by Ed Erny
Of all the candidates who had ever applied to FUME (Foreign United Mission of Evangelicals), I can’t remember a couple that came with better references that Jim and Marge Sneedby.
Of all the candidates who had ever applied to FUME (Foreign United. Mission of Evangelicals), I can’t remember a couple that came with better references that Jim and Marge Sneedby. Jim had a degree in anthropology and had graduated with honors from Ashler Theological Seminary. At missionary candidate school his paper on "Cultural complexities of the Paiwan Family System" had won the annual Howard-Kensington Award. Marge, a former Disneyland hostess, had served two years with RFSC (Reaching Students for Christ), and to top it off, they had adorable twin daughters.
The Sneedbys were appointed to our field in Balewa and after two years of language study Jim was preaching simple sermons in Balewaan and teaching inductive Bible in BBS (Balewa Biblical Seminary).
About that time Jim met one of the local village chiefs. Soon they were on the best of terms. "You speak excellent Balewaan," the man told Jim one day. "But that’s the trouble with you missionaries," he went on, "you only want to impress the government officials and influential big shots in the cities. Don’t you realize that Balewaan is only a trade language? Hutu is the real heart-language of our people. If you want to touch our hearts you must speak to us in Hutu."
Jim respected the old man’s judgment and the next week he began studying Hutu an hour each afternoon. It was a difficult and tricky dialect with 16 tones, but Jim applied himself with enthusiasm.
The following year Dave and Joan Gilbert, the only other FUME missionaries in Southern Balewa were due for furlough. Jim was asked to take Dave’s courses in hermeneutics and Arminian theology (courses he had somehow missed at Ashler), as well as assume the principleship of BBS. Marge would fill in as field treasurer, bookkeeper and mission hostess. "Just till the Gilberts get back from furlough," they were assured.
One afternoon that fall a local pastor stopped by for a visit. Marge served him tea and after the customary small talk there was a long pause— a sure sign that the real purpose of his visit was about to be disclosed.
"Brother Sneedby," the pastor began, "we had so much hoped that you wouldn’t be like all the other missionaries. You foreigners spend all your time living here in your big houses with your gas stoves, refrigerators and flush toilets. You are trying to teach our students, but you know nothing of the real life of the church. We have 27 churches and although you have been here three years, you have not even set foot in many of them."
Jim blushed and admitted that it was true. The next month he began regular week-end visits to the churches. He would leave each Saturday after teaching his last seminary class and return late Sunday night. When Marge complained that he had so little time for her and the family, Jim gently chided her: "After all, honey," he would say, "we didn’t come to the field to sit around."
By the following spring Jim felt he was finally getting to know the Balewaan pastors. His Hutu was progressing nicely. Things even seemed to be going well at BBS, or so he thought. That was when the student council president stopped him one day after class. "You know, Pastor Sneedby," he began nervously, "you missionaries are always too busy for us students. Working in your office; running around to the churches. We want to feel that we know you intimately. There’s this Baptist missionary in Kalawag, I heard about. Why, he takes time to be a real friend to the students. He eats with them regularly, plays volleyball with them; every evening he goes to the dorm to chat with them, just being friendly. Why, he’s even learned a lot of the student slang words. We had so much hoped you’d be that kind of missionary."
Jim licked his lips with embarrassment. What this humble student was saying only confirmed the guilt he had so often felt. Some of the BBS kids had been in his classes for three years and he admitted he knew almost nothing about their family background. He promised himself he would do better.
Summer vacation had just begun when a delegation from the BMF (Balewa Missionary Fellowship) appeared at the Sneedby home. Their spokesman, an older British Presbyterian missionary named Walker, came right to the point. "Sneedby," he said, "we’re convinced that you’re the kind of man BMF needs as chairman for the next two-year term."
"Honestly," Jim objected, "I just don’t feel I can consider it at this time. You see with the church work and my responsibilities at BBS I’m pretty busy and . . . "
"Of course, you’re busy," Walker broke in. "Did you ever know a missionary worth his salt who wasn’t. Everyone’s busy, busy, busy. Just ask them. But without some sacrifice BMF just couldn’t exist. Everyone is happy enough to get the missionary directory BMF publishes each year, or to attend the BMF summer conference at Kopecha Beach, or to use the BMF-sponsored snack bar and swimming pool in Akari. But no one has time to help carry the load. Really, Sneedby, we’d hoped you’d be a different sort." (Walker was always using expressions like "a different sort")
That night Marge was not too happy when Jim told her he had accepted the BMF assignment. "But, after all, Marge, " he reminded her, "we did come to Balewa to have a ministry, to get involved." At this she lapsed into a gloomy silence that lasted most of the evening.
The melancholy word that the Gilberts would not be returning to Balewa for some time (Dave had decided to pursue a doctorate at Edinburgh) was mitigated by the arrival of a telegram announcing the coming of a two-man delegation from headquarters. The delegation consisted of field liason director Willis Weaver, and home director, Joshua Stuart.
Jim, Marge and the kids met them with garlands at the station and the BBS brass band was on hand to play "Ring the Bells of Heaven!"
Marge spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen fixing her favorite company meal-roast pheasant, sweet potatoes and gooseberry pie. After supper Marge got the girls ready for bed while Jim and the two men exchanged bits of news in the living room. Presently, the conversation took on a more serious tone.
"I feel I need to be frank with you, Jim," Weaver finally said.
"We’ve been keeping an eye on the Balewa operation for some time now and actually we’re a bit concerned. You see, mission leaders— to say nothing of our official board—are asking us when we’re going to buy up the opportunities in this strategic area. All we see here are the traditional ministries—a few churches, a Bible seminary— the same thing we’ve been doing for decades, just plodding along. Nothing very dramatic. Have you considered a more innovative approach? With the masses of new readers in this part of the world, we need to be getting into a literature ministry in a big way."
"Another thing," Weaver went on with mounting intensity, "in view of the transistor revolution, radio presents fantastic opportunities for evangelism. The people at home are really turned on by the radio appeal. "
"Well, we’ve had so many other things to … " Jim began.
"Other things?" Weaver interrupted. "That’s the trouble, Jim, the other things keep us from the really important things. You’ve got to get your priorities straight. Now, how about a daily broadcast geared to the student masses? I think we could bring you home for a few months to do some funding and you could get started on a series of field mailings right away. "
At this point home director Stuart broke in— "Not to change the subject," he said, "but I’m concerned about the FUME work in Balewa for another reason. We’ve been in this field for almost 30 years now and do you realize that our home constituency knows practically nothing about our operation here? The last slide set we had from you was done 10 years ago and still refers to Balewa as a colonial possession. I mean, we just can’t be showing that kind of thing now. Don’t you think your field could come up with something to make the FUME operation in Balewa really come alive. I’d suggest a multi-media job with a really professional sound track using four projectors and a dissolve unit. Then if the feedback is good, we can go on into a documentary movie. We just have to keep the home folk informed. In a mission like FUME that’s our lifeline! "
After that the conversation turned to other urgent matters: the student-worker support account (now alarmingly in the red); the need for a vigorous student recruitment program for BBS; the funding of a new dormitory for Grace Academy (the Balewa school for missionary children)— and the immediate launching of seminary extension programs in all 29 FUME churches in Balewa.
It’s been several years now since I’ve heard anything from Jim and Marge. Seems that after furlough they asked for a leave of absence and then finally terminated with FUME. I believe they said it was "for health reasons."
The last I heard, Jim was pastoring a small church in the South and coaching a Little League team on the side. Someone mentioned that he spent a good bit of time fishing, or playing with the girls and a new baby son on the big lawn in back of their old frame house. Sometimes, they told me, Jim could even be found just lounging on the back porch in an old overstuffed chair, reading a favorite book.
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