Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Tribute to a Man of Faith

Here I am with Lavern and Lois Snider in Japan, 1978
I received word this week of the passing of Dr. K. Lavern Snider. I've known him for 35 years but didn't know that the "K" stands for Kenneth. We just called him Lavern. But I had another name for him, a name I never called him out loud, but one which fit him perfectly. I knew him as a modern day Apostle Paul.

When I was a young adult I wanted to "go somewhere and do something," though I wasn't sure where or what that might be. Japan seemed like a good place to go, but I was not interested in being a missionary. I preferred to travel as a "good guy for God," putting in a good word for Him when opportunity arose but not being too pushy. I began exploring my options for getting to Japan and the only door that seemed remotely open to me was to go through VISA (Volunteers in Service Abroad, a ministry of Free Methodist World Missions).

Dr Snider was a career missionary in Japan and over the years had supervised a number of VISA workers -- people who had gone to Japan on a two-year assignment to teach English as a second language as an entrĂ©e to sharing the gospel with their students.  I met with him one afternoon on the patio of Seattle Pacific University's Student Union Building. He was all business, telling me about the missions work in Japan, the program for teaching English in businesses, schools and neighborhoods. He told me about the mission house in Osaka where I would live and that three days a week I'd be staying with his family in Nishinomiya so that I could teach several English classes in their home and work as the mission secretary one day a week. We discussed my study of the Japanese language and how the finances of my two years in Japan would be handled. Did I have any questions?

I was blown away, not only by the truck load of information I'd just heard but by the excitement in Dr Snider's voice and the speed with which he had emptied that truck. Overwhelmed though I was, I signed up.

When I told people I was going to Japan I just said I would be teaching English. If they pressed me to know more about it, I'd say, "I'mgoingasamissionary" in a muffled voice.

I arrived in Japan on a September afternoon in 1978. Lavern, his wife Lois, and a few of the other VISA workers met me at the airport. It was heady stuff, traveling halfway around the world alone, stepping into a world so different from what I'd known before. I had no idea what I was doing.

The staff met once a month, gathering our team from various cities to share a meal together and talk about the work. Sitting in the living room of the mission house in Osaka at one of those staff meetings early on I said -- in the way a young woman in the late 70s who was trying to "find herself" might say -- "I don't really know why I'm here." Without missing a beat, Lavern looked at me and said, "You are here to share Jesus with the people of Japan!"

He wasn't sharp with me or scolding. He was simply stating what to him was so obvious, the purpose of the VISA program. This wasn't about me. It was about the people of Japan with whom we were privileged to develop relationships. Most of them had no exposure to Jesus Christ. We were there to represent Him.

Lavern may have had times of discouragement or frustration. But I never saw them. He was committed to the Lord and to serving Him. Besides his work at Osaka Christian College and Seminary he and Lois opened their house two Sunday afternoons a month for a home church. They ministered to the community through friendship and the classes they hosted. He was concerned about the size of the churches in Japan -- so many were no more than 20 or 30 people -- so he traveled the country, interviewing pastors of larger churches and writing a book called It's Happening in Japan Today: The Story of 8 Growing Churches as well as a follow-up book featuring ten more growing churches.

I remember riding the train with Lavern once and watching him with the people around him. He was tall, fair-skinned, clearly foreign, but he moved through the train as if he were Japanese. I thought then that, despite his appearance as a gaijin, he had become Japanese in his way of thinking.

When thinking of Lavern these words of Paul to the Thessalonians come to mind: "Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake" (1 Thes 1:5). Lavern lived among the Japanese people for their sake, and his message was more than words. It was the power of the Holy Spirit and Lavern's deep conviction and commitment to Jesus.

As my two-year assignment was drawing to a close we got word that the woman who had planned to begin the VISA work in Sendai would not be able to come. The door opened for me to go in her place, allowing me to extend the very sweet experience of sharing Christ in Japan. It also allowed me one more year to work with Lavern and Lois Snider. I relished that year.
The Sniders in 2008

I saw the Sniders a few times over then next 25 years. General Conference, 2008, was the last chance I had to catch up with them. They were living in the Toronto area and Lavern was a wedding officiate. His name was on the list of people to call for couples who wanted to get married and needed someone to perform the ceremony. He told me that, in his meeting with couples before the wedding, he always spoke to them about the Lord and encouraged them to turn in faith to Christ. Even at 84 he was finding ways to serve his Lord. I can't imagine anything any different for him.

At the end of his life, Paul wrote the following words to Timothy. They could also apply to my dear friend, Lavern Snider: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing  (2 Tim 4:7-8).

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