Since my sisterÕs death two-and-a-half months ago, IÕve found myself reflecting back a lot on my early childhood and how it is that my sister, my brother and me got to where we are (she being at the right hand of the Father!).
Some things are just innate, IÕve realized, and are the inevitable results of a personÕs conditioning. My dad could not have done a more monumental thing in our lives when he suddenly dropped the beautifully ornate St. John Lutheran Church in downtown Akron, where he was a distinguished member of the choir, to begin attending ÒredneckÓ Dallas BillingtonÕs Akron Baptist Temple. I was only three years old at the time.
My mom, to this day, somehow thinks my dad goofed up. I donÕt think sheÕll ever realize the absolutely incredible thing he did by subsequently, willingly and anxiously, selling our expansive family home in Old Fairlawn Heights, to become an independent missionary for HCJB in the Amazon jungles of Ecuador in 1969, paying our whole familyÕs way (including our poodle Mimi) for the whole gig (1969-73)!
He was a missionary doctor who helped save a lot of lives, not just by his expertise, even as a surgeon (something he did in the Korean War for the U.S. Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska), but by the shipping of barrels and barrels of prescription medicine he brought down from Akron as a physician who had earned his own pharmaceutical license!
About 11 years ago, shortly after 9/11 and my dadÕs shocking death one month later, my sister called me one Sunday to tell me she had just run into a very tall man at church who turned out to be a fellow missionary for HCJB and knew about my fatherÕs work in Shell, Ecuador (home of Nate Saint and Jim and Elizabeth Elliot)! He was just-retired from his long-standing career in Quito, Ecuador and had recently moved to Mansfield, Ohio with his wife to be near their daughter and her family!
When I called this man, he gave me the phone number of Dr. Wally Swanson, who he informed me was now retired and living in California with his family. Wally was my dadÕs sole partner at the little hospital in Shell and the two of them handled hundreds of tribal people who were regularly flown in from the jungles by HCJB pilots for medical attention.
Wally, who preceded my dad in the field by a decade, was actually mentioned in the mainstream-release movie ÒEnd of the Spear,Ó which gives the amazing account of Saint and Elliot, etc.