Luther League brought Neal and Judy Snider together 61 years ago.
In 1956, Neal was a senior at Augsburg College, Minneapolis, and traveling west with other students to meet with and train youth groups in Lutheran Free Church congregations in North Dakota and Washington, as well as Canada. Their journey ended in Tacoma, Wash., at Pacific Lutheran College, where the Luther League convention was being held that year. Three girls in the group stayed at Judy’s home. She was the West Coast District Luther League president, as well as a bank teller.
“I say that Neal and I met for the first time on my front porch when he brought the girls to stay [at my house],” Judy remembered. “I met him the day before my 21st birthday.”
They got to know each other at the convention, and later Judy and two other Luther League officers traveled to Minneapolis to attend a leadership training event at Augsburg. Neal met them at the train station and showed them around town. Afterward, Neal and Judy began corresponding. Before long, she said, “Neal suggested I come to Augsburg and attend college.” She did. In 1958 they married. In 1963 the couple settled in the Puget Sound area, where they raised their three children, Debbie, Nancy and Paul.
Neal graduated from Augsburg Seminary and was ordained in 1960 in the Lutheran Free Church. Celebrating 57 years as a pastor, he has served congregations in Montana, Washington and Oregon, along with having the historic distinction of being the only chaplain in U.S. history to serve in all three branches of the armed services.
One of the things that has distinguished Neal and Judy’s relationship and family life is their powerful and lifelong commitment to tithing, a practice that began in their childhood.
“Neither of us came from wealthy stock,” said Neal, noting that his father was a janitor with a fourth-grade education. But both of their parents tithed, giving a minimum of 10 percent of their income to Christian ministries.
“Both Judy and I tithed before we met,” Neal explained. “Tithing was (and remains) a no-brainer for us. It seems so natural to ‘put our money where our mouth is,’ and to invest in that in which we believe to be of ultimate importance.” After raising their children, they gradually increased their tithing from 10 percent to 20 percent.
Not long ago, Judy and Neal felt moved to make a significant gift to ELCA World Hunger. Neal recalled, “While praying one morning, the amount of $50,000 came to me. I later asked Judy to pray and see if she got any ‘message’ from God, without telling her what number I had received. A few days later, I asked if she had gotten any specific number. She answered, ‘No, but if you want to give $50,000 ….’ ” Stopping her short, Neal said, “Bingo! That is exactly the figure that God gave to me!” There is something else that makes the Sniders’ stewardship extraordinary: Their $50,000 gift was made above and beyond their 20 percent tithe.
Neal specifically wanted their gift to provide assistance to refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Further explaining the inspiration for their extraordinary gift, he said, “We have far more than we need, and those who will be the recipients of the gift have almost nothing. The equation couldn’t be simpler.” He added perspective, saying, “I’m still embarrassed by how comfortably we live when there are multiple thousands of people asking only for a bowl of soup and a blanket.”
Specifically, the Sniders’ gift is being used for ELCA World Hunger’s sustainable livelihood work in refugee camps, primarily Kakuma and Dadaab in Kenya, as well as in situations related to people on the move due to drought and famine in South Sudan. Daniel Rift, director of ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal, said refugee families live in camps for years, often with their children growing to adulthood in these environments.
Daniel explained, “[For these families and individuals] to thrive, there is a need to develop skills and start small microbusinesses. In addition, there is often a need to help establish small gardens of culturally familiar food. While governments may support the distribution of food or provision of basic health care, the kind of work that helps heal the trauma and prepare people for life beyond the camps is left to organizations like the church.
“Because the Lutheran World Federation runs several of these camps, it provides a unique opportunity for us to fill the gap, knowing that the folks on the ground are familiar with which families are most in need of such opportunities.”
Like Neal, Judy said she wanted to support ELCA World Hunger for a simple reason: “I can’t imagine not having food or warmth. When I hear of those who are in that very bad situation, I want to share what we have been so blessed to have. Many times, people go through circumstances they cannot avoid — war and terror among those — and a helping hand can bring a little light into their sometimes-hopeless situations.
“I am hoping that our gift to ELCA World Hunger, along with so many others, will help those who are helplessly struggling for food, shelter and a peaceful existence. I’m sure I can’t even imagine what their existence is like, but pray there is enough help to make their lives better. I would also like them to know that the help is coming from those of us who know Jesus as Lord and we would like to share what we have with them.”
Reflecting on the Sniders and the impact of their gift, Sharon Magnuson, associate executive director of ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal, said, “Their story is one of faith, prayer and stewardship that exceeds generosity.” She added that the couple hopes their gift will inspire others to give boldly.
The Sniders’ service to God and to the ELCA will begin a new chapter in July, when they head to Mesa, Ariz., where Neal, who just turned 82, will serve as interim pastor of a congregation in a nearby community.
When asked about what he has found most meaningful in his life, Neal replied, “God’s providence in preserving me in the faith in a world filled with multiple, attractive dead ends. Secondly, a wonderful marriage with children and grandchildren who have embraced the faith. Thirdly, the privilege of sharing the life-giving word of God with several different communities of believers, and even being paid to do it.”
Judy and Neal will celebrate their 59th anniversary on Dec. 27. “We have had a very happy life together,” she said, describing their journey as “blessed beyond measure.”