Salvationist Podcast

Colonel Wendy Swan - Partners In Mission

March 19, 2021 Salvationist.ca Season 3 Episode 4
Salvationist Podcast
Colonel Wendy Swan - Partners In Mission
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Salvationist Podcast
Colonel Wendy Swan - Partners In Mission
Mar 19, 2021 Season 3 Episode 4
Salvationist.ca

In this episode, Colonel (Dr.) Wendy Swan speaks with Salvationist podcast about her experience in international service, from Hong Kong to Zambia. Touching on The Salvation Army's mission to "live right while righting wrongs," she explores her calling to officership, the empowerment of women in her territory, and how to build true partnerships across international borders.

Salvationist Article:
Equipping, Empowering, Exploring

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Colonel (Dr.) Wendy Swan speaks with Salvationist podcast about her experience in international service, from Hong Kong to Zambia. Touching on The Salvation Army's mission to "live right while righting wrongs," she explores her calling to officership, the empowerment of women in her territory, and how to build true partnerships across international borders.

Salvationist Article:
Equipping, Empowering, Exploring

Brandon Laird  

Hi, my name is Brandon Laird, and you're listening to the Salvationist podcast.

Colonel Wendy Swan  

In season three, we're connecting with people who are inspiring the Salvation Army mission and helping position us for growth. Today we're going to talk with Canadian officer Colonel (Dr.) Wendy Swan, who is serving with her husband Colonel Ian Swan as territorial leaders in Zambia Territory, as secretary to and the sitting member of a Salvation Army International Theological Council, and the territorial president for women's ministries in Zambia. Wendy brings her international experience to these appointments, including her time in Hong Kong and Macau, and Mainland China command. Colonel Wendy completed her PhD in systematic theology at King's College London, her thesis title "Living Right While Righting Wrong: A theology of protest, to challenge Salvationists and the greater Christian church on why they should advocate for the world's poor and marginalized." Thank you, Wendy, for making time for us today. My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. Looking forward to chatting.

Brandon Laird  

I'm sure. Salvationists from Canada and Bermuda are going to be really excited to hear your voice today. So thanks again. Can you tell me a little about your journey to international service with The Salvation Army?

Colonel Wendy Swan  

Sure, I have grown up in The Salvation Army. It's the only church home that I've known -- many generations of Salvation Army prior to my birth in my family. But my journey to international service, it actually began, I was attending the Army, but I was doing a two-year diploma program at Briarcrest Bible College in the Prairies recommended -- this is many, many years ago -- by my corps officer, and I was really struck by their annual missions conference. And I remember at that point in time, beginning to think about how large the body of Christ really was, how many service opportunities there were for young Christian adults, and being challenged myself as a Salvationist. To think about, well, how might I serve? Where might I serve? What possibly could that look like? My dad traveled globally in the armed forces; my mom committed at the local community. As I responded to a call of officership on my life, finding myself at the training college, I do remember a very specific challenge in my second year of training college, when General and Mrs. Wiseman came to speak. They spoke about their experiences in Kenya, but very clearly the challenge was made, or at least that's what it seemed like to me: where is your place in serving mission? I remember sitting in the midst of this huge session, I think there were 53 of us, and feeling very much convicted that I needed to respond in some tangible way. I think that was probably the first real push that the Holy Spirit gave me in 1985, as a young lieutenant at the International Youth Congress in Macomb, Illinois. I took a delegation down, I was the associate officer at Guelph at that point, and at the end of one of the evenings, I think it was Man Mark II, the play, there was again, you know, this amazing song we have in the Army, "If Crosses Come." Sitting up in the boondocks, we'd probably call it the nosebleed session at this point, sitting in those bleachers, and feeling utterly compelled to stand up and go down in this huge coliseum and pray. And that was the defining moment for me as an individual. I knew at that point, my life would probably most certainly, I guess in, in hindsight, it was going to be serving internationally. What that looked like where that looked like, I didn't have a clue. But I just knew in my inner gut, it was non-negotiable. Sounds all rather dramatic. But I look back a series of events, I guess, confirming that my my service as much as I loved growing up in Canada. Yeah, that this Canadian was going to be living globally, somehow, somewhere.

Brandon Laird  

Thanks for that trip down your memory lane. It was it was really nice to hear about it. I'm curious to know what you enjoy most about cultural ministry? And also what do you find difficult or challenging?

Colonel Wendy Swan  

I'll start with what I enjoy the most. I think honestly, it's about this amazing planet that we've been given. Growing up in my home neighborhood of Victoria, everybody, pretty much look the same sounded the same. We went to the same school, same shared interests. And all of that was great, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and being willing to get a passport. And I guess you could say being willing to travel but being willing to live and experience things, totally out of comfort zone, for me, as a young adult was incredibly exciting and challenging, all mixed up, like terrifying and okay, let's go all together. I would say, I am a Canadian by birth, but a global citizen by choice. And I think that choice is something I do each and every day. And even when I have returned to Canada for years of service, I would say it's still global, global minded. And for me, that is just a huge blessing and benefit, looking and listening for those who are different than who we are. I think of an old movie where a little girl goes up to an actor said, "Why did God paint you?" I mean, she was just looking at this individual who looked very different than than she did. And the gentleman replies little girl, he says, "Because our God loves diversity." And I thought, that's what I love, really about international service and culture. It's about exploring and learning about this amazing diversity, that gift that God's given us. So for me, that's huge, and with that blessing and hugeness obviously come challenges. I think one of the first challenges, and I continue to learn this lesson, is language. I grew up as an English speaker, French is my second language. But along the way, I have felt the need or, you could say, felt forced to learn a variety of other languages, none of which I speak well. So, I've had this amazing journey ofconstantly learning: What do you say? How do you express that? Beginning with greetings and then getting to the nitty gritty of what does life look like. How do you communicate with people? So I would say that's an ongoing challenge. I have loved it. I have been the source of laughter for many in different parts of this world; different tones and different expressions mean very different things. So 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. So language is a challenge. I would say another one, sometimes is learning to live as a minority. Someone asked me recently, how do you view the world? And I said, I think I've come to the recognition. This is this is our we're in our 25th year living internationally. Now that boggles my mind. And I have lived 25 years living as a minority. So, I have a firsthand understanding and experiences, some of which are delightful, some of which have been very difficult, but I know what it's like not to be seen. I know what it's like to be invisible. I know what it's like, not to fit, whether it's because of my gender, whether it's because of my language, whether it's because of my nationality and citizenship. So there's a sense in which, while those are huge challenges in many respects, it does hopefully help develop a new an empathy for others. So no matter where I am, I usually find myself seeking out somebody who's either in the corner or not the center of attention. Now often that's from different countries where we have served, because I know what it's like to be a newcomer or a visitor in another place. So I do I do tend to intentionally seek out a new person in the room.

Brandon Laird  

Thanks for sharing those perspectives and being vulnerable like that. Thank you very much. Is there a story from the life of Jesus that helps guide your approach, when serving these 25 years abroad?

Colonel Wendy Swan  

I think of the woman that the well, and the Gospel of John, you know, seeking out somebody who everybody else ignored, and having a word of encouragement. That has always been really positive for me. I am very much, because I have served in a variety of places, I'm very aware of gender equity issues, and that's something very, very close to my heart. I think as I have seen and read and studied God's Word, Jesus consistently went out to seek the marginalized, you know? He picked up the little kids in a room full of adults. He elevated the status of women when it was male-dominated. He spoke to the ordinary person, when the fancy and so-called important political figures were in the room. Those for me, it makes it very easy for me to follow when I when I read of those encounters in the Gospel, and 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. So I'm really encouraged, particularly by the New Testament, and that way. I'm equally encouraged in the Old Testament when I read up the prophets and the individuals who are out to change the world, whether easy or difficult. I think of Esther for such a time as this -- life threatening, not an easy path. But living right while righting wrong, the stories in Scripture are amazing. And I think God's put them there to say, you're not alone have a go.

Brandon Laird  

From a perspective of an officer serving overseas, why is Partners in Mission so important?

Colonel Wendy Swan  

I'm a firm believer that every, country, every culture, every context has something to contribute. And because it's people, people are involved. And so if we believe that's really true, then then partnership is the starting point, not the end point. And I think because in my own journey, I've always wanted to make a contribution. And yet each time I've attempted a contribution, I'm very aware of the richness of the gifts that have been given back to me -- relationships, friendships, memories, those kinds of things. I really think that 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 actual relational; for others, it may be resources and materials. I think sometimes some of the mistakes we make is that we attribute a higher value to certain parts of contribution. I think having lived out of the Canadian context for so long, I think what I do see is that if we see it as something reciprocal, if we understand that it's an exchange, like when we begin a new friendship, I'm bringing something and you're bringing something and we believe that together, what's coming out of this is going to be something better than we both had before we entered it. So in that sense, Partners in Mission is rich, for me, you cannot put a monetary value on it. It really is gift. And I think if each of us, regardless of where we live, and whatever resources we have, if we approach mission, that we're in this together, and we're better together, because the original partnership was God inviting us to join anyway. So if we're, if we're really attuned to that, then whatever I'm bringing, and whatever you're bringing, and we put that together, something really dynamic's about to happen. And then I think of that Scripture verse where God goes, "See I'm doing a new thing." Don't close your eyes. So Partners in Mission for me is it really is about people. It begins with God and then it's you and me, and God together. And that's the exciting bit, that's the engagement with people that you spoke about.

Brandon Laird  

In preparing for this interview, Wendy, I learned that you served in both Zambia and Hong Kong, two different times in your career as officers. Talk to me about the unique expressions that you've experienced in both.

Colonel Wendy Swan  

We talked about being one Army, one message. And that's really true. But I think we would all agree, even as diverse as Canada is, there's a variety of expressions and how people respond not only in the worship setting, but to the social issues around them. That's certainly true on an international level, as well. We began our overseas service as a married couple here in Zambia, and served for seven years, then went to China for nine years, and then eventually did another six years in China as leaders and then we're back here in Zambia. So, you not only have like a time gap, you have the kind of beginning timeframes, where you're very much a newbie and brand new experiences and observing how people react. And then you have periods of time where you very much become integrated into communities and you participate in the worship and the social issues that that community's committed to. I would say, of the two territory and command, both have very different worship expressions. In Southeast Asia, there is very much a properness, is very much a reverence and an awe in how one approaches God. So the worship expression sometimes could be described as restrained, very solemn. And so the approach to social issues often can be an expression coming out of that worship. An exception to the rule in Southeast Asia, and in Hong Kong particularly, would be during our service and in recent years when young adults in particular, out of the convictions of their own faith, are prepared to speak about democracy, the marginalized and are prepared to take that very much in a public way that has not been the traditional means out of Chinese culture. But there is a change in young adult Salvationist, who are saying, it's time to be public, it's time to stand up and be counted. So that's a huge change we've seen in the Hong Kong context. In returning back to Zambia two years ago now, the African expression, particularly in worship is very vibrant, very spontaneous, very active. And so out of that expression, it's a very public relational kind of community. So then when you're looking at social issues, and particularly amongst women, if there's something wrong, if you're dealing with gender based violence, genital mutilation, early childhood marriages, the women take a very public in a very active role. And female Salvationist, in particular, are often community community change agents; they lead and organize other churches. Chinese Salvationists will do the same being in a more committee community framework. I think what I'm saying is, we have seen a change over the 25 years of our international service. Where years ago only the senior adults would take part in in community matters, what we have seen in the last 10 years in particular, is that young adult Salvationists -- and I'm sure this is true in the Canadian context, as well -- young adults have the courage of their convictions, they are prepared to move into community, and they not only know that reaching and caring for others is important, but they want to know the why behind that. They know it's the right thing to do. They know that they read and see that Jesus does it. But they want to know they're thinking individuals. They want to know the rationale. You can say the philosophy, the theology, why do we do what we do? What we're seeing in moral and social issues, councils, I'm not sure what we call it in Canada, social issues committee or something. it's about we have to come together and talk about this, but the talking is not sufficient anymore. That's the starting point. And then that's the springboard to go and do something. So out of our experience, and I'm very much involved in moral and social issues councils in both Hong Kong, and here in Zambia, the ones that want to get the most involved are the young adult Salvationists. That's between 18 and 35. Their next question always is what's next. Because in their workplaces, their neighborhoods, their engagement with people, they can already see the need to be the physical expression of that might look different, but the convictions behind it, that's part of the Salvationist DNA. I think we're doers.

Brandon Laird  

That's great to hear about how the Salvationists, the young Salvationists,  are helping lead some of the social change in those territories and those commands. It's really encouraging for us here in Canada. In an article for Salvationist magazine, you shared how the Zambia Territory is working to equip and empower women. What is happening in Zambia Territory around gender equity?

Colonel Wendy Swan  

Gender equity, for me, just begins with the empowerment of individuals. Gender equity, specifically in our territory. We began serious discussions shortly after I arrived. In such a large territory, I have the privilege to lead and cheer about 20,000 female soldiers and officers -- that's over absolutely overwhelming. I work with a team of six women at THQ. And after asking them to tell their stories and listen to some of their concerns for the women in the territory, not only the officer for us, but the women in their communities, their dreams for the young girls, we began to talk about the legal framework that exists within the country. You know, where has the nation moved on? How does the church respond? Are we working together? Are we ahead or behind. All of that over an entire year has led to what we now have --it's just been approved by our Board of Trustees -- the first gender equity policy for our territory. We're the first church in Zambia to address that issue. It turns out, we're all so the first territory in the Africa Zone. Women have talked about this need for a very, very long time. I think what we sometimes have not had are cheerleaders to say, we can really do this, we can make a difference. In this part of the world, particularly where more than 80% of our soldiers are women, how can we not empower our women, local officers? How can we not demonstrate and facilitate the opportunity for personnel development for our officers? This is something that's on the international Army agenda. But when you're faced with it each and every day, one of the challenges that I do say to our women is, what kind of world do you want your daughter to grow up in? Or even when we're visiting a community, where are our daughters? What are they doing? How are they working towards their dreams? How do we as older women, tell them it's okay to dream in a predominant culture, which says, and still practices in many of our rural areas, if anybody goes to school, it's a boy. If anyone has an opportunity to work or travel, it's going to be the boy. The nation is changing, and the church is changing. And so we are incredibly excited to be a part of that change. Here in in Zambia a lack of literacy, for girls, very much, is intricately linked to human trafficking. It's intricately linked to child marriages, to men who are three and four times their age. Those are the realities which we live in. So gender equity for us is not only about how do we empower young adult women to be all that they can be and who we believe God has called them to be. But how do we create a society in community where a young girl can dream and be encouraged to dream and a community of women surround her with support? So that there might be a possibility? Why can't a young Zambian girl dream to be a doctor and a lawyer and a Salvation Army officer or whatever else God has asked her to be? So we've taken a really large framework and said gender equity for us is not only about appointments, and boards and councils and those kinds of things within the Army system. But it's really about saying to our young girls, you're brave, you're beautiful, and you're blessed. That's our thing this year, you can be all that God's called you to be. And we're alongside you. I see my job as being the cheerleader. I work with this team. And my job is to to be a cheerleader, that I had cheerleaders early in my, my officership. I have tried, many times failed, but I keep at it, keeping in touch with young women, some married some singles, you know, marital status doesn't mean a thing to me in that sense. But keeping in touch with them and saying, you can do this, God has blessed you. And also saying, How can I help? What can I pray for? How can I support you? So whether that's that's done digitally, whether it's done person to person, that depends on where I'm living, and perhaps where some of these other young women are living. But equally as I invest my life in their lives, long distance, and invest my life and in women here, it's all reciprocal. I just said it. Some days, honestly, I feel far more blessed than anything I could ever give. Which sometimes really surprises me. So that the passion around the gender equity and the empowerment of women. I really believe that we're at a tipping point in this territory. We have educated officers and soldiers, we have learned individuals, we have passionate individuals who can just hardly wait to get their hands dirty for God. They just need an opportunity. And so we have built that into our strategic plans, and empowerment of activities. And just reinforcing in all the things that a Salvation Army does day to day, even in difficult circumstances, such as a COVID, is that we can do this. We can make a difference. My worst nightmare would be for the young eight to 10 year old girls to one day arrive at 18, 21 and say nothing's changed. That would be heartbreaking. And, yeah, the team of women leaders, we're not prepared for that to happen. So it will look different, I'm sure in the context of Canada or somebody else. But that's, that's for us. It's gender equity and empowerment. It's not about outdoing the men. It's about empowering the women.

Brandon Laird  

It's encouraging to hear about the the inroads that you guys are making in that area of the world. I understand you did a PhD that proposed a theology of protest for The Salvation Army. How can Salvationist participate in addressing root causes of injustice?

Colonel Wendy Swan  

Root. I think the key piece is the root causes. I think, I think awareness obviously is a key piece, I think it is more intentional than simply awareness -- educate yourself, find out what the issues are. I would also suggest that even as we, and I include myself, even as we become aware of social issues, and we read, and we listen and stuff, I would say we have to keep our eyes open. And Salvationists, we claim to be people in whom Jesus Christ by his Spirit lives. So as I move in community to God's Spirit is in me in that community. So I believe it's a case of Lord opened my eyes. helped me hear the voices that need to be heard. helped me see the people that would appear to be invisible to everybody else. helped me find creative ways. So they can tell me their story instead of me assuming what I think they need. And I think that's a danger for it. For all of us. It's not only about us advocating for other people, it's about finding ways so that individuals can tell their own story and find their own voice. That sounds ominous and overwhelming. And it is if you if you only look at the big picture, I think it starts in simple steps. To truly find a root cause means that you have to engage with people, they have to tell you what their story is, they need to tell you and show you and demonstrate. And that means that I need to engage with you as a person. It goes back to the Partners in Mission, part of the conversation. I treat you as an equal. You have something that I need to learn and how can I help you. I think root causes are never what you see on the surface, the first thing you see is probably not the root cause. That's just, that's either what somebody wants to show you or it's just the tip of the iceberg. The real root cause is always deeper, it's harder, and it's going to take longer. But if you begin with one step at a time, it's amazing the progress that you can make. And it really begins by engaging, engaging with people. And that's a simple step. Honestly, that's listening. It's saying hello, it's acknowledging another person's presence. It may even be the simple step of making eye contact with somebody. And so often we don't do that anymore, because we don't want to offend anybody. It's smiling to stranger. It's an acknowledgement of their personhood. And I find it incredible in that moment of eye contact, that says, I see you. And I believe the Spirit is already at work. So getting at the root cause is not a quick fix. It is about relationship. It is about commitment. But I think that's one of the reasons why I chose The Salvation Army. I had lots of choices as a young professional, long before I went to college, looking at all kinds of organizations. And I think it was the core values of the Army. And I probably knew it the most out of all the organizations I've worked with at that point in my life. And I went, yeah, this is the best fit. And so living within a community that is prepared to address the root causes. It's like that scenario where babies are floating down the river -- in development, we often hear this story. Babies are floating down the river and we're quickly pulling them out one by one. Until one person says, Don't you think we should go to the top of the river and figure out why the babies are in the river coming down our way? It's a time thing. But I can't think of anything better to commit my life to. And it's not about living in faraway places. It's in each one of our communities, each one of our neighborhoods, and for many of us, it's in our own families.

Brandon Laird  

Thank you for that explanation there. Wendy. My last question for you today is what gives you hope as you participate in God's mission.

Colonel Wendy Swan  

Christians are on the winning side. As I read Scripture, it consistently says the battle is the Lord'. Our responsibility is to live right. Well, righting wrongs, every time we find it. As an individual, I don't do that alone. In fact, it would be it would be flippin 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, and 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. It really is about, as you've said, God's mission, God's redemptive plan for this broken world. And so when I wake up in the morning, 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. Ephesians 320 is my, I don't know if I say my all time favorite verse, but it's probably the verse that I share with others and I hold on to the tightest, which simply says that he, Jesus will do more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that's at work within us. And so for me as I get up, and I share in his mission, and I don't always know what the day is going to look like, I don't know what the challenges are going be, I don't know what the surprises are going to be, but I do know who I walk into the day with. And so as I do that, I've already got that promise, that even though I may not know what it's going to look like, God is already doing more than I can ask or imagine. And so I think for me, part of my international journey has been to stretch me beyond what I could have thought possible, of how big God really is. I think growing up, I had kind of put God in a box and said, Okay, this is the way you have to, this is what you need to do God, because this is this is my little box. And this is my comfort zone. I find that as I'm willing to stretch outside my comfort zone God is so much bigger, so much greater, is prepared and does bring healing, restores the broken wall that I think of all kinds of, you know, phrases of Scripture and God goes, I'm doing this come along for the ride. And I just can't think of a better invitation. Are there hard and crummy days and tough days? Absolutely! Are the days when I want to quit? Yeah. Hey, that's the human piece. But then the next morning God goes, Okay, one more time. Let's do it. So I for me, that's the Adventure, capital A. And that that gives me hope. I am stunned to think that this year marks 37 years of officership. That just boggles my mind. In my heart I'm still 18, I'm still raring to go, you know, the body not so much on some days. But I think in terms of the kind of the hope and the energy I think, okay, Lord, let's go. So the hope that we're not alone, we're doing this together. It's taking God's hand and saying, All right, Lord, show me the new thing for today. And I think that's true for Canadians in their context, coast to coast. I know lots of Salvationists who go, hey, that's what I'm doing in my neighborhood. That's what I'm doing in my job. I'm trying to make this impact in my community. So I really don't think it's about where you're geographically living. I think it's about kind of trusting the one who said, This is my world. Let's go change it.

Brandon Laird  

Thank you, Colonel Wendy Swan for talking with us today and sharing your experiences from other parts of the Salvation Army world. Watch for Colonel Wendy's interview in the march 2021 issue of Salvationist magazine, available online at issuu.com/salvationist. Thanks for listening to the Salvationist podcast. For more episodes, be sure to visit salvationist.ca/podcast. For more army news visit salvationist.ca. And if you would like to get the news delivered directly to your email inbox, visit salvationist.ca/newsletter