Steve Swallow’s Journey of Faith
Steve Swallow gave this Journey of Faith on June 3, 2018.
I was born first of five children in Charleston, South Carolina. My parents loved the music from the black church next door, but mom couldn’t sleep during the late-night wailing while pregnant. When I was five we relocated to New Jersey where we became Congregationalists.
Mom was worried; I had no interest in church at all. I was a yellow bird in first grade; blue birds and even the red birds flew higher. My teacher, Miss Uri, explained to my mother that I was a “dreamer” who mostly gazed out the window.
In 1964 we relocated to southern Virginia. Everything was totally segregated; I had close black friends in New Jersey. My dad said we would have a voice in choosing which white church we would attend. My siblings chose the Baptist church on the wrong side of the tracks; the ruling was the Methodist church on the right side.
In 1966 KC and I met at the University of Richmond. She was raised Catholic and we shared doubt.
My academic renaissance was initiated with rulers on knuckles by Mr. Rohner, an Episcopal priest and my 7th grade mathematics teacher. It was he who married us, a Protestant to a Catholic in a Baptist chapel.
KC and I moved to Massachusetts in 1973 and in 1983 shopped for a church. By now mom was praying for and counseling gays out of their “sickness”. All four of my siblings were members of evangelical churches. FRS was our first stop and we never looked back.
In my time with our minister Bert Steeves, we initiated a soup kitchen and I observed what Mother Teresa meant: We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.
My journey includes many trips to Guatemala. This day our group — we were three dentists and an ophthalmologist– arrived in Nahuala. We were stunned to find more than a thousand people lined up in front of the school where we set dental chairs between holes in the roof. At the end of the day it was the loving smiles and kind looks of the hundreds, still waiting, who were not seen that overwhelmed us — somebody had come to care for them.
Harold and Josh Babcock and I traveled to Manderson, South Dakota in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to build a basketball court. We knew that the people there might not appreciate or even like us. There were Indian boys who kept their distance but checked on us from afar.
There was a belligerent “why you doin’ this for us”? I said we all need something different; it’s a change and it feels good to be helping out. He said: “No man! We wanna know what you doin’ here!” I tried to embellish the previous scenario without success. He was now not afraid and demanded an answer that he could believe. My God stepped in. She told me to say: “I’m buildin’ this court so I can beat your asses on it when I’m finished.” They looked stunned and expounded that “that ain’t never gonna happen”. We became instant best friends and they helped us complete the court. Mother Teresa said: Give of your hands to serve and your hearts to love.It was 100+ degrees in the shade and I needed a break. I sat on a fence away from the others and poured a bucket of water over my head. Soon there was a presence which I pretended to ignore. It was the two eldest Indian boys. Soon the younger ones moved in on each side.
In my search for what is real and important as I try to understand “faith” and God, I feel a thread that runs throughout. In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking speculated that only God could have controlled the force of the big bang. The chances of the force being exactly what was required to keep the universe expanding without collapsing in on itself is one in nearly infinity. This enabled our laws of physics, the galaxies, the solar systems and the coming of life. His speculation enhanced my thoughts of God being an ever-present force who or that has charged me with doing his work.
Miss Uri had it right; I am a dreamer, but not the only one. God works through these hands and loves through this heart.