2012-05-04 / Neighbors

Simi woman on a mission of love

Lauren Swink finds her calling while helping children overseas
By Carissa Marsh

CALLED TO SERVE—Simi Valley native Lauren Swink, left, stands alongside Stephanie, a girl who was saved from an Indian brothel. CALLED TO SERVE—Simi Valley native Lauren Swink, left, stands alongside Stephanie, a girl who was saved from an Indian brothel. Simi Valley native Lauren Swink has a heart for the hurt. For the oppressed, the silenced and the enslaved. For those whose lives and innocence have been stolen.

At 22 years old, her passion has become her life’s mission.

Driven by faith, Swink is working to give a voice to the voiceless, to repair the broken. Witnessing the world’s injustices and cruelties has only made her believe more firmly in the healing and restoring power of love.

Discovering her calling

Swink grew up in Grace Brethren schools and at Stone- Bridge Community Church. In 2007, she went on a life-changing mission trip to Uganda, where she helped build a school and teach kids, but upon graduating from high school a year later, she wasn’t sure what path to take.

She studied molecular biology for a year at an Oregon university before returning to California to try a more creative major at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.

Swink then went on a second mission trip with StoneBridge in 2010, returning to the same Ugandan village. Wanting to continue working with kids, she took a job as a nanny after she came home to Simi Valley.

Still, Swink felt she was meant for something else.

“I was always feeling like I was supposed to be doing something more for God or just something more in the world,” she said.

It took three years of searching for her calling, but it finally clicked when Gayle Luker, a church youth leader, offered Swink some encouraging words.

Luker, who went on both Uganda trips, told Swink she was suited for missionary work because of her attitude of service and humility.

“You have to take a step back and acclimate to the culture that you’re in and Lauren just seemed to do that seamlessly,” said Luker, 46. “She lived that culture with an open, loving heart and watching her with the kids it was just so natural and organic.”

During a sit-down with her father and pastor in August 2011, Swink finally vocalized what she wanted to do.

“My pastor said, ‘If you could do anything . . . what would you want to do?’ And the first thing that came to my mind is I would want to do missions forever.”

Swink then contacted international volunteer Christian organization Youth With A Mission ( YWAM). She knew she wanted to focus on human trafficking and sex trade issues and decided to apply for YWAM’s Children At Risk Discipleship Training School, a six-month course that is a prerequisite for all other YWAM programs or staff positions.

Despite having just two weeks to apply and raise $4,000 to attend, Swink got accepted to the program, held at YWAM’s Madison, Wis. base last September.

Swink completed three months of classroom learning before spending three months in the field. From January to early March, she was overseas. Of the countries presented to her as options, Swink chose to go to India.

Helping the abandoned, abused

Swink split her time between two cities, about 18 hours apart. In Pune, she worked with street kids and those affected with HIV/AIDS at two orphanages. She also walked through the Red Light District and met with girls and women still in the brothels. In the other city—which Swink asked not be disclosed as it could compromise YWAM’s work—she taught children from a leper colony, many of whom did not speak English but were eager to learn.

But it was perhaps her time in Pune that had the biggest impact, all because of an 11-yearold orphan named Stephanie who had been rescued out of a brothel by a YWAM team in 2009.

Stephanie gave Swink a new perspective on her mission.

“I saw where she came from. We went into the same brothel that she used to live at and met the madam that let her go,” Swink said. “I just got so close with her and created this relationship—orphans and girls in human trafficking weren’t a number to me anymore. It was Stephanie. And there’s millions of Stephanies out there and that’s what really drives me to want to change the world.”

While Swink and her team did provide education, share Bible stories and put on parties and shows, she said the main thing they gave those they met was love.

“What we wanted to do in every situation we went into was really love on these kids and show them that they are valuable and they are worth it,” she said. “Just playing with them and spending time with them . . . You could just see that love really changes things, and it really can change a person.”

Living a life of service

Swink is now a full-time YWAM staff member in Madison, working in the comm unications department. Since staffers must have their own financial backing, she needs monthly supporters to cover her living expenses and continue her work, which includes more missions.

Last month, Luker held a small scrapbooking fundraiser to help in this effort.

“She’s the brave one going out doing the work so we’re just trying to find ways to make her voice heard and that of the kids she’s working with,” Luker said. “She stepped out in faith and followed where God called her to be. To watch that, it’s aweinspiring.”

The young missionary would like to return to India as well as explore the needs and opportunities in other countries, like Thailand, Russia and Nepal.

Wherever she goes, she is excited for whatever lies ahead.

“I know that God is calling me to do something about human trafficking and these children, I just don’t know exactly what that looks like yet,” she said. “But I know as I continue to go to these countries and walk in that direction that he will reveal the next steps to me because that’s what he’s been continuing to do my whole life.”

To follow Swink on her journey, visit her blog at laurenaswink.blogspot.com.

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