Rob and Iona Snair have a passion for young people.
Together the Briercrest alumni founded Lifeteams, a ministry training school in Abbotsford, B.C. that prepares young adults to work with marginalized youth in Canada. The unique program, which functions under the umbrella of Youth for Christ, combines community living, classroom learning and hands-on experience.
In honour of their service and accomplishments, the couple received Briercrest’s alumni of the year award at the school’s graduation ceremonies last weekend.
Although their backgrounds are very different, Rob and Iona say their hearts have been turned toward youth outside the church for as long as they can remember.
“I think my passion has always been for kids outside the church,” Rob said. “That’s always been sort of the situation for me. I think partly because that’s where I grew up to a large extent.”
“I grew up totally in the church – the good little perfect Christian kid,” Iona explained. “God grabbed my heart in about Grade 7 and I knew in my brain entirely I wanted to work with what I knew at that time as ‘delinquent kids.’ I didn’t know any, but I was pretty sure that was what I was going to do with my life.”
After graduating from Briercrest, Rob and Iona each pursued graduate studies and gave themselves to various jobs involving young people. The idea for Lifeteams grew from the huge need they found.
“Maybe our time would be better spent training youth workers than being youth workers,” Rob said, explaining the thought process that led to the beginning of Lifeteams.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students could learn and do at the same time so that the classroom information actually could sink to a deeper level?” Iona added.
The youth workers put their ideas for a ministry training school into a proposal that they submitted to Youth for Christ.
“We handed them the proposal and said, ‘You guys should do this,’” Iona recounted. “They said, ‘Great. When do you want to start?’ It was one of those sorts of things where we really hadn’t intended to be the ones to do this, but God really invited us into it in a way that we couldn’t refuse.”
After accepting that invitation to develop and lead Lifeteams 13 years ago, the Snairs haven’t looked back.
“We have the best jobs in the world,” Iona exclaimed. “We get to work with 10 young adults a year that are basically there and leaning in. They’re coming with their hearts already pulled toward kids who don’t know Jesus. They come to learn. . . . The mentoring we do is an integral part of the program and we become fairly close with our students.”
“We have a large facility on 20 acres of property, so our students live there,” Rob explained. “It’s probably one of the hardest parts and the best parts of the program because they learn how to live out their faith in a pretty basic daily way. If they’re having a good day, that’s great. But if it’s a bad day, they need to figure out ‘How do you be a godly man or woman when you don’t feel like it?’”
Rob knows firsthand how powerful a witness this kind of consistent character can be. The good example of Wes Olmstead and Steve Clements, two upperclassmen on his hockey team, grabbed his attention his freshman year at Briercrest.
“Both took me under their wing,” he said. “The way that they lived their lives for the Lord on the ice, in the library, in the dining hall – all that was really transformational for me as far as my faith goes. I didn’t really come from a faith background. I didn’t know people who lived for the Lord in a daily way the way these guys did.”
A strange turn of events got Rob to Briercrest in the first place.
“I applied during a mail strike,” he said with a chuckle. “That was back when you had to mail your letter. I was kind of making deals with God. That was the deal – if I got accepted I would go, but I didn’t want to go. So I put an application into a mailbox I didn’t think would get picked up. Two weeks later (Briercrest) phoned me and said, ‘We’ve got an application. I don’t know how it got on our desk.’”
The Ontario native says his decision to come to Briercrest changed the course of his life.
“My choice to go to Briercrest was probably one of the most significant choices in my life because it was so entirely life changing,” Rob explained. “Not from an educational perspective as much as from a spiritual perspective.”
“The love for the Word of God got really deposited into me,” Iona said explaining how she was shaped by her own Briercrest experience. “I wanted to know the Word of God and I wanted to open up my heart to let the Word of God dwell in there richly. That definitely got established (at Briercrest).
Although their Briercrest experience was over 20 years ago, the couple says many friendships they formed at Briercrest continue to provide them with vital support.
“It’s kind of cool that you still have those connections years later with these people who really have walked with you and held you up and chosen to stay believing in you,” Iona asserted. “We’ve stepped into the lives of a lot of kids but we’ve never done it alone.”