Heart and Soul

Scott Swenson

Scott Swenson says meetings with mentors like PNWC internship director Kelly Soifer during his summer of service were invaluable. “She’d talked about the things we might encounter, and she was right. I’ve used everything she taught me.”

Leading with Love: Church Family Inspires SPU Intern

By Luann Anderson | Photos by Luke Rutan

From the earliest moments of his church internship, junior Scott Swenson says the place felt like home. So much so that on his very first Sunday in his new position, he didn’t hesitate to fill in for a drummer who couldn’t make it to worship service.

“I had a blast,” Swenson says. “I wanted to be helpful in any way that I could.” In this case, his musical chops on guitar and bass came in quite handy.

So began a summer of ministry, one that included weekly staff meetings, youth leadership, and what Swenson calls “investing in people.”

Swenson credits a host of “crazy connections” that first led him to the internship at Exodus Christian Fellowship in Longview, Washington. A Christian theology major with an emphasis in educational ministries, Swenson is a third-generation Falcon, raised in the Free Methodist church and the son of a pastor. Despite — or maybe because of — these deep connections, he arrived on campus as an SPU freshman eager to visit as many new churches as he could.

“SPU was a brand-new community. I wanted to figure out how to plug in,” he says.

Fast forward two years, to a meeting with family friend and Superintendent of the Free Methodist Pacific Northwest Conference (PNWC) Matt Whitehead. Swenson learned about a new intern program launching in three Northwest locations, and Whitehead encouraged him to apply.

At Exodus in Longview (population 40,000), Swenson served in all facets of church life, from helping in small groups to leading worship — even preaching a Sunday sermon. All this while earning college credit and receiving support from three mentors: Exodus Pastor Scott Hemberry, PNWC Internship Director Kelly Soifer, and SPU Professor Ed Smyth.

“My mentors set me up for success and watched me run with it,” he says of the individuals who invested in him.

Swenson says God’s love guided and stretched him during his internship. Even though he’d never struggled with substance abuse, he learned a lot from participating in a small group Bible study for addicts and recovering addicts.

“I can honestly say that I would not miss gathering with this group of men and women for the world,” he says. “I have learned so much from them simply by being in a group where accountability, honesty, and transparency about the past is the main focus.”

Swenson says his internship has helped him explore and apply everything he’s learned at SPU about theology, music, and people. He’s also strengthened his appreciation for what he calls community-mindedness: the willingness to enter a new place and get involved.

His advice for students thinking about future internships? “Apply for everything you can and nurture your connections. Invest in community and allow them to invest in you. God will use it.”

With SPU graduation not far away, Swenson will take with him an eye for opportunity and a desire to serve on a pastoral staff.

“God has given me a drive for loving people,” he says. “I can take that anywhere.”

Summer Downs

Summer Downs volunteers at TK Threads, a venture that will employ refugee women and formerly trafficked women.

Threads of Summer: SPU Senior Devotes Waking and Sleeping Hours to Those Who Suffer

By Jeffrey Overstreet | Photos by Luke Rutan

“Why?” That may be the first thing you’ll ask when you learn that SPU senior Summer Downs sleeps on the floor.

Answer: It’s a personal thing. A few summers ago, while visiting a Rwandan refugee camp for survivors of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Downs found herself thinking deeply about the struggles of Syrian refugees who often sleep 10–15 per tent without adequate bedding. Feeling “a deep sense of connection and solidarity” with refugees everywhere, the global development studies major quietly gave up her bed for the ground. She keeps this to herself, but if you ask, she’ll tell you that it’s a “necessary gesture of solidarity.”

“My beliefs have to affect my daily life,” she says.

That same spirit led Downs to this, her second year as president of Set Free, an SPU student club that equips people, through spiritual development and education, to help remedy a global crisis: human trafficking, in which adults and children (male and female) — from Sochi to Seattle — are forced into labor or sexual exploitation.

Set Free members keep busy. They meet monthly. They email updates to about 400 people. They host events, including opportunities to learn about trafficking in Washington state. They support local organizations, including Seattle Against Slavery and REST (Real Escape From the Sex Trade). Some recently hosted an SPU residence hall fundraising competition to support women seeking restoration after enslavement, while others ran a 5K to benefit World Concern’s trafficking-prevention programs.

And some travel, learning ways to help trafficked survivors recover — and to help people avoid exploitation in the first place. Downs worked in Greece in 2014, and this summer she was in Thailand as assistant director of the Justice School, an initiative of Thrive Rescue that equips college-age students to respond to human trafficking and global injustice. “We graduated our first class of 21 students from the US and the UK,” she says. Their work included outreach in Pattaya’s red-light district and bars, music therapy with children rescued from sexual abuse, and preventive programs with local families in the slums. She also traveled to Kumasi, Ghana, to help prepare a safe home for children who have been trafficked. Downs plans to return and work there as soon as she graduates.

But first, Downs will spend her senior year strengthening relationships between Set Free and local organizations in order to help the club become “a sustainable feature of campus life.”

And there’s more. Set Free has inspired Downs and some of her classmates to found TK Threads, a new brand for fashion company Tight Knit, LLC. TK Threads will employ refugee women and formerly trafficked women so that they can earn a living wage while producing high-quality garments right in their own homes. They have the guidance of Tight Knit’s founder Jessica Watson — a world-renowned designer popular with REI, Target, Roxy, Quiksilver, and Zumiez. And they have already won awards and support through social venture competitions. Watson says that Downs and company “are dedicated, good at research, and hard-working.” Launching this fall, TK Threads will compete with major global brands.

“Our compassion rings hollow if we are not willing to suffer with those we serve,” Downs says. She finds purpose in the South African concept of ubuntu. “Ubuntu refers to the interconnectedness of identity and liberation for all human beings. … We belong to each other.”

View more about social justice at spu.edu/socialjustice.