Elder Martins rose from an errand-boy to a top executive of Brazil's major gas and oil company, becoming one of Brazil's elite. He subsequently became financial management controller for Brazil's major oil business, Petrobras, S.A., and a financial director of one of its subsidiaries, Liderbras, S.A. By 1972, when he joined the Church, Helvecio Martins led a department of more than two hundred employees at Petrobras.
According to Elder Neil L. Andersen, "Elder Martins' courage and determination continued to the end of his life. Just this past January, he graduated from law school at the age of 74. Asked to give a commencement address at graduation, Elder Martins stirred the faculty and students with a passionate plea of how the law must protect the interests of the traditional family. His talk ended with him receiving an extended standing ovation from those in attendance. His powerful witness of the Savior and of the Restoration was heard to the very end of his life. Each week as the gospel doctrine teacher in Sunday School, he raised his voice in testimony of those things he knew to be true."