A Personal Reflection by Sherry Snyder
I was 19 at the time and a student at the University of Michigan, when I was invited to my first charismatic prayer meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. That was in the autumn of 1969 and I had no idea that my life was about to change dramatically. I went to the meeting out of curiosity and because the stranger that invited me seemed nice. I was, at the time a fallen away Catholic, overwhelmed by the professors and students who declared that “God is Dead” and religion a superstition. I went because I wanted to know who were these students going to “prayer meetings” and believing in God?
That first encounter was overwhelming – seeing so many students packed in the basement hall of the Catholic Newman student center, praying out loud and singing in harmony in different languages (known as the gift of tongues). My initial thought was, this must be something Protestant because I had never heard people pray out loud, all together, and I had no idea what was going on. But then God began to speak to me personally, through the words of Scripture being read, the testimony of a student, and the beautiful singing. I was hooked and immediately went to the explanation room after the meeting and bought every book they recommended, The Cross and the Switchblade, They Speak in other Tongues, and Catholic Pentecostals. I found a copy of the New Testament and read it from cover to cover. I took the very first “Life in the Spirit Seminar” course taught by Ralph Martin. God had caught me up in something I didn’t understand but I felt only joy and excitement.
For me those early days of encountering Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit where like what I was reading in the Acts of the Apostles. Every week new students were coming and received prayer to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. We began talking about choosing a name for the charismatic prayer group and maybe appointing leaders for the group. One meeting when this idea was proposed, one of the people who had the gift of prophecy among us got up and gave us a word. The Lord said we were not taking this seriously enough. He had a name for us and he wanted us to seek him for it, not just make one up. I was personally present when the Lord spoke prophetically that he was calling us to be a Word to the face of the earth. I remember thinking that was just the prophet being a bit superlative, especially when I looked around and saw how insignificant a group of students we seemed to be. Later we heard the Lord say that he wanted to make a covenant with us. This was the beginning of covenant Christian community as we know it today.
As the covenant community in Ann Arbor grew, the Lord brought people to us from around the world and eventually began to connect us with other similar Christian communities – that he wanted to build a bulwark of communities around the world. Around 1982 the Lord gave the international association of communities a name called, The Sword of the Spirit. Never in those early days would I have imagined that I would personally know brothers and sisters in covenant communities around the world, who are as dear, if not more, to me now than my own blood relatives.
My call to live single for the Lord came began in those early days of Christian community when I could think of nothing better to give back to God than my whole life, for the goodness of knowing him and the life he was giving me in community. My call to live single for the Lord and my career as a nurse gave me the opportunity to visit many of the covenant Christian communities in Latin America and eventually to work in a mission in Honduras and participate in the community Fortaleza de Dios during those four years I worked there. That experience, of feeling at home in another community, in a different language and culture, taught me how much God had done with us and how he had knit us together around the world – something only God could have done.
I have also known the hardship and sorrow of many difficulties and loss during these last 50 years. Many brothers and sisters that I knew and loved have passed away or chosen some other path. Many of the ideas I had as a young person were shattered or changed or shown to be some kind of idol I was holding on to. There have been times when I thought community was at an end, not because God was unfaithful, but because of our own sin and foolishness. But God is always faithful and he fulfills his promises to us, even when we are unfaithful.
Now 50 years later I look back on my life and am amazed at what God has done and the privilege I have had to be a part of the Sword of the Spirit. He has truly built a bulwark of men and women – knit together in communities around the world – to be a sign and a witness for a time such as this.
Top photo credit: photo collage of community activities past and present, (c) 2020 Living Bulwark/The Sword of the Spirit