When I needed a neighbour, were you there?

DiscipleshipIntegral missionMission

This is the first of a two-part series on Fernando and Nury, a couple working with children at risk in north-east Brazil. 

Fernando is just good with people – even I can tell that, and we’re talking through a translator! He spends time on the streets and in the favelas of Recife, getting to know children and their families, building relationships and winning trust. He is ‘Search’, his wife, Nury, tells me. 

Nury describes herself as ‘Rescue’. She connects the children and families that Fernando has got to know with the support and facilities that already exist. She works patiently with people, organisations and government structures. She gets the process of transformation underway, hoping and praying for these children to be restored to their families and their communities. 

Their ministry is called ‘Search and Rescue’. It is rooted in the gifts God has given them and the people God has made them to be. ‘My life is not my ministry, but God uses my life in my ministry,’ Nury tells me. 

One of the things I’ve heard a lot during my time in Brazil is that there are resources available – social services, charitable projects, the church. But a lot of the people who need them most are not able to access them. Nury, and others like her, help people come into these systems and deal with them. She and Fernando say they know they can’t solve all the problems, but they want to be people who bring hope to their communities. They want to be able to say ‘yes’ when they hear Jesus’ question, ‘When I needed a neighbour, were you there?’ 

There are huge numbers of children on the streets in Recife and it’s a dangerous city – but sometimes home is even less safe for these kids. Each one is Fernando and Nury’s neighbour. They love them, and they want to show God’s love to them. 

We talk about this a lot at Tearfund when we discuss integral mission and how we as individuals take part in God’s mission to restore and redeem the world. We read the gospels and see Jesus revealing the love of God to the people he met as he served them: healing them, feeding them and challenging them to change the way they lived. This life of love and service, as well as his death and resurrection, is the way that Jesus fulfilled the passage of scripture he read out in the synagogue in Galilee: 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
(Luke 4:16–21) 

We know that he calls us to follow him and do likewise, and so we ask ourselves: ‘How?’ and ‘What do I have that can be used in this mission?’ It is amazing to see Nury and Fernando using the gifts and skills they possess as they follow Jesus’ command to love their neighbours. 

For reflection: What talents and gifts do you have, and how can you use them to show God’s love to your neighbours? 


Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theological Development Manager.