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By Corky Siemaszko
Fifty years later, the words still burn in Henry Snow’s memory: “I believe God provided you for me until such time as I find a wife.”
They were uttered, Snow recalled, by the man who he says sexually molested him when he was 17 — and who was driving him home from Sunday services at a large Baptist church in Dallas.
“He was a huge, big presence, and everybody thought he was the greatest guy in the world next to Jesus,” Snow said of the man, who was at the time a prominent member of the megachurch.
“When he said that to me, I just remember a stunned silence. And I don’t know if I said this but I was certainly thinking: ‘But what about me? You mean God’s only plan for me is to be your sex toy until you get married?”
Snow spoke out as the Southern Baptist Convention is reeling from revelations that it failed to protect more than 700 worshippers from 220 ministers, deacons, volunteers, Sunday school teachers and others who were found guilty of sexually abusing churchgoers over 20 years.
J.D. Greear, the convention’s president, unveiled plans on Monday to tackle the crisis that has shaken the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S.
“There is a problem,” Greear said in prepared remarks. “It’s time we back up our words with actions that demonstrate our concern about this.”
Snow, who is 67 and lives in Austin, Texas, applauded Greear’s words.
“It’s about time. It’s great news to hear,” he said. “It is a disease in our country and around the world that adults are preying on kids with no reckoning around it.”
Snow said he never reported what he says happened to him to church authorities or the police. He said he was emboldened to come forward with his story after a recent expose of the Southern Baptist Convention by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News.
“Back then, nobody would have believed me,” he said. “I have been carrying this around with me for a long time.”
NBC News is not identifying Snow’s alleged abuser, who is now in his 70s, because he was never charged with a crime. But Snow provided NBC News with an email the alleged abuser sent him in February 2012.
In it, the alleged predator does not explicitly admit to molesting him, but he is apologetic and refers to Snow as a “dear old friend.”
“I regret invading your space by trying to be your best buddy and closest friend,” he wrote.
Calling him “Bill,” which was how Snow was known in the 1960s and ’70s, the alleged abuser wrote that he was reaching out because a relative of Snow’s had alluded to “something that went on between the two of you.”
“I do recall some of our times together and will readily apologize for being so sure that if I dug deep enough into the things of your past and could figure it out, I could fix all the past and encourage you into a stable future,” he wrote. “I have read a lot of books on forgiveness and have tried hard to implement that lifestyle. … I hope you haven’t put this down and burned it because I’m not trying to preach but rather share my heart with you as a dear old friend.”
The writer closed by inviting Snow to call him, giving him his Dallas cellphone number.
“You remain in my heart and mind the very special guy that everybody loved so much back then,” he wrote. “I will really be so glad to see you and spend some time together unhindered by a schedule, if you would like.”
Snow said he didn’t take him up on the offer.
“My first instinct was to write him back and say sarcastically, ‘What exactly is it you’re apologizing for?’” he told NBC News. “But I let a little time pass and then a little more and then finally decided I didn’t want to give him any more of my life. I didn’t write him back.”
When NBC News called the number in the email, the man Snow has accused of sexual abuse answered on the first ring.
“Interesting,” he replied, after the reporter explained he was calling about Snow and what allegedly happened a half-century earlier.
In a follow-up email to NBC News, the accused man admitted he knows both Snow and his family and insisted “we remained friends for some time after the alleged trip.”
“Never once was there a discussion by him regarding me ‘taking advantage of him’ as he now alleges,” he wrote. “Strange that such should come up now 50 years later … I have not ever ‘taken advantage’ of anyone on a mission trip, in a church trip, in a church related setting or in a mission related setting.”
On his personal website, the man describes himself as a married grandfather who does volunteer work with low-income children in Texas and in Central America.
To that, Snow said: “He still has access to children.”
Snow said he was adopted at birth and that his adoptive parents split up when he was 3.
“I was a young man in search of a father figure, desperate to feel loved,” he said. “I have considered myself bisexual my entire life. But what happened with him crossed the line.”
Snow said he and three other male members of the church choir had gone on a trip to Galveston, Texas, with his alleged abuser and another male adult chaperone.
That night, he said, they all bunked in a motel room and he found himself sharing the roll-out bed with his alleged predator. He said when the lights went off and everybody else seemed to be asleep, the man reached for him.
“The first time took me completely by surprise,” Snow said. “I woke to him fondling me.”
Snow said he set up their second sexual encounter a month later. He said he went willingly but soon regretted it.
“He made it this dirty thing,” he said. “I never recovered from that.”
Snow said his life veered off course after that. He left the church and cut ties with just about everybody he knew. He shelved his dream of becoming an actor after his mother warned him “there are a lot of homosexuals in the theater.” At 32, he got married and was divorced 13 months later.
“I ran the other way and I lived my life on a different track because of that,” he said.
Eventually, Snow found a kindred spirit in his second wife, Lynne, and they moved to Eugene, Oregon, hoping to start anew. They have a 25-year-old daughter.
“We met in 1991 or ’92 and started dating and confiding in each other,” Lynne Snow said. “I have sexual abuse in my background as well. … It was a shared experience we both had, so we could understand and empathize with each other.”
But it also took a toll on their marriage, which ended in divorce after 12 years, Lynne Snow said.
Snow, she said, suffered from a lack of self-esteem and “control issues” that she attributes directly to the abuse he says he suffered.
“People who go through something like this feel a lot of shame, a lot of guilt,” she said. “I know I didn’t tell anybody what happened to me for years and years. It put a dark cloud over his life.”
Gary Plouff said that he met Snow in Eugene and that he also confided in him about the abuse.
“We were getting to know each other and he wanted to tell me about things that happened in his life,” he said. “I had my own sexual abuse issue with priests when I was 14, 15.”
Lynne Snow and Plouff both said Snow was “startled” when his alleged abuser suddenly emailed him.
“I guess a relative of his knew that person and gave him Henry’s email,” Plouff said.
Snow said that work brought him back to Texas, and that he reconnected with his adoptive dad’s family briefly and met his birth sisters in recent years. But he’s never considered darkening the doorway of the Baptist church, and he can’t help wonder what his life might have been like had he not been molested.
“Though I know the conditions of my life could have been much worse, I cannot escape the feeling that my life has been a basket of unfulfilled potential,” he said.
“It’s been a bittersweet experience.”
Corky Siemaszko is a senior writer at NBC News Digital.