ROSEBORO — EJ Snyder stood in the aisle of Roseboro United Methodist Church and captured everyone’s attention when he spoke about wild experiences such as eating tadpole soup and wrestling an alligator.
The motivational speaker, survival specialist and TV personality visited the church Wednesday to share his experiences with faith.
“God will affect you in many ways,” he said. “You just have to open up your heart to him.”
The 50-year-old New Jersey native, now living Fayetteville, was featured on several shows where participants test their survival skills in the wilderness. Snyder spoke about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, family ordeals and his younger brother passing away. He later got a call from shows like “Survivor,” but kept getting cut from the final cast. Eventually, he got a call for “Naked and Afraid,” where he spent time with Kellie Nightlinger in Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain for about a month. Snyder had no idea that the experience in Africa would bring him closer to God.
Snyder has more than 25 years of experience in the U.S. Army and retired as a sergeant major in 2009. Through his years in the military he gained a lot of experience and became an instructor at the Florida Ranger Camp. Snyder was also a government contract survival instructor, working with the Green Berets and teaching at the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg.
In all, he has more than 40 years of experience in the outdoors. It all began back in New Jersey when his parents divorced. He lived with his mom, who worked several jobs to make ends meet. During the weekends, his dad would take him out in the wilderness.
“That’s where I really got an understanding about nature and wild and how it affected me,” he said. “When I’m out in the wild, that’s where I hear God’s voice the loudest.”
As a little boy, he went through several struggles such as bullying. He was ridiculed because his clothing had patches and he was the subject of such taunts as “scarecrow.” Snyder picked up a paper route and purchased clothing for himself and his brother. Unfortunately, the taunting did not stop and it continued as he got older. He finally took a stand. It’s the reason he became an anti-bully advocate, among other things.
“At that point in my life, I decided that I would not be a target or a victim,” he said. “If I can find a way to give back or help others, it was something that was going to be important in my life.”
He didn’t know why he went through those struggles, but Snyder said everything connected when he went to Tanzania. During that moment, a large thorn went into his foot, which festered for about 16 days. He later received treatment and many questioned how he was still alive.
“I knew why,” Snyder said. “God had a purpose for me.”
Snyder was able to walk eight miles, arriving at a mountain that stood 1,500 feet and make it through the trip. At night, he wondered a lot as he looked up at the bright stars.
“Why am I going through this? I can be at home eating a cheeseburger,” he said. “But I would look up at those stars and pray every night because I knew my life wasn’t straight.”
Snyder said God was literally putting his hand on him as he looked at the helicopter that would bring him home. He knew some things had to change in his personal life, such as repairing his marriage through counseling. When he was flooded with messages after the show aired, Snyder made a decision to help others.
“Why me? I was so humbled — that’s why I went through all this stuff,” he said. “I could inspire and motivate others who are going through things. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through. Stay positive and have a positive attitude. God is on your side and he’ll get you through it.”
For Snyder, it’s a journey five decades in the making. Now, it continues through efforts such as raising money for cancer, volunteering with organizations such as YMCA and helping combat veterans through depression.
In addition to appearing on an adventure in the Amazon for another “Naked an Afraid,” season, Snyder also appeared in “72 Hours: The Fijian Jungle.”
Pastor Bobby Herring invited Snyder to the church after following him on several shows and observing his demeanor, which did not include a lot of profanity during challenging times. Herring said his remarks also showed the importance of being spiritually prepared for life. While speaking to his congregation and visitors, he mentioned Noah making his ark before the flood, as an example.
“I’m so appreciative that he accepted our invitation to come out,” Herring said, noting the positive message shared by Snyder. “When the journey is a tough journey — as long as we got our focused on God, we can make it through anything.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.