My Life & Calling [UPDATED, 08/22/2020, 20:28:41] — Greetings to all! I am glad to be on this journey with you. I am 37 years old. I was born on March 11, 1983, to James Leroy Swanson of Martinsville, Virginia, and Rochelle Gregg of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both of my parents met in Germany. Both are U.S. Army veterans. And both still speak German to this day. My father almost reached a point of fluency in German. My father received his call to ministry in Germany, and began preaching at a base chapel in addition to a local parish. My parents were both combat medics. Fun fact — my mother has driven an Abrams tank and fired it’s various weapons systems in training exercises!!! Graciously, neither of my parents had to go to Vietnam. My father lost many, many friends in Vietnam, though. Now that I think about it, we have never had an in-depth conversation about that. I wonder how that might still affect my dad. I will ask him during this CPE period, and also see if he has made a trip recently to Arlington to honor them.
Although my parents are both divorced, and I have lived away from my father all my life, I have a great relationship with both my parents. My father is a bishop with the Convention of Covenanting Churches (https://3csinternational.org/), and has preached all my life, nearly forty years. My mother has also preached my entire life and is a licensed minister. My mother is active in a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) fellowship in Philadelphia, with COGIC being the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination in the U.S. My mom passes out tracks and is passionate about evangelism. She also enjoys studying Messianic Judaism and is passionate about sharing her faith with the Jewish community in Elkins Park, PA, where she resides. My father attended a Bible college in Lynchburg, and my mother is working on an undergrad degree in Religious Studies with Liberty University. Since both my parents are Pentecostal, my transition into Lutheranism has made for some interesting conversations! I have 6 siblings — Christina Swanson, Teron Swanson, Joia Swanson, Dion Swanson, Aaron Swanson, and Kimberly Sprowal. Teron, Joia, Dion and Aron are all in their twenties. Kim just turned 30 and Christina is 39. Christina and Kimberly live in Philadelphia near my mom and everyone else lives in Virginia near my Dad and my stepmom Mary. She is a retired school teacher in the Prince George County school system, with 30 years of teaching under her belt. I have 4 nieces through Kimberly — Janel, Rose and Mariah. Rose has muscular dystrophy but is able to walk with braces. Joia has a son named Jaylen who lives in northern Virginia. We have a WhatsApp family chat that we frequent at least on a weekly basis.
I am married to the lovely Chi (Chee) Lyn Swanson. She is Caucasian/Taiwanese. Her father, Randy Cox, met Chin Cox in Taipei at an Air Base called Ching Chuan Kang Air Base (CCK). This base was active during the Vietnam Era, where my father in-law served twice (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ching_Chuan_Kang_Air_Base). Unfortunately, Randy Cox passed in June of 2007, in Ogden, Utah. Chin has lived in Clearfield Utah since Randy’s retirement from the Air Force in the 1990’s, after his serving 26 years and attaining the rank of E-8 (Senior Master Sergeant, SMSgt). Chi and I met at Moody Air Base in Valdosta, GA. We married on September 16, 2005 and will celebrate 15 years this September! We have lived in Georgia, Utah, Misawa, Japan and Ramstein, Germany. We have two amazing children — Kamal, aged 17, and Kamden, aged 16 months! Kamal is entering his senior year at Fort Dorchester High School, and is passionate about basketball. Kamal has played basketball all over Europe and the Pacific. In Germany he played in both American leagues on the bases and in German leagues as well. He plans to attend college and play basketball at the college level.
I am an Air Force Veteran who served 8 years as a Military Police officer (Security Forces) completing 7 deployments (5 tours to Iraq, twice to Baghdad, 1 tour to Afghanistan and 1 tour to Africa). I have done everything from personal security details (bodyguard work) to raiding houses with the Iraqi police and going on foot patrols in downtown Baghdad. I separated from the Air Force (AF) in 2009 to pursue my calling into the ministry. I believe that my call to the ministry came by a supernatural means. While I was in high school, I recommitted my life to Christ. My pastor’s wife had a dream in which myself and a friend (I still ponder who that was) were tasked with building structures that would allow people from various nations to climb out of pits. The significance of this dream was that the pit that contained Asian people was filled with water and their means of salvation proved to be the most difficult one for myself and my friend to construct. This is quite interesting, considering the fact that I am passionate about Asian culture today and my wife is half-Taiwanese. So after high school, and after joining the Air Force, my goal was to become an AF Chaplain. I attended Liberty University and obtained a 93 credit hour M.Div. while my wife supported me through school. After earning my M.Div and completing other requirements, I applied and was medically denied due to injuries I sustained during my time in service. As you can imagine, that was a huge disappointment for us, but we knew God had another direction for me. During this time of application, we were stationed in Misawa, Japan where I was the lead pastor at Neighborhood Church Misawa Assemblies of God (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8nFzbfI5YrEGcEc22pscOw). The growth I experienced in those three years was absolutely phenomenal. But we couldn’t stay as my wife received orders to Ramstein, Germany. During our time there, I completed a one year residency at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) completing four units of CPE through the Institute For Clinical Pastoral Training ( http://www.icpt.edu/). ICPT’s Hybrid Learning units blend face-to-face classroom instruction, with on-line meetings via Zoom® Video Conferencing and online training. This allows CPE supervisors to deploy technology with face-to-face teaching to meet the unique needs of our learners. The Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). ACCET is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency.
LRMC is the military hospital that is the hub in Europe for all patients that are wounded in the middle east. All soldiers, marines, Airmen and seamen who were wounded or killed in action were sent to LRMC for stabilization before being sent back to the states. I met almost all of those members coming off the plane on the flightline in Germany. I prayed with these members, spent time with these members and formed relationships with these members. It was very rewarding for me. Because I have had that experience, I would like to continue my growth and earn additional CPE units prayerfully, through Roper St. Francis.
[ACPE Essay Amendment 07/13/20, 17:40:42 PM]
I am a pastor’s son. I am from a family full of pastors, but I am the first to finish seminary. Most of my family members are in Virginia, and I haven’t traveled to Virginia in several years! Since my family members have a range of opinions about seminary (some call it sem-etery!!) and the Bible, we would have some very interesting conversations, I’m sure! I am currently a Pentecostal, but I am very conservative and I am enjoying the style of worship of older Christian denominations more and more, i.e. Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, etc. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my wife and sons. I also have dabbled in piano since high school, and between 2007 and 2014, I took piano and voice lessons while my wife and I were stationed at Hill Air Base in Utah. I was actually called upon to sing the National Anthem several times while I was on active duty (2001-2009) and after I separated from the Air Force. So in my free time I like to create my own music, read and write. I am currently reading the Book of Concord, which is the collection of all of the important documents of Lutheranism. It was there in Utah that I also learned how to ski, however, I am excited about the prospect of trying to learn to snowboard. My wife traveled to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO and fell in love with the area. It is a big area for military retirees, so we may end up there.
Prior to coming to South Carolina where we currently reside, and after living in Utah from 2007-2014, and northern Japan from 2014-2017, we lived in Germany from 2017 until April of this year. I got a chance to visit all the Protestant Reformation sites there, and am intrigued by Martin Luther, his writings, and the writings of his colleagues. I am not sure where this journey into the Protestant Reformation will take me, but I’m enjoying the journey!
My wife Chi and I have been married for 15 wonderful years (official 15 on 16 September this year). I can’t think of a more picturesque place to celebrate an anniversary than here in Charleston, SC. I am already planning some things. She has been in the Air Force for 25 years. Chi is Caucasian/Taiwanese, and she is not fluent in Mandarin, but speaks some Mandarin and some Hokkien, the dialect of Chinese found in Taiwan in addition to Mandarin. Her mom, Chin Cox, and her late father, Randy Cox, met each other during the Vietnam era at an American base in Taiwan when we still had bases there. When we lived in Misawa, Japan (2014-2017), we visited Taiwan twice, and I was honored to meet my in-laws. We still keep in touch via an app called Line, which is like the WhatsApp of Asia! I consider it an honor to be a part of an interracial marriage, in spite of all the challenges that come with it. I believe it has made me a better man and a better chaplain to try to learn another culture and language. As I stated before, I love Asian culture; I even have some K-Pop from the uber popular female band Black Pink as my ringtone on my phone! I can’t wait to go back and see my in-laws again. We are praying that we can get one more Japan or Korea assignment before my wife retires. However, another culture that I am growing more and more interested in is the culture of Africa, in particular Africa and West Africa.
The Black Panther movie was a game changer for me! I mean, I loved Wesley Snipes in the Blade Movies, and also Michael Jai White in the old Spawn movies and comics, but the Black Panther transcended race, genre and politics. While Blade and Spawn were more anti-heroes; T’Challa was the first legitimate African-American superhero. This movie sparked my interest in my own background that I honestly did not have before. I am African-American, but because of my fair skin I am often mistaken for being of Hispanic or Latino origins. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish, and many people from the Southwestern portion of the United States are disappointed when they attempt to speak Spanish to me! I am African-American, but I wasn’t sure where in Africa my ancestors were from. So I reached out to Ancestry.com and submitted a DNA sample. I discovered that my ancestors are from Western and Southwestern Africa. So now I have a keen interest in visiting that region of the world. While living in Europe I met many African people and all were incredibly intelligent, talented, humble, polite and hard-working. It made me want to explore the continent of my origin, which I will do someday.
FAMILY OF ORIGIN
I also reached out to my mother. She sent me two books on my heritage that I have yet to fully look into. However, on my mother’s side (her maiden name was Gregg), I come from the MacGregor clan in Scotland. The MacGregor clan is where all the Greggs, Gregs, Griggs, Gregors and people with similar names come from. My great, great, great grandfather on my mother’s side was Caucasian. He and my great great grandmother lived in Mars Bluff, South Carolina but had to relocate to Philadelphia because at the time, South Carolina declared interracial marriages to be illegal. There is still a family graveyard for the Greggs in Mars Bluff today. Also, in the books about my ancestry, I found out that I have missionaries in my family tree as well. I have to dive deeper into their stories. But I think the coolest thing about my ancestry is that Hannah Douglass Armstrong, the sister of abolitionist and late congressman Frederic Douglass, is the mother of my great great grandfather on my mother’s side! She is the mother of Woodie Armstrong, the first African American city councilman in Philadelphia. Now my grandmother on my mother’s side was an Armstrong, and she married Frank Gregg, my grandfather. I’m going to find out more information. But the journey has been refreshing.
Joining the Air Force was a crucial decision that altered the course of my life forever. I joined in 2001 right out of high school. In fact I joined on September 4, 2001, a week before 9/11. I did military police work, so from 2001-2009, I did 8 tours of duty, all of them were to combat zones. My most difficult deployment was probably my second trip to Baghdad, which was in 2006. We were part of a team that was tasked with training up the Iraqi Police. So we went wherever they went. This was at the height of Sunni & Shi’a Muslim retaliatory killings, due to a mosque being bombed by Al-Qaeda. We lost one of our airmen and another got wounded on this particular deployment. The airman who lost his life was a dear friend. This mission, and my subsequent recovery, made me the man of faith I am today.
SPIRITUAL GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
I would rather not go into too much detail about my most emotional and dangerous mission, but the Wikipedia Link is in footnote no 4. Honestly, it’s still very hurtful to bring up the events of 2006. Yet even though I had some difficult times in combat zones, I can remember being positively impacted by the chapel services there, and the chaplains and service members who attended their services. In fact, it was those experiences that sparked my interest in being a military chaplain. Many people had spiritual experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that were real and lasting. I am still friends with people from my first deployment to Iraq back in 2003. Between 2001 and 2009, I talked to chaplains and found out what the requirements were to become a military chaplain. However, I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2009, which barred me from any more military service, after my attempts at reentry into the Air Force started in 2016, while I was pastoring Neighborhood Church in Misawa, Japan. Sometimes our callings don’t flesh out quite the way we think they should. I believe the core of my desire to be a military chaplain was a call to missions at heart. I view clinical chaplaincy in the same way—we are missionaries to a largely secular population. Many people grow up in different faiths, but in practice, many people stray away from their various faiths. I believe that a chaplain’s call to be a “visible reminder of the holy” will be very impactful wherever that chaplain is located, be it Charleston or Baghdad.
I will admit though, I did not enjoy being told “no” concerning my attempts to join the Air Force. I still sometimes get frustrated because I don’t understand why. I feel as though my experiences in combat would be highly impactful to young airmen, especially in the Security Forces (military police) career field, where the washout rate is high, and very few first term airmen will re-enlist, unless they already have families. But I definitely believe in providence, and trust that God has a plan. At this point, I am grateful for the opportunities chaplaincy has brought me, and I look forward to more opportunities in the future.
Important Persons Who Impact My Personal Growth – So many people have impacted my personal growth, but I will start with an AF chaplain named Daniel Karanja. Chaplain Daniel Karanja was a critical link to me pastoring in Japan. I had no experience pastoring and he and his wife helped my wife and I tremendously in our new roles. At this time, Chaplain Karanja had over 20 years experience of pastoring and I felt so honored for him to be able to mentor me.
Another person who has had an indelible impact on my life is the late Ravi Zacharias. This man was an amazing teacher, evangelist and apologist. I had the honor to meet him on one of his visits to a military chapel in Germany.
Events That Caused Growth – Being deployed seven times to places where it is only you and God will impact your growth. Even though I did not like being separated from my family, I looked at deployments as a time of growth with God.
Serving as a lead pastor in Japan was a significant time of growth. This was the biggest spiritual growth so far that I have experienced with God. The love the Lord put into my heart for the Japanese people, a nation that is only 1% Christain, cannot be quantified.
Completing my one-year CPE program in the biggest military hospital overseas and ministering to wounded armed forces members and their family in an unforgettable experience that has truly impacted my life and growth.
1b. My Family Of Origin – My father and mother divorced when I was a small child so I grew up in two households with 6 siblings living between Virginia and North Carolina. Although I might not have been strong in my faith while I was young, I did grow up in church.
1c. My Current Family Relationships – I am happily married to my wife, Chi Swanson of 15 years. She is a Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force and has served for 25 years. Together we have two sons, Kamal who is 16 years old and Kamden who is 14 months old.
1d. Important Social Relationships – My wife would be my first mention. She is 100 percent supportive of my ministry and calling to chaplaincy.
2. The Faith Heritage Into Which You Were Born
I grew up in an amalgamation of various strands of Christianity. Currently I am ordained with the Assemblies of God and have been since 2015. Because we are a military family and move often, we have attended different denominational churches. It can be difficult to find specific denominational churches while living overseas.
Significant Persons & Events that Continue To Impact My Growth — I grew highly interested in Martin Luther and his writings in Germany. I am enjoying studying the Protestant Reformation as Martin Luther’s writings have affected me profoundly over the last couple of years. While I was living in Germany, I had the opportunity to visit various Reformation sites and learned a great deal about the Reformation. He has and will continue to influence me.
3. Work Experience:
10/2018-12/2019 CPE Resident Chaplain, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC)
Provided pastoral care, counseling, patient visitation, prayer, Bible studies and preaching to LRMC patients, staff, family members and military retirees for all of Armed Forces Europe.
12/2017- 08/2018 Child Background Check Coordinator, LRMC
Initiate, coordinate, and track initial and periodic re-verification background checks, including local Installation Record Checks and Child National Agency Check with Inquiries for healthcare personnel.
05/2014-08/2017 Lead Pastor, Neighborhood Church Misawa
Responsible for the planning and implementation of the Christian education/faith development and outreach for Neighborhood Church Misawa, an Assemblies of God church plant in Misawa, Japan
09/2014- 08/2017 United States AF, (USAF) 35th Security Forces Squadron (SFS) Misawa AB, Japan
Pass & Registration, Security Assistant, GS-05
Processed applications and issued identification cards, contractor access badges, vehicle registration documents, and temporary passes to eligible personnel.
03/2007-09/2009 USAF, Hill Air Force Base Utah, 75th SFS (Military Police) Specialist
Led and supervised a security team comprising 12 employees across various multi-million dollar commercial and transportation projects.
10/2007-06/2008 United States AF, Camp Bucca, Iraq
Hand selected as shift Non-Commissioned Officer for Delta Flight (flights=shifts); directly trained/supervised 10 SF members at critical forward operating base (FOB) entry control point (ECP).
02/2002-03/2007 USAF, Moody AFB, Georgia, 824th SFS
Learned the ability to thrive and evolve in high ops tempos rotating between deploying & training, on-call for global missions, engaged in Counter-improvised explosive device (C-IED) training, counter-insurgency (COIN), and counter-indirect fire (C-IDF) training.
— I am currently unemployed, seeking employment.
4. An Account Of A “Helping Incident” In Which You Were The Person Who Provided The Help — While completing CPE in Germany last year, I met a wonderful older man who was a retiree. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and knew he was dying. We talked more about his life and military service than anything else. He was so proud of what he had accomplished during his life. My goal was to make him feel valued and cared for until he left this earth. A pastoral bond was definitely established.
5. Your Impressions Of Clinical Pastoral Education – My impression of Clinical Pastoral Education is that it is a program that trains clergy to be able to minister in clinical settings, which will draw them out of their comfort zones within their own parish, mosque or ministry settings. It will challenge them to be able to meet the needs of people of all faiths, and in clinical settings to be able to meet the needs of people from all walks of life as well.
Indicate If Cpe Is Being Required Of You – Right now, CPE is not being required of me, but I wish to do as much CPE as I can in order to best serve the patients and staff members of clinical settings that I wish to be employed with. Also, in traditional ministry settings, CPE will help me to be better equipped to understand the spiritual needs of my parishioners.
Learning Goals I Would Like To Address In CPE – I had some unique experiences working at LRMC in Germany. However, I am very interested to glean from the experiences of a civilian hospital in the U.S. I’m very excited to see what pastoral care looks like at a civilian hospital, and also experience what the culture in civilian public health systems like Roper St. Francis has to offer.
6. How Prior & Potential Future CPE May Help Meet My Ministry Needs – I believe CPE will help me to understand and empathize with people from all walks of life, and all ages and stages of life. I believe that learning my triggers and being able to heal from my traumas at LRMC helped me to see biases and blindspots in my ministry, which was my most significant learning experience in my prior CPE.
State How You Have Continued To Use The Clinical Method Since Your Previous Experience – Everything I do continues to be research and evidence based! I have engaged in a few counseling sessions since that time and I have transitioned from trying to “fix” those I am engaged with to just being able to “sit” with those I am engaged with.
7. Strengths And Weaknesses – My strengths are my empathy, my genuine care for people and my positive attitude. My wife says I have the gift to meet people of all walks of life, ethnicities, denominations right where they are. Be it a seasoned Christian, young Christain or an atheist. One of my biggest weaknesses is I do not like to say no. I want to help everyone. This has been a weakness that I have been working on for many years as I understand there has to be lines of boundaries in relationships. With that, I can sometimes take on the burdens of people because I care so much. I have improved greatly over the years, but still continuing to grow in that area. Personal And Professional Learning Goals – I wish to become board certified so that I can move into gainful employment as a chaplain. In addition, I believe those who I minister to should receive my absolute best. I want to be as well-equipped for traditional/chaplain ministry as possible, thus CPE with ACPE.