Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Christmas with the Snelson family

It all started at West Heights Baptist Church, in Corpus Christi, Texas, with the Snelson family, and ended with their first ever, real Christmas tree! They had moved downtown in an old upstairs apartment, not too far from the downtown jail. There's more to the adventure with me now to meet this family......

They’re all around us, it seems. Everywhere we turn! And not always easily recognized. Who or what are they? They are the poor homeless families! Walking along the streets! In the gutters! Living out of cars! Sleeping wherever! At times without a place to call home! How do we escape from their presence? Or, is this what we really desire to do? To get away from them?
After reading this true story, I think you will see how helping the poor, benefits those we help, ourselves, and others who might be perhaps be watching or listening.
The poor, with little to give, might be able to give back to us more than we care to think! I know it did for my family! For I share with you, my audience, a personal experience in helping a poor family in our city, Corpus Christi, Texas.
I would like to begin with introducing you to this family.

They were the Snelson family: Dad, Mom, and seven children ranging from 2-14 years in age. Quiet a large family at the time, around 1992. With this size family, there were many needs. According to author Cheryl Gorder in her book, Homeless! Without Addresses In America, “The three elements necessary to function in American society are money, food, and shelter.” This family definitely suffered in these necessities! I know, at times, I take these things for granted myself, as I’m sure some of you do! At the time, this poor family with Dad, Mom, and seven children, was sharing two small adjoining rooms, at a run-down motel. My wife, Connie, tells it this way, “I think of how this large family of little people would stick together and share everything. Six even shared a fold out sofa to sleep on. The youngest slept with the parents. Yet they were so proud of one another and protective. They were so happy with what we would call nothing.”
Now understand, this class of motel they called home, still exists down on Leopard Street, in the old part of Corpus Christi. Before moving to this particular motel, this family had previously been living out of a tent down at the Nueces River Park area, on I-37.
I’m sure their life was full of mystery, if anyone would just take the time to listen! But who would want to get involved in that kind of social dilemma? Well, we, the Pickens family, accidentally, or I should say providentially, have a personal encounter with the Snelson family we shall never forget!
We’re the Pickens family! Just common people. No one special! Think of us as your, “Howdy Ho neighbor!”, next door neighbor! We just lived right around the block from the Snelson family and the neighborhood church we attended at the time.
A certain Sunday, the Snelson kids showed up at the church we attended. You see, the motel I mentioned they were living in was in the shadow of our church’s steeple. I seem to recall all seven kids practically filling a church pew. Tom, their dad, would eventually accompany the children to church. He finally came with them after his wife had kicked him out of the motel and he was really depressed about it. The children had begged him to go to church with them. You know, folks, we never know what brings people to seek answers to life’s difficulties but there is always more to the story than meets the eye.
Once again, if any of us stop long enough to listen.
Now, we as a small community church, were use to seeing visitors in the congregation, after all, this was a transitional area of town. People came and went all of the time, so the church members were use to new faces in the crowd. This family was more noticeable due to the size and all. But, there was something more here than just another poor homeless family! You might say they were, “A gold mine just waiting to be mined!”. “A gift just waiting to be received!”
My wife, Connie, our children, and I, all came to know the Snelsons in a short period of time. You see, Connie, and I, were teaching church Sunday School when we were invited to a birthday party by David and Alan Snelson, brothers in this poor family. These two brothers, being trusting and innocent, invited the whole church youth department to attend their party. The real test was, “Would anyone come to the birthday party since it was being held at the rundown motel across from the church”. I recall feeling a little obligated to attend, them being in my SS class and all. My two sons Phillip and Aaron, and nephew Michael, came along with me to the birthday party. To me it was somewhat sad that no other church kids showed-up, but it did not seem to bother David and Alan. I remember the party being held beside their motel swimming pool. These two poor kid brothers were so happy just to be having a simple cake and “Blue Bell ice cream” as stated by my son Aaron. I tried not to notice the spaghetti stains on the saucer they handed me. What could I say? I wasn’t too good to eat off of it, they did! Prior to the birthday party, they told us to bring our swim suits to go swimming in the motel pool. We played “Marco Polo”, as recalled by my son Phillip. I’m sure glad friends did not brief us before the party or we probably would have stayed away from the pool, with diseases and all being prevalent nowadays. You just don’t think and worry about things like that when helping people. You’re just there for them, through the good and the bad! Those kids were so proud of their little motel pool and the birthday party given by their parents. Words cannot express the meaning of this memory. Can you begin to see who really received a gift and benefited here?
And the giving doesn’t stop there!
Working at a nearby Circle K just wasn’t enough for Tom Snelson and his family. He was forced to walk two miles to work since he could not afford a car. I felt for the man and talked him into applying at a grocery supply warehouse closer to the motel. Feeling that his application might not get much attention, I followed-up his application with a personal visit to the manager of the warehouse. The manager expressed his appreciation for sharing the poor family’s situation. You see, the warehouse manager had a handicap himself. His left arm was extremely shorter than the other. I feel sure this man understood what it was like being given a chance at a job. I’m sure Tom was hoping and praying, as I know I was! It was extremely hard keeping my mouth shut when Tom excitedly told me, “Barry! I got that job! You know, the warehouse one!” As far as I know, Tom still doesn’t know how it all happened. He didn’t know any flowery prayer to say, but like a innocent child I know he expressed thanks to God for the job.
What a wonderful memory to play a part in!
And the giving doesn’t stop there!
Taking the Snelson boys, David and Alan, to church youth camp, was a treat one summer! Them being poor and all, their traveling luggage was a dirty white, faded, laundry bag, with a draw-string at the top. The brothers, or their mom, just threw their clothes in together without any regard for wrinkling. They seemed happy though!
In the boys dorm our group stayed in, David and Alan pulled their bunks up close to each other, head to head, indicating their love for each other, and possibly signifying them missing the rest of the family back home. Somehow, these two brothers, got nick-named “Buzzsaw & Stinky” by other kids at camp. I guess it was due to the homespun buzz haircut on one and I’m not sure about the other nickname Stinky, I didn’t ask. They seemed to like the attention though! Another church group went in together to buy Buzzsaw and Stinky a camp tee-shirt. That was no doubt their first ever new tee-shirt. The X-Large tee-shirts swallowed their small bodies! They wore the camp tee-shirts proudly, then tossed them in their laundry bag together with their other clothes. That particular summer, youth camp was a very special one with the two Snelson boys along.
And the giving doesn’t stop there!
Christmas! Ah, Christmas! What a wonderful time of the year! The time of the year when you give something or get something! Right?
Who could ever forget that Christmas with the Snelsons? The particular year, my family shared in helping make a meaningful Christmas. We thought we were doing the giving but this poor homeless family would give to us gifts that cannot be bought.
It all began when one of the Snelson children somehow let one of us know that they didn’t really have any plans for Christmas. They didn’t really have the money to buy a Christmas tree, or gifts for that matter. Now I know that they probably never really had these things, but understand other kids, at church, and I’m sure school, discussed what they were wishing for, and what they would be getting for Christmas. By this time, the Snelson’s had moved into an old duplex apartment downtown. This is where this particular Christmas was spent.
My family decided we would surprise the Snelson family with a real live Christmas tree, with ornaments to boot! You should have seen the excitement amongst that family when we knocked on their upstairs apartment door, and as they opened the door, and there stands a Christmas tree, a box of ornaments and lights, gifts, and of course people grinning like a possum! It was such a blessing to us as their kids scrambled around to decorate it, and their parents were, well, you might say, overwhelmed with what was taking place in their apartment that day! My four kids were excited to be sharing some of their own toys with the Snelson kids as well as giving each child at least one new toy or gift.
And the giving doesn’t stop there!
My family’s experiences in helping the Snelson family also had an impact on other people. Some people were supporters in helping, some were critics.
As far as the supporters, there were just a handful.
You’ll never get them to admit it, but my wife’s parents helped out on a late motel bill for the Snelson family. They would tell you that this family touched their hearts.
Another family that wanted to do something for the Snelsons was the Bryant family. I purposely did not mention the Bryant family earlier because I wanted to share a personal testimony by Donna Bryant, the mother, “They were all so small for their age. They were so excited to attend Sunday School & Church. So willing to love & be loved by us! They were always smiling, even though they had such a meager and sad existence. The youngest, Tommy, was such an adorable child, beautiful and angelic. The Christmas, that three or four families from church got together and shared the real Spirit of Christmas with those precious children, was unforgettable. The looks on their face will live in my heart always! They were so excited to have a tree and a few small gifts picked out especially for each one of them. I felt a special bond with Christi, the oldest and only girl!
She was so small yet tried to be tough enough to take care of her brothers. We think of them all sometimes and still say a small prayer for God to keep alive in their hearts His love and our love. I thank God for the blessing that they were to all of my family-Rob, Donna, Travis, Ryan, Brandy, and Ricci.” Now, as far as the critics are concerned, there were a few.
I will mention that there was some in the church who didn’t like this unruly bunch of kids. Someone told the Snelson kids not to come to church anymore because it was being changed to a new denomination. Ridiculous, but those kids believed it and stayed home until my wife and I told them otherwise. You may find it hard to believe, but these kids let us know they were not treated very nicely by the preacher either. Folks, critics have always been around, even at church, but I’m sure glad that life goes on, in spite of the critics.
Well! People helping others! Giving unto others as unto ourselves. This is best stated in a verse from the Bible, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”. Now that you have shared these few moments with me, I hope you will see how helping the poor, benefits those we help, ourselves, and others who might be perhaps be watching or listening.
Tonight, as I shared this story with you, I like to believe that you were receiving a gift from this poor homeless family as well. Now, we’re not suppose to give just to get something, but, somehow, we do end-up getting when we give! Funny how it works out!

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