LEE'S SUMMIT — Gary Snowden's heart is never too far from missions and the impact a group of committed believers can have. Both his jobs bring him face to face with needs and remind him Christians must be God's hands and feet in the world.
A former International Mission Board missionary to Argentina and Mexico, Snowden serves as missions mobilization team leader for Churchnet. Under his guidance, Churchnet has been ministering in western Guatemala, primarily to help coordinate and lead training events for pastors and other church leaders.
Snowden sees Churchnet's effort as a partnership, with Guatemalan leaders choosing the topics and training their churches need.
"We've intentionally gone back to the same area but not with the same church," he said. "We felt we needed to work with several churches."
As associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Lee's Summit, Snowden has led the church to get involved in western Guatemala as well. "Our strategy is predominately to assist churches to impact their community," he said.
His mission background also makes him sensitive to cultural issues and paternalism. "Even when you're providing seed money, you need to be aware of how the giving is perceived," he said.
For example, one Guatemalan pastor is an expert carpenter and wanted to help homeless boys in his area. First Baptist churches of Lee's Summit and Farmington provided the money to build a dorm. The pastor's church bought supplies. Boys have a home, and the pastor is training them in skills they will be able to use once they leave.
Rather than to go "do something" for a congregation, First Baptist members work with Guatemalans to minister. During a trip in February, the Lee's Summit church helped gather resources for the Guatemalan church to purchase enough beans and rice to feed about 150 families in a remote village.
The Missouri volunteers from First Baptist and Wyatt Park Baptist Church, St. Joseph, joined Guatemalan church members to measure and bag the food. They were allowed to give a gospel presentation in the village and distribute the staples. The gesture opened the door for the church to continue ministry in the area.
The Lee's Summit church always looks for an impact event that will lead to ways host churches can continue ministry in their communities after the Missourians return home.
Usually, the visitors are allowed to present programs in schools in the host church's area. One church used the event to begin offering parent seminars and student tutoring.
Churchnet leaders aren't certain how much longer the convention will continue to work in Guatemala or will begin considering other overseas areas of ministry. The pastor who has been president of the pastors' association in western Guatemala plans to retire soon to his native Nicaragua. He has already invited Churchnet to assist with training there.
Snowden said the convention hasn't been as involved stateside, but may do so in the future.
The Lee's Summit church has been involved locally, particularly partnering with homeless shelters, a pregnancy center and a ministry for abused women. The congregation also is considering developing a stateside mission partnership, possibly in South Dakota.
Cooperation and partnership are keys to mission strategy and involvement, Snowden believes. And believers who go gain as much as those with whom they minister.
"Our church members receive tremendous blessings because we recognize that we have resources that we often take for granted," he said. "There is gratitude for the physical blessings, and it stirs their compassion when they see folks in such abject poverty."