When the doctor shook his head saying he could not give medical approval to travel to China, Sarah Snell didn’t blink. “I’m not asking you to,” she retorted, “I just need to know about vaccines or other precautions. I am going to China.”
Her physician wasn’t the only naysayer. “Friends and family just didn’t understand,” Snell explains. “When the Lord opens a door, I can’t not walk through it.”
Snell departed for her sixth trip to the People’s Republic on May 9, 2017 –– her 85th birthday. Her previous trip, in 2013, took months of recovery. “I learned that the Lord can still use you even when you’re not at your best.”
Sarah was turned down by several exchange programs due to age restrictions. “When I applied to The Edge Institute, they simply asked if I could do the work.” The work in this case was studying Mandarin Chinese, teaching conversational English to college students, and sharing American culture.
Snell’s 2013 visit to China was highlighted by a divine encounter. As Sarah was leaving a church service, a Chinese woman excitedly approached her. As they hugged, the woman said, “‘All my life, I’ve known a white woman would come and talk to me about the love of Jesus.” Snell says at that moment, God spoke to her heart, “Your dream has come true.”
Snell’s dream began 80 years ago. “When I was five, a poster in the church vestibule showed a starving Chinese child. It troubled me and I asked my father about it. He told me, ‘She’s hungry not just for food, but to know Jesus loves her.’ I thought, doesn’t everybody know that? I remember looking at the poster, stomping my foot and saying, ‘Someday, I’ll tell you!’”
“Even though I’d been in China several times before, until I felt that woman’s arms around me and heard her words, I’d never realized that what I committed to at age five had become a reality.”
Proselytizing is not allowed in China. Making friends is. And that’s fine with affable Snell. She grins, “Simply showing I care has given me plenty of opportunities to share my faith and the Gospel.”
Sarah Snell currently serves as interim chaplain at a retirement community in Virginia and on the Advisory Team for North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry. She and her late husband, Roy, reared six sons while serving as missionaries in Asia. An ordained Baptist minister, Reverend Snell has never fully retired.
Snell saved honorariums to finance her 2017 trip. But when people learned her plans, they wanted to help. With extra funds, Snell established scholarships for two students to continue the cultural exchange in the United States.
Snell’s eyes glisten when she speaks of the goodness of God and the rapt attention He gives to the dreams of children. “It’s hard to communicate the depth and power of God in working out details as He does. He’s at work in the world in ways we don’t pay attention to. I’ve seen that in the miraculous ways He orchestrates my life and the lives of others.”
WINNER: Layton’s story won first place at the annual Baptist Communicators Association’s awards banquet held this year in Washington D.C.
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