David Sneed, 65, was plagued by life-long disabilities and health issues. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary doctor of ministry student once said he hoped to die in the pulpit, preaching. Those who knew him best say he did exactly that — his life was a living sermon.
Sneed prayed by name daily for about 2,000 people. Once homeless himself, Sneed preached and led Bible studies weekly in New Orleans’ homeless community. Sneed died Sept. 3 in his 12th-story apartment in a senior adult complex in downtown New Orleans — an apartment without an operating window that remained without electricity five days after Hurricane Ida’s landfall.
Jacob Crawford, director of City Life NOLA, a ministry which serves the homeless, said Sneed’s life touched “thousands.”
“He was the most humble man I’ve ever met,” Crawford said. “He was a man that had very few material possessions — very few — but he was the richest man I’ve ever met.”
Sneed’s belongings fit into a single plastic tub after his death, a testimony to Sneed’s simple lifestyle, Crawford explained.
On a professional networking site, Sneed described his health issues from birth as an “organic brain dysfunction” that hampered his speech and movement and drew ridicule much of his life. Twice, doctors told Sneed he was dying. At one point, Sneed lived in a nursing home and was told he would be confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life.
Ken Taylor, NOBTS professor and pastor of Gentilly Baptist Church, knew Sneed for 38 years.
“David was one of the most memorable, God-fearing, encouraging, worshipful Christians I have ever seen,” Taylor said. “God used his weaknesses … to create an open door for the sharing of the gospel with so many people.”
Sneed kept his prayer list on his “smart phone,” sometimes posting on social media that he had prayed from “A to I” and would start back at “J to N” after lunch, Taylor said. Before getting a smart phone, Sneed carried a briefcase stuffed with lists of names, adding new names whenever he met someone in ministry or in need.
Despite limitations, Sneed visited weekly for the church. As homeowners watched Sneed struggle to climb up their porch steps to share the gospel, their hearts warmed, Taylor explained.
“It was pretty amazing,” Taylor said. “I was surprised by how much attention people gave him … most people listened intently to what he had to say.”
Christ’s strength shown
As a young man Sneed felt called to preach, but a counselor told him he was incapable of earning an education and offered him residence in a “group home” instead.
Refusing to give up, Sneed enrolled at NOBTS, earning the associate’s degree in divinity in the mid-80s. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, an M.Div. at NOBTS, and a masters in counseling at a state university before entering NOBTS’ D.Min. program. With each degree earned, Sneed copied the diploma, wrote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) on the back, and mailed it to the counselor, by then a friend.
At the memorial service Oct. 2, Taylor drew from 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 and said God used Sneed’s physical handicaps — like Paul’s — to further the Gospel.
“David very much recognized his weaknesses gave Christ an opportunity to show His strength through him,” Taylor said.
When Taylor and Crawford brought Sneed food and water in the days following Hurricane Ida, Sneed grabbed their hands and prayed for them, despite his own desperate circumstances, Crawford related.
“As he’s sitting in that wheelchair, suffering in that heat, he prayed over us,” Crawford said. “That was David.”
The obituary carried a former pastor’s account of going with Sneed into the “meanest, most vulgar places.” There, Sneed fell on his knees and prayed out loud as people kicked gravel in his face and threw beer bottles at him, causing Sneed simply to “pray louder.”
Sneed’s spirit will be remembered.
Chance Stine, a graduate student from Wisconsin, related that he met Sneed in New Orleans during his freshman year at college, a time he described as the “hardest year” of his life.
“There are very few people in my life who have impacted me as he did. David spoke God’s word into my heart,” Stine said, adding that “when that man spoke, nothing but sweetness and compassion came out of his lips.”
Maci Duncan, an NOBTS graduate, paid tribute to Sneed before singing at the memorial, saying, “The way he modeled Jesus was so beautiful.”