Fernanda Bollers was a high school student in Brazil when she began dating a member of the Church. After discussing the gospel and attending church with her boyfriend, she was baptized in 2010 and moved to the United States to attend college.
Tell us where you were born and a little bit about your country.
I was born in Sao Carlos, in the state of Sao Paulo, in Brazil. It’s not a huge city but not too small either, about the size of Knoxville, Tennessee, where I live now. We have a couple of public universities there, which are big in Brazil – that’s mostly why we’re on the map.
I grew up there and a couple of months after I turned 18, I moved to the United States. All of my childhood was in Brazil, and all of my adulthood so far has been in the US. I have memories of growing up around family. My parents, my aunts, and uncles all live in the same town so whenever we go back home to Brazil, we see a ton of family. I’m the only one in the US.
What made you interested in the Church when you were living in Brazil?
I was 16 and in my second year of high school – in Brazil, high school is only three years. I started dating a guy who was a member of the Church, but I didn’t know that. After a few months, he started talking to me about the Church and I was intrigued.
I grew up going to church – we were Catholic. My parents would drive us to church or we could walk. We lived ten or fifteen blocks from the church, so we could walk there on Sunday mornings for children’s Mass. Nothing was different between the children’s Mass and regular Mass except they gave us candy on the way out, so there was an incentive to go to church.
So I was Christian and I had a belief, but when I was about 15, I stopped going to the Catholic church. At age 14 or 15, you have Confirmation in the Catholic church – you go to a class and it’s a more in-depth study of the Bible. As I studied, I had questions but when I asked things that seemed too hard, I felt like I never got an answer. With that, I didn’t want to go anymore. And as we got older, we had other things we could do on the weekends, so my parents didn’t make us go to church anymore. So a year or two before I found out about the Church of Jesus Christ, I had stopped going to church.
As I had conversations with my boyfriend, the gospel sounded interesting to me. People said a lot of bad things about the Mormon Church, but from what he was telling me, it didn’t seem like a bad church. So we started talking more about the Church whenever we were on dates, basically at my house or his house. We would just sit in the afternoon or evening and talk about the Church. He was basically teaching me a little bit at a time and I asked a lot of questions. He invited me to go to church, and I wasn’t quite ready to go yet. I didn’t say yes or no, just, “We’ll see.” I ended up going to church one Sunday and it felt good, it felt right to be there. I kept going.
In the beginning, my dad played soccer at a club nearby on Sundays. I still wasn’t an adult, so some weekends, I didn’t go to church. My parents said, “No, you’re going with us.” My mom worked in a factory and they had recreational space with pools and soccer fields and places to barbecue. We went there every other weekend when my dad had games, and we had our family time there. Once I started going to church, my parents sometimes wanted me to go with them to the club, but mostly, they were okay with me going to church. I think they knew it wasn’t anything bad.
I attended church for a few months. I went every Sunday with few exceptions, and my boyfriend said, “There are missionaries who could teach you more.” So he introduced me to the missionaries and I started taking the lessons at his house. I don’t remember if my parents didn’t want the missionaries to come over, or if I was too shy to invite them to my house. I went through all the lessons and at the end, they asked if I wanted to get baptized. I said, “I don’t think so, I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.”
I already knew the Church was true. I’d gone to church quite a few times and the lessons just helped confirm to me that it was right. I was mainly afraid of telling my parents I wanted to get baptized. Up to that point, it was just about going to church. It wasn’t about me changing my faith or changing my belief and religion. So things had been relatively easy. But the idea of baptism felt like I would be betraying my family – leaving our beliefs and traditions behind to pursue something else. I was very scared, mostly because I’m non-confrontational.
I kept meeting with the missionaries but not as often. I kept going to church and doing everything a member would, but I wasn’t baptized yet. A couple of Sisters came into the ward and they said, “Let’s set a tentative date. Let’s put a date on the calendar and if it doesn’t work, that’s fine, then it doesn’t work.” I said, “Okay, we can do that,” but I didn’t have the intention of talking to my parents. A couple of weeks before that date, I gathered courage and went up to my parents and said, “I’m getting baptized in two weeks, do you want to come?”
I was 17 and didn’t know I needed authorization. If you’re under 18, your parents have to authorize you being baptized, but I didn’t know that. I told my parents and they were okay with it. Not a shock because they knew I’d been going to church for months. They came with me to my baptism on July 24, 2010.
It was during my last year of high school and so many things were happening. High school is only part-time, in the morning, so you usually have the afternoons free. I was doing high school in the morning and attending a technical school in the afternoon. It was the year I decided to get more involved with sports. Life was busy already, and then I started going to church every Sunday so that added one more thing. When I committed to be baptized, it was an extra step to be involved and focused on the Church. But it was a good year.
What kept you going to church after you were baptized, especially when you were the only one in your family who was a member?
In the beginning, it was the people. I knew the gospel was true but it was really hard. I felt like I had betrayed my family and it was hard for me to go and learn all these amazing things, like about eternal families, but not have my family there with me. But like I said, I’m not confrontational. It was hard enough for me to tell my parents I was getting baptized, so I never really knew how to say, “Hey do you want to take the lessons too?” I’m still working on that.
But there were so many amazing people in that ward who gave me help and support. My boyfriend’s family went to that ward, so I already knew all of them. People who weren’t part of his family were all very welcoming. The Bishop and the Young Women presidency were awesome. They helped me feel more at home, like I wasn’t a stranger there. I had friends and my ward family, even though my actual family wasn’t there.
It was less than a year after joining the Church before I came to the States. Most of that time, I was in Young Women, so I was learning the basics of the gospel at that point. I’m still learning the basics of the gospel. But the people there gave me such a big foundation to know that was the true Church of God. All the questions I had were answered, or I had a way to get the answers. The people were always trying to make sure I had the help I needed to continue progressing in the gospel. The people, honestly, is what kept me going.
What brought you to the United States?
I found out that some people from my ward were in Utah studying, and I could probably get some help coming here. So I decided to come to learn English, hopefully attend college here, and then go back home. I didn’t plan all of that at once. It was just a nice idea.
I was in my last year of high school. To get into the good colleges in Brazil, you take placement tests and each university has their own placement test. It’s not like the US where there’s just one major test for college admission. I was registering for all those tests to get placement in the university, but I prayed one day and it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like that should be my focus, even though that’s what you focus on in your last year of high school. The idea of coming to the States kept coming to my mind. It sounded exciting for my 17-year-old self – go to the United States, learn English, go to college, and see where life goes from there.
It would take about a year for me to study English and get good enough grades to pass the TOEFL test (Test Of English as a Foreign Language), which is a language proficiency test to get into a university. Then four years of college. I didn’t feel like I needed to think much past that – I would probably go back to Brazil. So I talked to my parents. My mom was not too excited about it but all my family went above and beyond everything they could do for me – they got the money together. It was hard for them emotionally, but they backed me and I went to Utah in April 2011. I went to BYU and the ELC (English Language Center at BYU Provo). It’s one building by the stadium where they do English classes – you’re basically back in high school but just for English. The classes were from 8 to 4 Monday through Thursday, Fridays were tests. So I was in full-time school to study English. I did that for a semester and I took the test, but I didn’t pass it. It’s not a pass/fail but each school requires a certain score on that test to prove that you’re proficient enough in English to attend the school. LDSBC (LDS Business College, now Ensign College) at the time required a certain number, and BYU required a number above that. But I didn’t meet the requirement for either one. That really made me upset.
But I had so much help from the Church. My bishop in the singles ward was amazing. He is another person who helped me increase my faith a lot. I knew very little English and I don’t know how he understood a thing that I said. But I could always feel the Spirit close to him. One of the first times I met him, he asked me to recite the Young Women theme. I didn’t know it in English so he said, “That’s fine, do it in Portuguese.” But he didn’t speak a word of Portuguese. I think he spoke a little bit of Spanish. So I was sitting in front of him and talking, reciting the whole Young Women theme in Portuguese and the Spirit was there. He was awesome, he knew how to help me increase my faith even though there was a language barrier. That was amazing.
What happened for you to be able to stay in the US?
Once I didn’t get a good enough score to attend either college – I had paid for only one semester at BYU – I didn’t realize how much harder it would be. I was planning to get a job while I was going through school. I thought BYU is big enough to have a job I could get, but I never got into BYU. So my parents were financing me for everything – they were paying my rent and food. School had already been paid for. I just felt bad – I promised them that I was going to get a job, but when I didn’t, it didn’t feel right to keep using their money. I felt like I failed them, and I didn’t want to make them pay for another semester of the ELC, which was the same price as the tuition for the university, plus living expenses. During the summer, living expenses were a lot cheaper because a lot of kids leave and are not in Provo. But for the fall and winter semester, it would go up a lot, more than double. That was just not something I wanted to make my parents go through. When I bought my plane tickets, I had a date to go back to Brazil. I was hoping that I would get into college and not go back. I ended up going back to Brazil in August 2011. So I was in Provo for four months. I went back to Brazil for five rough months.
While I was in Provo, I met Evan, who is now my husband. I was still kinda dating my high school boyfriend but he was on his mission. I met Evan and he took an interest in teaching me English. We read the Book of Mormon together – I read in English and he read in Portuguese, verse by verse. That took a long time. I would read one verse – he corrected my pronunciation on words, and when he read, I knew what I was reading. He helped me a lot with learning English. He said he was interested in learning Portuguese – his brother had served a mission in Brazil, so he said he always wanted to learn the language. That was his incentive to help me with English, so I could teach him Portuguese.
We became really good friends and by the time I was going back to Brazil, I realized that I liked him a lot. So I broke up with my high school boyfriend. Evan and I were kind of dating, but not, because I was going back to Brazil. We basically Skyped through the next five months. I was studying English as much as I could. We talked on Skype all the time so I could practice my conversation and listening skills. We still read the scriptures together. He was helping me a lot with learning English so I could take the test again. At the end of that year, I took the test again in Brazil and I got a good enough score to get into LDSBC. So I applied for the winter semester and went back to Utah on December 30, 2011. Since then I’ve been here in the States, attending college, and a couple of years later, we got married and life just kept going.
How has your faith in our Heavenly Parents developed and been strengthened over the years?
I’m still learning so much about the gospel and our Heavenly Parents. From the first time I heard about the gospel, things just clicked and felt right. The more I study and the more I learn about the gospel, the more faith I have in our Heavenly Parents. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Them. Coming here to the States was very hard. My teenage brain did not realize what it would entail to leave my family and travel to a different country. Through the leaders we had in Brazil and the people in my ward in Utah, Heavenly Father gave me a ton of help. I knew that Heavenly Father was using everybody that I met in my wards to help me get through my challenges.
I didn’t have a lot of money when I first came here. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I felt like my goals were slipping off, not as reachable as I thought they would be. I didn’t have a cell phone, I didn’t have a computer, I didn’t have an easy way to communicate with my parents. I finally got a computer and phone but they were the most basic stuff. I could talk to my family every now and then, mostly through email, until Skype became a thing. I didn’t have the family support that I grew up with because of the distance. I didn’t realize I would miss that so much, not just my parents but also my extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins, sister, brother, everybody. That’s when I felt that my faith helped me. I knew my family loved me, and they did all they could to help me be here. So I just kept going and Heavenly Father carried me through it, and He put amazing people in my life to help me – Evan was the main person who was always there for me as a friend first, and then courtship later.
My faith just kept increasing because I knew that without Christ and without our Heavenly Parents, I would not have gotten through that semester. I was a country girl that had never left her state before leaving the whole country. I had never seen an escalator until we got to the airport. I had never been in an airplane, and then I got in three different airplanes to get to Utah. There were just a lot of little things that I knew Heavenly Father had His hand in to get me to where I was.
The time back in Brazil was also very hard because I felt like I failed. I’d spent so much of my parents’ money to come here and then I didn’t do what I came to accomplish. I had lots of up and down in those months back in Brazil. Evan helped me remember my goal and helped me study. There were lots of prayers and lots of crying nights and not knowing what would happen, and everything came together for me to pass the test while not even being in the States. It was a lot harder to learn English while in Brazil because when you’re immersed in a language, it’s so much easier to learn it.
Somehow, miraculously, I got a good score and passed the test, and everything fell into place for me to come back and go to college. I know if it weren’t for Heavenly Father giving me the strength I needed to get through all of that, I wouldn’t have come back. Lots of times, I thought about giving up. I could just restart in Brazil even though I lost a year, because I would have to still take all the placement tests to try to get into college in Brazil the following year. I tried to give up lots of times but Heavenly Father and Evan wouldn’t let me.
When I finally went back to Utah, I knew I was supposed to be there, taking religion classes at LDSBC – they helped me learn so much more about the gospel and to increase my faith so much more than I ever thought I would. I look back and realize that was just the beginning for me. It’s been over ten years since I was baptized and all that was just my first year of being a member. It was a big part of my conversion. I feel like conversion is a process and you’re continually improving on that. Even today, I find myself being converted over and over again. The beginning of my conversion and studying and learning, going more in depth than just the basics of the gospel – taking those religion courses was very important to me, to be more immersed in the school that not only would teach me academics but would also teach me the gospel. Heavenly Father knew that’s where I needed to be.
At A Glance
Name: Fernanda Bollers
Location: Knoxville, TN
Marital History: Married
Children: Olivia (4), Marco (2)
Occupation: Stay-at-home Mom
Convert to the Church: Yes (7/24/2010)
Schools Attended: LDS Business College: BS in Healthcare Administration
Languages Spoken At Home: English and Portuguese
Favorite Hymn: Count Your Blessings
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Interview Produced By: Sasha Beorchia