Friday, March 13, 2009

The Stuff of Legend: Brazilian Folk Hero Moroni Bing Torgan Called as LDS Mission President

This week the mission president assignments were announced in the LDS Church News. One of the men called was Moroni Bing Torgan. It didn't come as a surprise to me that he was called since I have expected him to be a general authority one of these days and the calling is a natural progression. Few Americans have heard of him but in Brazil he is considered a real live icon like fictional character Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood). He is one of the most revered and respected men in all of Brazil. He is a legend as a crimefighter with numerous articles, books and movies made about him. He has lived a life in which he has been successful at everything from sports to politics to his LDS church life.

Not only is he known for his crimefighting but also for his public service. In Brazil the man has been one of the most influential lawmakers serving for many years in the Brazil Chamber of Deputies, which is equivalent to our House of Representatives . Even in June 2008 when President Thomas S. Monson and Russell M. Nelson called on the current Vice President of Brazil Jose Alencar they brought Moroni Torgan with them to pave the way.

On 22 November 2007 , the Brazilian Federal Senate held a special plenary session to recognize the humanitarian work of the Church, and to honor missionaries of the past 80 years. After the ceremony where the Church was honored for their Helping Hands projects one of the legislators spoke of his love for the former deputy.

Senator Alvaro Dias and Senator Romeu Tuma were emotional several times as they remarked about the Church's emphasis on family, and training in the home, and the importance of having God's support during the difficult moments of life.

Also present was former Deputy Moroni Torgan (an elected position similar to a U.S. representative), who is LDS. Senator Tuma mentioned that Deputy Torgan was his friend and companion in the legislative body for 15 years. He openly thanked him for his faith, spiritual demeanor and love for family.

Representing the Church at the event was Elder Ronaldo da Costa, Area Seventy, who was invited to sit with the senators.

"It was very emotional," said Elder da Costa. "I shed tears many times. It was incredible to me (for the Church) to receive this recognition from the senators. We were honored to be here."

In August 2001 Russell M. Nelson also met with then vice president of Brazil Marco Antonio de Oliveira Maciel and a few high ranking government. He also invited Torgan along for the meeting since he was the only LDS member in the legislature.

The Mormon Times reported about Brother Torgan's involvement:

Elder Nelson was accompanied by Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Seventy, recently released president of the Brazil North Area; Elder Athos M. Amorim of the Seventy, president of the Brazil South Area; Elder Cesar M. Milder, Area Authority Seventy; Fernando Assis, Brazil director of public affairs, and by Moroni Bing Torgan, the lone LDS Church member in Brazil's congress. Torgan is widely known in Brazil for his efforts to rout out corruption as part of a 19-member anti-drug investigation commission known by its initials in Portuguese, CPI. Sometimes called the "untouchables" after the U.S. FBI agents who fought the Chicago mob under Elliot Ness in the 1930s, the CPI has changed the perception of illicit drug distribution in Brazil.

The LDS leaders met with Vice President Maciel instead of Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso becuase Cardoso was out of the country on a state visit. Elder Nelson presented the officials with copies of the Proclamation on the Family and stressed the Church's role in supporting the family and obeying the law. When the group met with Minister of Health Jose Serra, Torgan presented him with the video tape "Helping Through Love" and Elder Nelson praised Brazil's anti-smoking program.

Deputy Torgan also escorted Elder Nelson before the Chamber of Deputies, where he became the first LDS Church authority to be recognized by the chamber.

In 1987 he was appointed secretary of public security for this state, in which he served until he was elected to Brazil's congress in 1991. In 1991 he was elected to his deputy position and served for fourteen years until 2007. He took off for three years from 1995-1998 to be the vice govenor of his state. He served three different terms as a deputy or representative.

In 1986 he was made stake president of the Brazil Forteleza Stake and still held that position in 1991 when he was elected. The LDS Church News said at the time of his appointment:

Moroni Bing Torgan, 34, president of the Fortaleza BrazilStake, has been elected a National Congressman to serve in the House of Representatives of Brazil.

He is the first Church member elected to such a high position in the Brazilian government. Before the election, he served as the Secretary of Public Safety in the northern Brazilian state of Ceara, which has a population of about 5.2 million.Descended from Italian, Austrian, Romanian and Scandinavian ancestors, he is a son of Joao and Wilma Bing Torgan. His mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were stalwarts of the Church and were members of the first branch organized in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1938. He was baptized in 1964.

As a boy, Moroni Torgan attended Protestant and Catholic schools where he placed high academically. He was on the national championship volleyball team. He graduated in 1982 from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.

Before he began his career in law, he served in the Brazil Sao Paulo North Mission. He was a bishop, high councilor and stake president's counselor before he was called in November 1985, at age 29, as president of the Fortaleza Brazil Stake.

While serving as a federal police officer in Ceara, Pres. Torgan received the title of "Outstanding Policeman." He had a major role in arresting more than 3,000 lawbreakers. Partly as a result of his work, the state crime index dropped 50 percent. An even greater work was done when, as an officer assigned to vice crimes, he arrested more than 500 drug traffickers.

Having achieved an almost folk-hero status as a crime fighter, he often has been the subject of newspaper, magazine and television features. One reporter, noting Pres. Torgan's Church membership and faithfulness, wrote: "In the hours when he is not fighting crime, he is likely to be home reading the scriptures."

Pres. Torgan was elected "Best State Security Agent" by the state media, National Council on Public Safety and Minister of Justice. He received a certificate of honor from the Brazilian army and was also decorated by the Air Force with the Santos Dumont Medal, the highest civil award.

Pres. Torgan's success in law enforcement led to his appointment in 1987 as Secretary of Public Security in the state of Ceara. At 31, he was the youngest man appointed to that post. He was also the highest-ranking LDS government official in Brazil.

As a member of Brazil's House of Representatives, he has some specific goals he hopes to accomplish:

- Be an example of dignity.

- Be inspired to improve the Brazilian legislation, providing a more stable life for the people.

- Improve the mechanism for fighting drugs and violence.

- Moralize actions of the House of Representatives to better protect the institution of the family.

"Without funds to support a large campaign, I received a large amount of help and support from people unknown to me, who are good citizens, enabling me to win the election," he said. "It makes me feel good to know I can be an instrument in the Lord's hands."

Pres. Torgan's mission president, Saul Messias, said: "Moroni Torgan . . . worked in the capital and some interior cities of Sao Paulo. Many people were converted and baptized through his faithful lessons. He was a good friend and hard worker while a full-time missionary.

"To be elected to the House of Representatives means to accept a holy commission and a serious challenge for his courage and faith.

"I saw Moroni Torgan in a white shirt in the mission field. He, certainly, will continue being the same missionary in the House of Representatives. He has been elected to serve, to make a difference, in a world where many skillful and powerful opponents are empty of moral and spiritual values.

"The correct and true principles which Moroni Torgan learned in his home, Church, mission and job as a police officer will help him be a loyal member of the Brazilian parliament."

When he was appointed vice governor in 1995 John L. Hart of the Church News characterized his crime-fighting skills:

Moroni B. Torgan, who started working by selling oranges in the streets at 6 years of age, has become vice governor of one of Brazil's 26 states.

Brother Torgan, 39, is vice governor of the state of Ceara. He is the highest LDS elected official in the country. In his new post, he continues his war of fighting corruption that had become well-known in his previous occupation of a federal law enforcement official.He and the Ceara governor were recently elected as a team on the first ballot with a plurality of 56 percent, despite the fact that candidates of six political parties were involved in the campaign.

The crime-fighter turned government leader now heads Ceara state departments over justice and security, as well as the state militia, a total of some 20,000 employees. He began his political career in 1989 by being elected to the Brazilian congress. He represented Ceara in the national congress for three years, from 1991-94.

He is among the youngest vice governors and among the best-known. He gained fame and a reputation for courage and honesty during his law enforcement career.

From 1982-1987, Brother Torgan was head of a law enforcement squad that rounded up thousands of criminals, including drug dealers. Local newspapers often carried his photograph and featured his accomplishments. His distinctive cleft chin is well-caricatured throughout the state.

His fame has an element of danger, he acknowledged.

"But I have strong faith in the Lord, and I have a strong testimony in the power of prayer. I have received great peace through prayer."

He has done his best to honor the two prominent Book of Mormon prophet-soldiers after whom he was named. As his name indicates, the former stake president has roots in the gospel. His great-grandmother on his mother's side was baptized in 1935. He was raised in Rio Grande do Sul. At age 6 he took to the streets selling oranges to help the finances of the family. During this time, his father, Joao Torgan, established a pattern for the family to follow of working in the day and studying at night.

"My mother and father always worked. They were a good example to us as we were growing up and working hard," Brother Torgan said.

When the time came for him to serve a mission, he worked in the bus and transportation industry. He was offered a job for about $1,500 a month, a large salary at that time. He turned the job down and accepted a mission call. During his mission, he baptized 130 people and "saw many miracles in the lives of people."

A year and half after returning from his mission, he married Rosa Christina. They are the parents of Mosiah, 9, and Jared, 6.

After his mission, he felt he would be blessed financially because he'd chosen a mission over a lucrative job. "I was dreaming of a $3,000-a-month job," he said. "But the only jobs I could get were for a total of only $150 a month." He worked two jobs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and afterward went to the university to study law.

"For three years I did this, on four hours of sleep a night. Then I was called as second counselor in a stake presidency. I was 24 years old.

"My wife and I had little time for each other, but we did what the Lord wanted us to do and He prepared the way," said Brother Torgan. "That is why we had to work so hard."

The "way" was an upcoming examination in 1983 for attorneys to become federal police supervisors. Some candidates study for two or three years to pass this test, he said.

"I learned of the test just five days before," he said. "I prayed and studied some things." Of 4,000 who took the test, 26 passed. Brother Torgan was among them, and placed third in the nation.

"This was the miracle I had been waiting for," he said. "This job paid more than the job I left for a mission."

He was assigned to Ceara State to head investigations in drug trafficking. "In three years, our 23 agents arrested 500 drug dealers. Never the users, just the dealers," he said. "Many times it was dangerous. At the same time, I served as bishop and stake president."

In 1988, the governor of Ceara appointed Brother Torgan chief of all the police in the state, which had 12,000 officers.

During this time, he traveled to the Sao Paulo Temple to do temple work. While in the temple he received an impression that it was time for him to enter politics. "I wrestled with this idea," he said. "But two days later a high official asked me to run for congress. I almost fell down."

During the campaign, Brother Torgan promised to fight corruption and drugs. After being elected to the Brazilian congress he began to make good on his promises and took part in a successful effort to impeach a legislator who had ties to the Cali (Colombia) drug cartel. He said the anti-corruption fervor in congress reached such a level that the Brazilian president resigned in 1992.

"We began a change throughout Brazil with that impeachment vote," he said. "We made a beginning."

He said during this time, he was living in Brasilia but had no calling in the Church because the bishop and stake president felt he was too occupied with his duties.

"At the end of six months, I asked if I could have a calling," he said. "I was called as high priests group leader. We had 16 members attending when I began my call, and when I was finished, we had 45 attending. All of the stake presidency, and nine high councilors came from this group.

Some people may wonder if he got credit for the work of his cops but he is a very hands on kind of administrator:

He served for a year each as bishop and high councilor, and was counselor to the stake president for three years before being called as stake president in 1985 at age 29.

But if felons hope that religion has made the police director soft, they are mistaken. When a man wanted in the killings of more than 30 people was spotted recently, Torgan personally headed a giant manhunt of 80 officers that tracked down and captured the suspected killer.

Torgan received his appointment after he helped significantly reduce drug traffic while he was a federal officer. He estimated that half of all the drugs brought into the state are apprehended by the police.

Yet, he admits, the challenges facing police today continue to increase.

"I am sad that I am not better," he said. "But my philosophy of life is that I want to be better tomorrow than I am today, and that I am better today than I was yesterday."

Even though he has accomplished a significant amount in his life he is still only 52 years old. I feel that his missionaries will relate to him as he is very personal and a spiritual man. He is well grounded in the gospel having served himself as a missionary and in church position. I feel he will open many doors to his missionaries as he serves because of his political connections. I would enjoy serving under a man who has such a colorful career and seems to succeed at everything he does. Missionaries will be impressed with him.

I am looking forward to great things and many people being brought in to the church under his direction. One thing I wonder is whether expectations from members, missionaries and general authorities are felt by a man like him. Some men produce at a high level from intrinsic motivation and others from extrinsic motivation. A guy like Torgan appears to be the whole package so I will be watching his results. He is after all a super hero. He proven his ability in every other walk in life it is highly doubtful he will not succeed as a mission president. I am expecting hundreds if not thousands of future members from him and his missionaries. This world needs heroes and I am rooting for President Torgan to be the best mission president in the best mission in the church.

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