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Mar26FriColonels Ian and Wendy Swan say it starts with empowering individuals. March 26, 2021
(Above) Cols Ian and Wendy Swan enjoy the children’s meeting at the Lusaka North West divisional congress in August 2019
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Colonels Ian and Wendy Swan serve as territorial leaders in the Zambia Territory, where they first began their international service in 1989. Along the way, they also spent 15 years in the Hong Kong and Macau Command. Senior graphic designer Brandon Laird spoke with Colonel Wendy Swan for Season 3 of the Salvationist podcast. Here are highlights from their conversation. To listen to the full episode, visit salvationist.ca/podcast.
Tell us about your journey to international service with The Salvation Army.
Colonel Wendy Swan: I grew up in The Salvation Army. As I responded to a call of officership on my life, I remember a specific challenge in my second year of training college, when General and Mrs. Clarence Wiseman came to speak about their experiences in Kenya. They challenged us by asking, “Where is your place in serving mission?” I remember feeling convicted that I needed to respond in some tangible way. That was probably the first real push that the Holy Spirit gave me.
In 1985, as a young lieutenant, I took a delegation to an international youth congress in Macomb, Ill. At the end of one of the evenings, during the song If Crosses Come, I felt utterly compelled to stand up and go down to the centre of this huge coliseum and pray. That was the defining moment for me as an individual. I knew at that point I was going to be serving internationally—what that looked like, I didn’t have a clue. I just knew it was non-negotiable. As much as I loved growing up in Canada, I knew this Canadian was going to be living globally, somehow, somewhere.
We began our overseas service as a married couple here in Zambia and served for seven years, then went to China for nine years, eventually spent another six years in China as leaders, and we returned to Zambia in 2019.
Tell us about the unique expressions of The Salvation Army in China and Zambia.
We talk about “One Army, one mission, one message,” and that’s true. But I think we would all agree that even in Canada, there are a variety of expressions in worship and how people respond to the social issues around them.
In East Asia, there is a reverence and awe when one approaches God. The worship could be described as restrained and solemn, and so the approach to social issues can be similar, although in recent years, we’ve seen a huge change in the Hong Kong context. Young adults, out of the convictions of their own faith, are prepared to speak about democracy and the marginalized, and are saying it’s time to stand up and be counted.
The African expression of worship is vibrant, spontaneous and active. It’s a relational kind of community. When you’re looking at social issues—gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, early childhood marriage—the women take a public and active role. Female Salvationists, in particular, are often community change agents—they lead and organize other churches.
Over the 25 years of our international service, and especially in the last 10 years, we’ve seen a change. It used to be senior adults who would take part in community matters. In our experience, and I’m very involved in moral and social issues councils in both China and Zambia, the ones who want to get the most involved are young adults, those who are between 18 and 35. They’re thinking individuals, they want to know the theology, the why—but their next question is always, what’s next? That’s part of the Salvationist DNA. We’re doers.
What do you enjoy most about cross-cultural ministry? What do you find difficult or challenging? Is there a story from the life of Jesus that helps guide your approach?
What I love about international service is exploring and learning about this amazing planet, the amazing gift of diversity, that God’s given us. I am a Canadian by birth, but a global citizen by choice. One of the first challenges—and I continue to learn this lesson—is language. I’ve been a source of laughter for many people in different parts of the world. Different tones and expressions mean different things, and I have made more than one grandmother in a local market go into hysterics, based on what I thought I said—and clearly it didn’t come out right!
Another challenge is living as a minority. I have first-hand experience, some of which has been delightful, some of which has been difficult. But I know what it’s like to feel invisible, to not fit, whether because of my gender, language, nationality or citizenship. But it does, hopefully, help develop empathy for others. So, no matter where I am, I usually find myself seeking out the new person in the room.
As I have read and studied God’s Word, Jesus consistently went out to seek the marginalized. He picked up the little kids in a room full of adults, he elevated the status of women, he spoke to the ordinary person, when the so-called important political figures were in the room. I think of the woman at the well, in the Gospel of John—Jesus seeking out somebody whom everybody else ignored.
When I read of those encounters in Scripture, I think, Well, if Jesus can do it, then he calls me to do it. And he’s promised that he’s going to be with me as I attempt to do it.
Why is Partners in Mission so important?
I’m a firm believer that every country, every culture, every context has something to contribute. In my own journey, I’ve always wanted to make a contribution. And yet each time I’ve attempted to make one, I’m aware of the richness of the gifts that have been given back to me—relationships, friendships, memories.
Community, wherever you find it, is about partnership. What those contributions look like may be different. For some, it may be monetary. For others, it’s relational. And for still others, it may be resources and materials. Sometimes we make the mistake of attributing a higher value to certain kinds of contributions.
Regardless of where we live and whatever resources we have, if we see it as something reciprocal—I’m bringing something and you’re bringing something—if we approach mission that we’re in this together, and we’re better together, then what comes out of our partnership is going to be something better than we both had before we entered it.
The original partnership was God inviting us to join him. It begins with God, and then it’s you and me and God together. For me, Partners in Mission is really about people.
How is the Zambia Territory working toward gender equity?
It begins with the empowerment of individuals. We began serious discussions shortly after I arrived, and after a year of study and conversations, we have the first gender equity policy for our territory. We’re the first church in Zambia, and the first territory in the Africa Zone, to address this.
The nation is changing, and the church is changing, and we are incredibly excited to be part of that change. Here in Zambia, a lack of literacy for girls is very much linked to human trafficking and to child marriage. Those are the realities in which we live.
Gender equity for us is not only about how to empower young women to be all that they can be—who we believe God has called them to be—but how to create a society and community where a young girl can dream and be encouraged to dream, and how we surround her with support, so that her dreams are possible. Why can’t a young Zambian girl dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a Salvation Army officer or whatever else God has asked her to be?
So, we’ve taken a large framework. Gender equity for us is not only about appointments, boards and councils and those kinds of things within the Army system. It’s really about saying to our young girls, “You’re brave, you’re beautiful and you’re blessed.” That’s our theme this year: you can be all that God’s called you to be. And we’re alongside you.
What gives you hope as you participate in God’s mission?
Christians are on the winning side. As I read Scripture, it consistently says that the battle is the Lord’s. Our responsibility is to live right while righting wrong every time we find it. As an individual, I don’t do that alone. In fact, it would be impossible for me to even attempt to do so. The encouragement I have is that Christ says, “I’m in you. I’m with you. And as you go in the world, as you step out that door every single morning, I’m there. In fact, if you want to see what I’m doing, go out the door.” That’s the part that gets me out of bed in the morning. As you’ve said, it’s about God’s mission, God’s redemptive plan for this broken world.
I am hopeful because God has already been at work. He is at work. He’s promised that as I take his hand and we do this together, that he’s doing more than I can ask or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20). I don’t always know what the day is going to look like or what the challenges are going to be, but I do know who I walk into the day with. We’re not alone—that’s the adventure. And that gives me hope.
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