Larry and Ruth Snyder were never able to have children, but five years ago, an orphanage director in Myanmar told them there were 153 orphans who could be their grandchildren.
The Snyders are now called grandfather and grandmother on the other side of the world.
“Five years ago, being from central Pennsylvania and never really wanting to go anywhere ...,” said Larry Snyder, a former inventory manager. “It had to be God’s plan.”
After Larry Snyder’s first visit to the Southeast Asia country in 2003, the Snyders started a nonprofit organization that has raised thousands of dollars to support many Christian orphanages in Myanmar, formerly Burma.
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The orphanages were started and are operated by the people of Myanmar, but Lifetime Orphaned Children’s Ministries helps provide clothing, money and aid to plant crops and, most recently, helped replace a thatched mud building that served as one orphanage with a wooden roof and walls.
Since 2005, the Snyders have organized four two-week trips for local people to visit Myanmar. Six people were to leave on the fourth trip Thursday.
Larry Snyder’s eyes well up when he looks at photos of the children he’s come to know.
“I always wanted to have a large family,” said Ruth Snyder. “It’s different because they’re not with me every day, but it’s about taking care of their physical needs, and it’s the same concept you would have as a parent.”
A wife of one of the orphanage directors refers to the Snyders as her parents in the United States. When she was pregnant with her second child, she asked then Larry Snyder to name the baby.
The little girl is named Hope. That’s what each visit from the Centre County group brings to Myanmar, a country where children are sometimes abandoned because the orphanages can provide them better living conditions than their parents can provide.
For example, Snyder said public schools cost $15 to enter, and $5 per month for supplies. The orphanage pays for its children to attend, but it’s a cost many families can’t afford.
The country, under military rule, caught the world’s attention this past fall when soldiers brutally cracked down on activists and Buddhist monks who led pro-democracy demonstrations.
Snyder brings no more than 10 people on each trip because he doesn’t want to draw any attention.
He asked that the locations of the orphanages and the full names of their directors be withheld from this story to protect them from retaliation for accepting help from Christian Americans.
Larry Snyder admits it’s serious work for a self-described country bumpkin.
He said it all began when his brother, who was going to teach at a Bible college, asked him to come along with him to Myanmar. While there, Snyder met an orphanage director named Joseph, who showed him the needs of the children.
Snyder said the images filled his mind long after he returned to the United States. When he received a letter from Joseph asking for help, and offering him that chance to become grandfather to 153 orphans, the decision was easy.
Each year, the Snyders hold Bible school, visit some of the smaller orphanages and help out where they can. Larry Snyder said he’s struggled with the fact that travel to the country costs thousands of dollars, money that could be spent on clothing or food.
“But the directors say these children need most to know that someone outside of their own world loves them,” Snyder said. “They say that does justify the cost.”
The trip on Dec. 27 was to be the first to take place without the Snyders. Larry Snyder learned in October that he has cancer, and although his condition has improved since surgery in the fall, he decided to take his doctor’s advice and stay behind.In his place as leader will be Rick Bates, who has accompanied the Snyders on two previous trips.
Bates, an associate professor of horticulture at Penn State, has assessed the agricultural needs of the orphanages and has been experimenting with plant hybrids he thinks would grow well in Myanmar.
One of those is an herb called Artemisia that he said becomes an anti-malaria drug when made into tea.
Bates said the trips have helped him fulfill a calling to work with the poor and use his plant knowledge.
“This is just so fulfilling, I wish I could do it all the time,” he said.
Bates will bring his wife, Jeanna, and daughter, Jacqueline, who have been on previous trips. The other three members of this year’s team include a recent high school graduate, a longtime teacher and a Penn State graduate student.
The Snyders will wait in Lemont for news and photographs of their grandchildren.
“In my heart I’m going to be there,” Larry Snyder said. “And I’m anxious to get there as soon as I can.”