Editor’s note: Samuel Neves was elected as an associate communication director for the Seventh-day Adventist world church in Silver Spring, Maryland, during the Annual Council business meetings this week. Many Adventists may know him as the creator of the popular Adventist game app “Heroes the Game.” Here is his remarkable story about how he became a pastor.
, youth pastor, Stanborough Park Church in Watford, England
My mother, Regina, lived as a faithful Roman Catholic believer in southern Brazil.
After she married my father, Nerocy, they tried for many years to have a child. Unfortunately, all the medical exams showed it was impossible for her to conceive.
About that time, Regina started taking Bible studies with a Seventh-day Adventist family in the neighborhood, and when she found the biblical story of Hannah, she immediately identified with her.
Regina’s prayer from then on became, “God, if you give me a child, I will join this Adventist movement and dedicate him to your ministry wholeheartedly just as Hannah did.”
At first nothing happened. But her prayers intensified as the weeks went by until the great day when she discovered she was indeed pregnant! Following yet again the example of Hannah, she decided to name the child Samuel, which in Hebrew means “heard of God.”
A few months later I was born.
However, all was not well. Soon after my birth the doctors realized that one of my legs was shorter than the other. This meant I would have to undergo an operation and then wear braces until I was 19.
When my mother heard this, she postponed the surgery for seven days, against the doctor’s counsel, and went to the best place she knew, her new Seventh-day Adventist family.
After a week of fasting and prayer with the church, mother brought me back to be examined once more. She has always told me this was one of the most frightful moments of her life. Once again God came into action. No other explanation could be given as to how and why I’d been completely cured. My legs were a perfect match.
Following this event, both my mother and father gave their lives to Christ through baptism. A few years later, as with Hannah, God gave my parents another child — my sister, Sara.
My upbringing reflected my calling. I knew from the beginning that God had called me to be a minister. This shaped my early years as mother spent her days teaching me the Bible and how God had also called others to serve Him. I knew what I wanted, and I believed nothing would change my destiny to be a minister of the Almighty.
Then I turned 13.
For some reason my father became convinced I should be a diplomat. He had always been a person of high authority in our state, even managing to retire as a police colonel at the age of 40 — which is still unheard of. Yet his dreams had always been of becoming a diplomat. His other problem with pastoral ministry was the low salary.
Somehow father managed to convince me to leave my calling and become a diplomat.
Meanwhile, mother felt impressed to send me abroad. She sensed that it was her turn to send Samuel to Eli, so she started looking for boarding schools in England. She heard of Adventist-run Newbold College and thought that the 1995 General Conference Session in Utrecht, the Netherlands, would be a good way to learn more about it.
So my father, mother, sister and I left South America for what turned out to be the most amazing trip of our lives — four Brazilians, one car, 21 days, and 11 countries.
The excitement grew as we approached the Newbold booth in the exhibition hall at the General Conference Session. But almost unbearable disappointment soon followed. My mother couldn’t hold back the tears as my father haltingly translated the words of the Newbold official. He said I was too young and no other school would take me.
I can remember vividly how my mother’s faith was shaken. For hours all we heard was: “God told me you would study in England. God told me you would study in England. God told me you would study in England.” This actually went on for about two days.
The last three days of our trip rapidly deteriorated from happy to sad to desperate.
The plan had been to visit London and Newbold and then catch an evening ferry to Belgium and fly to Brazil the next morning.
We toured London but decided not to go to Newbold, knowing it had no place for me.
The last day was cloudy, so we considered going straight to the ferry to Belgium. But my father suddenly demanded that he had to go to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard at 11 a.m. The problem, however, was that 5,000 other people had the same idea.
Without any parking space in sight, father told me to get out of the car and film the event so he could at least watch it at home.
I started filming as father circled the palace in the car. When he had gone around twice and I still had not returned to the curb, he dropped off my mother and sister to find me.
That was a mistake.
My father said he would park the car and come back. However, the only parking lot that we knew about was located on the other side of London.
Mother waited with my sister and me until the palace ceremony finished. Then the crowd left. By 2 p.m., we started getting worried. Complicating matters, father was 77 at the time and had not adjusted to driving on the left side of the road. We feared that he had not been able to find the parking lot, let alone find his way back to us.
By 3 p.m., I suggested to my mother that I take the bus to the parking lot. At first she said no. She had already lost a husband and was not about to let her 13-year-old son cross London with the only £5 banknote that she had.
Eventually I convinced her and caught the right bus to the parking lot. But the car was not there.
Miraculously I made my way back to Buckingham Palace. My father had not returned, and both my mother and sister were crying desperately. I assured them everything would work out.
By 5:00 p.m. it was time to do something. We went to a police officer and I managed to scrape together the words: “Brazil, family, lost, father, car, park, go, lost, help, Brazil.” The police officer looked as cold as always, and just called a taxi to take us to the Brazilian Embassy. I was so excited — it was just like the movies!
At the Brazilian Embassy, an official named Marcos listened to our story and then paid for the taxi. After that he ferried us to all the hospitals and police stations in the area. Finally he checked us into a hotel near his house.
With every place that my father could not be found, mother became more and more desperate. By now we had missed the ferry, which was already paid for, and consequently our flight back to Brazil. We had the family’s passports and my father had the cash, so neither of us could go anywhere.
My mother wept all night in prayer, and my sister and I cried ourselves to sleep. We had run out of options. It’s a great thing that God hadn’t.
The next day we tried to choke down breakfast. As we headed back up to our room afterward, the public phone in the downstairs lobby started ringing. Immediately my mother looked at me and said: “Sam, you can pick it up because it’s your father.”
I realized the near impossibility of that happening, but I couldn’t resist the authority with which mother had spoken.
“Hello?” I said into the receiver.
“Ah … please … Brazil family …”
I couldn’t stop the tears as I heard my father scrape together some English words as he tried to find us.
Father’s side of the story was equally remarkable. He had only found the parking lot at 7 p.m. and had hoped that we would be waiting. It turned out that he thought he had told my mother and sister to collect me from my picture-taking and then take the bus to meet him at the parking lot. When he realized that we weren’t there, his police mind had pointed to the only place we had in common: Newbold College.
But how would he get there from South London?
He asked a street drunk to direct him to Bracknell, where the college is located, and embarked on the journey. At 8 the next morning, the impossible once again proved possible through God’s providence. My dad arrived at Newbold College.
On the campus he met with Brother Oliveira, a Brazilian teacher who had lived near Newbold for years. With his assistance, father called our airline to change our flight in Belgium. From Belgium he also received the good news that the Brazilian Embassy in London had found his family and placed them in a hotel. That is why he called the hotel.
Marcos from the embassy called a Seventh-day Adventist church, which, in turn, sent a church member to take us to Newbold College. Entering the gates of the college and seeing my father’s little red rental car was one of the best moments of my life.
Soon my mother realized the reason behind the previous day’s events. Brother Oliveira, after hearing the story over lunch at his house, said: “Well, Sam is too young for Newbold, but there is this other school.”
My mother immediately lost her appetite as hope started flowing through her once again.
He continued: “It is called Stanborough School, and it’s not too far from here. They can definitely take him.”
The dream was alive once again.
Reality struck again after we returned to Brazil and learned more about Stanborough. The school was too expensive, and the only way to pay for it would be to sell our home.
My father disagreed with that idea for two reasons: He didn’t want to sell the house, and he didn’t want me to be away from him. My father and I were very close friends. We’d go everywhere together, even with my other friends from school. The thought of losing me devastated him.
This meant that my mother’s knees would need to meet the ground even more in prayer.
Suddenly my father surprised us and agreed to sell the house — but on the condition that I would study to become a diplomat. I agreed and, although my mother didn’t, she saw this as God’s way of working through the heart of a police colonel.
A few weeks later our little mansion was gone and I was enrolled as a student of Stanborough Secondary School in Watford, England. I arrived at the school on Nov. 28, 1995, with a mission to learn English and become a diplomat.
But on a Friday night some three months later a friend, Jonathan Ferreira, said to me out of nowhere, “Sam, there is nothing else you can be but a pastor.”
He didn’t know my story. But something happened inside me that I still can’t explain. Since that night I’ve never looked back on my decision to follow my call to ministry.
When I finished my studies at Stanborough School, I went back to Brazil and completed my undergraduate studies in theology in 2004. That same year I was called by the South England Conference to ministry back in London. I then married my childhood sweetheart, Amy, whom I’d met while at Stanborough School. The South England Conference sponsored my master’s in theology at Newbold, and I am now a youth pastor at the Stanborough Park Church in Watford, England.
I have no idea what the future holds for me, but I know one thing at least: “God knows exactly where I need to be and how to get me there.” And that’s what really matters.
A version of this story was published in Adventist World in April 2008.