Interview with Pastor and Mrs. Swanson
The Swanson Family (Mrs. Daphne Swanson and Pastor Andrew Swanson second row first and second from the left)
Mwansa: Firstly a brief background on yourself, family and basically how you came to Cyprus?
Pastor Andrew Swanson: I was in the Air Force and I was posted to, I had just become a believer, and I was posted at Akrotiri which is down at the bottom of the island. And I worked with Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and I started to go and get involved in the local church in Limassol which was a kind of brethren assembly mostly and they were very keen to reach out to the Greeks and there were quite a few Armenia’s who were working there as well, so right from the word go I felt the Turkish were quite marginalized and I believed that ultimately God might one day bring me back to work among them. And in fact originally my thought was I would come out of the Air Force, I was on a five year contract, I’d go to bible college and I’d come straight out once that happened. Well it didn’t work that way at all, and it was a good thing it didn’t. Well at the end of my first year, very unusually, I was asked to do a student pastorate up in Darlington, because normally they would not do student pastorates for third year students and I was a second year student. Anyway, this third year student who was going to do it was called to a church so I was sent in his place and, I mean spiritually I fell in love with the church and the church fell in love with me. So a year later, when I went into my third year and got married and my wife was teaching in a school near to where the college was but while, at the wedding in fact, one of the, we had a number of people from Darlington down for the wedding and one of the deacons came up to us and said “You will be getting in the course a call to the church, in which we would like you to come once you’ve finished college”. I was not at all surprised, just thrilled. So we went there at the end of my third year and almost my ordination coincided with James’ arrival (that is their son, now also a Pastor of the church). And we were very happy in Darlington for thirteen years with the church, we loved the church and the church loved us but by about eight years into my thirteen years, we were beginning to realize that God did not want us back here and I went to turkey for a while, well more like three weeks, just to see what the situation was like. And among other things I got Hepatitis as a result and so the church were very hesitant about me going out but they said, maybe Cyprus would be better and that’s what we wanted anyway. And we came out on a fact finding, at least I went out with the same guy again, and we came over for a week and during that time we found out that it was possible for us to come out here and we went back to the church. We asked the church to pray, we were perfectly prepared to take the church’s decision and in fact I think it was three abstentions, all the rest were saying we don’t want you to go but we feel you should go. And so we went out sent by the church.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: That was in 1985
Pastor Andrew Swanson: Yes. And the Church has been absolutely brilliant. Everything we could wish for, I mean the church could not completely support us but they were in charge of our support and other churches joined in. And that’s how it begun
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: But at that time, the scene in Cyprus was, there was basically just the one Anglican Church serving the small community and nothing else at all. So we met as just the six, the four children and ourselves, every Sunday. Later on various other people joined us. Once or twice there were people who were turned out of Turkey. They came over to Cyprus and were here for a couple of months or years but none of them were able to be here long term. Some were actually thrown out because they were doing evangelistic work, others were not getting their residence permit renewed so they had to leave. But in Gods providence we stayed
Pastor Andrew: And then we had another couple come join us from a church in Lancaster and they were absolutely brilliant. They were slightly older than us, he’d taken early retirement and he was, they both were, lovely. He had to return because of a health problem, a heart problem in fact, and we could never understand that and it really affected the church greatly because we were really beginning to go somewhere at that time in terms of the Turkish part, well it was all Turkish. That was a huge loss, and now we have James and Rachel.
Mwansa: What challenges have you faced in your twenty eight odd years in Cyprus?
Pastor Andrew Swanson: I think for a long time the thing that I just could not comprehend was why I couldn’t get Turkish because I really did work hard. It was blood toil and sweat and little bit more blood as well. This one time I was so frustrated, I had this pencil in my hand and I slammed it on the table. It wasn’t my blood it was her blood. And really up until five years ago I could not comprehend why everyone else in the family, I mean, my eldest daughter, she went to Cambridge, and she did Turkish as her main subject and Ottoman Turkish. Daniel is more or less, well he was, I would say bilingual and Joanne was nearly there as well and I was the only one who couldn’t. And that would get to me at times because the Turks are not very…
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Tactful
Pastor Andrew Swanson: Yes, Tactful. They would keep on saying “Why is it, everyone can speak such good Turkish and you can’t? Are you lazy?” Anyway, that was probably one of them. And then, I think, when we decided to go more public and find a place and that really was a challenge. We began to think we are never going to get a place. We couldn’t afford it and there really were very few people in all honesty who would even consider that.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Even five years ago Turkish Cypriots were afraid to rent property to someone who wanted to use it for Christian worship. Now that has changed hugely in the five years which is largely because of all the African students who are here and they are just getting more used to the idea but five years ago, it was so difficult. The first property was interesting, we saw something advertised in the newspaper. Almost didn’t bother to telephone because they said it’s a good area of town because it’s bound to be too expensive. Phoned and discovered it was a reasonable price. So I went with one of the Turkish ladies because we weren’t very optimistic so Andrew didn’t even come. And we saw this very nice property. Anyway we said to the landlady, we want it for Christian worship and she said “Oh… it’s no problem, I have lived in America, I’m used to these things, it’s fine.” And then we said “It’s a very nice building but we’d need to knock walls down” assuming the land lady was not going to think kindly towards that. Then she said “No problem as long as you give it back to me in the same way that I gave it to you.” And so it was just so obvious that God was knocking down walls.
Pastor Swanson preaching in the former building
Pastor Andrew Swanson: And although it was a small, much smaller place. It was home, it was lovely. We loved that place. I found it quite hard to leave.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Talking of challenges, I think one of the biggest challenges is that the Turkish Cypriots themselves are almost completely irreligious and they are very content to be irreligious. So they don’t practice Islam, they have a vague idea of God and they have a vague idea of prayer. But they do seem to be a people without a felt spiritual need apart from all the new age stuff, like candles and angels and healing hands and all kinds of stuff like that but they don’t seem to have any desire for being close to God or knowing God or a sense of sin. They’re just quite content to being irreligious really. So that is a challenge that we are still wanting God to deal with, in convincing them of sin.
Mwansa: What has encouraged you about the work in Cyprus, I’m sure quite a bit must have gone wrong but what are the things that have made you say yes, this is why we are here.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: I think, I don’t know anything about mining diamonds, but I imagine if you’re mining for diamonds in a really hard field, there is a lot of hard work. Then you come across one diamond and it makes everything worthwhile. So the very few Turkish people who have come to Christ, and these are mainland Turks as opposed to Cypriots, the very few who have come to Christ, it’s been worth the effort, even just for the few. The diamonds for whom Christ had died, coming to him. That’s my take.
Pastor Andrew Swanson: And I think also, we have been tremendously encouraged since we have all these African students, now a huge lot of the Nigerians, I would say, are just nominal but among them we have come across some really fine believers and we’ve also seen a number of catholic Nigerians being converted which has thrilled us really. It’s almost sort of come out in ways that we didn’t know. At a prayer meeting, James was asking and a student spoke of her conversion and we didn’t even know..
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Yeah, she was just about to go back, she’d graduated and James asked the two or three who were graduating “What have you learnt while you have been in Cyprus?” and basically she said well I’ve come to a knowledge of Jesus as my savior, not in those words, but that is what she was saying
Pastor Andrew Swanson: And we still here from her every time to time. I think as well, that my take on Nigeria, My son in law actually goes to Nigeria sometimes to help, he does pastoral training and he says the same. There’s nothing hardly of a reformed nature at all, it’s very thin on the ground, quite superficial and if we can be a means of sending people back, not just with their degrees but if they can go back with degrees and they go back, gripped with the glory of God and a knowledge of the sovereignty of God, that would be a tremendous thing. And we’ve seen that with some of them. And I mean, I think we’ve got to the point where it’s almost, we almost have to put the brakes on with church membership because, I mean, we obviously want, we are very happy to have everyone who is a believer and who is willing to put up with the way we run things but it’s certainly much more than we ever envisioned before.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Another thing that I find encouraging and still amazing is that, One hundred and fifty people, most of whom are used to a very different style of worship and now there are places offering different styles of worship, in Lefkoşa. They come to our very traditional service where basically what is on offer is the preaching of the gospel and Christian love and one hundred and fifty people more or less come every Sunday. So may God bless them.
Pastor Andrew Swanson: I’m so thrilled with the actual building we have got because we did a lot of praying and deliberating and you begin to wonder, in fact the church that James is involved in, to us they were just moving very, very slowly and we were thinking “why don’t you do something”, in fact we did send them a letter. Anyway it’s all come to pass. I don’t think you really thought it would be as lovely as this?
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: No I think, seeing it finished, we did not envisage just how suitable and ideal it was going to be.
Mwansa: The next question is similar but gives a different angle. What would you say you thank God for, what are the praise Items?
Pastor Andrew Swanson: I think, I have to say first and foremost I have to thank God for my family, they have absolutely been with us and you can imagine how difficult our work here would have been if our children were rebellious or they weren’t happy. I would say the same thing has happened with James and his children, which I think is a tremendous blessing.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Another along those lines, I thank God that his raised up our son as a preacher. You know there are people who are in the pulpit but not necessarily really gifted as preachers and you see that this is not from him it’s just a gift that is from the Lord that he is able to expound Gods word in a way that gets across to people which is a huge reason for thanksgiving.
Pastor Andrew Swanson: And having a church behind us and not just a church but churches and people praying. Because we would go to churches and they would ask us about people we’ve forgotten about. They are still praying about all the details of our prayer letters and that is just tremendous. I think the one thing I felt from the word go is that I had to take to time to make sure that people knew the situation and our letters were very honest. We did not say things were very good when they weren’t and I think that has certainly helped with the support.
Mwansa: And lastly what would you like the people out there to pray for
Pastor Andrew Swanson: Well I think the huge need is to see the Lord touch the Turkish Cypriots. I mean I still see that as what God sent us for originally, it hasn’t worked that way and probably we personally might not see it but I think my son will and I think one of the interesting things about James is the fact that he has to tent make. He’s meeting a strata of the Turkish society that we never met, that is the middle class.
Mrs. Daphne Swanson: Middle stroke upper-class really
Pastor Andrew Swanson: Upper-class yeah. And I think as well with being involved in the bank he comes across all kinds of people and the ideal to me is a church that is made up of all the strata of society so while we have been up to this point in time, especially with the Turkish side have been predominantly poor and we thank God that the poor have the gospel preached to them. But we would like to see some rich, some learned come to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mwansa: Thank you for your time and your contribution.