Olivio Gomes Manuel and his seven brothers and sisters were raised in a small Angolan village. They lived in a two-room mud hut with a dirt floor and thatched roof, with no plumbing or electricity.
Although there were many days that he and his family went hungry because of drought and political turmoil, “God blessed me,” says Olivio, a tall and very lean young man. He was blessed with incredible height and unusual agility, and was able to play basketball for food.
At the age of 11, Olivio was six foot three inches tall, and he’d been playing professional ball for two years. He played in Nigeria, Algeria, Zaire, and even traveled with his team to Czechoslovakia. “I was there for ten days, and they gave us money for food,” said Olivio. “With this money I bought clothes and shoes for my family. At that time, it was difficult to buy clothes in Angola because they were so expensive.”
When Olivio was 17, he played on a team for the Angolan military and also made the national team. That’s when he began to dream of playing ball in Portugal. He’d heard that they actually paid professional ballplayers salaries in Portugal. He would be able to send money home to his family.
It took Olivio a few years to get a visa, but once he was in Portugal, it only took him a few days to find a professional team that wanted him. Now six foot seven inches, he not only had the stature, but he had the moves.
Within the month he found something else: “I was on the metro,” he recalls, “and I saw these two young men—they were only boys, but they were wearing nice suits, and they said they wanted to talk to me. I said, ‘”Okay!’” Olivio had found missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they had found him.
“They started to teach me the discussions,” Olivio remembers. “The Joseph Smith story surprised me, but it felt good. Everything felt good. One week later I attended a conference and was baptized right after the meetings. I understood that baptism is for the remission of sins. Though I had tried to be a good person, I knew I needed to be baptized.”
Little did Olivio know to what his baptism would lead. When he wasn’t playing basketball, he was at Church. “I tried to go to Church all the time. Every time I would go, my mind would open up and I would learn something new. It felt great.”
Then one day about a year later, one of Olivio’s American teammates said, “Hey—you’re Mormon. Don’t Mormons go on missions? Are you going to quit the team and go too?”
That got Olivio thinking. He decided the things he had learned made sense to him and decided that if they come from God, he had an obligation to share them with others.
He knew that leaving basketball would be tough. Olivio had just made the Portuguese national team, and they had offered him a very lucrative contract with lots of money, a car, and a luxurious apartment.
“It was a difficult decision to leave basketball, so I decided to get my patriarchal blessing. It stated that I was going to serve the Lord, so I decided to do it. God prepared me to come here and find the gospel by giving me the talents to play basketball. I don’t have a problem leaving it to serve Him. I think I can help many people.”
Elder Manuel walked away from big pay checks, gigantic contracts, and lucrative endorsements. He walked away from the kind of fame that would make him a star on television. Instead, he walked toward a different kind of star. Feeling he had already gained more success than he had ever hoped for, he was confident his blessings from answering his mission call would be far greater. His secret was simple: “I listen to God, and when I do what He says, He blesses me.”
Excerpted by Marnae Wilson from “The Secret of His Success,” Lisa A. Johnson, Ensign, May 1992