The Possibility of a Protestant Reformed SWIM Program

Before we decide whether or not a SWIM (Summer Workshop in Missions) program is desirable for the Protestant Reformed Churches, let us consider what SWIM really is as it exists in the Christian Reformed Church: who participates and how, and what results are obvious.

The formal SWIM program, under the authority of Classis, is open to qualified members of the Christian Reformed Church who are at least seventeen years old. Applicants who are accepted for this work typically spend eight weeks of their summer in communities where the Christian Reformed membership is rather small but where a mission board or chapel has been instituted. The SWIMers canvass the city, distributing pamphlets and tracts. Follow-up work consists of discussions with interested families and holding summer Bible classes for the children of interested parents.

The results of the SWIM program are certainly visible. Long hours of work with an interested family or a group of families often results in a situation where a missionary can spend full time. Other benefits, although they perhaps were not the primary intended result of this mission program, are, nevertheless, no less real. The young participant in the program usually, if not always, emerges from this experience with renewed convictions and personal faith. He is given a new insight into the life of the person who knows little or nothing of the Reformed faith. He becomes concerned with these people and tends to lose the selfish and esoteric qualities so often found in those who lead a very sheltered life. Here you may ask, “But isn’t this concern for other people due to his unselfishness and willingness to work in the first place?” True, the applicants for the SWIM program are carefully screened, and only those who have been judged to be capable of giving themselves to this work have been chosen, but this does not mean that the SWIMer will not be spiritually enriched by this experience. I think that, on the contrary, the SWIMers are in all likelihood the persons most likely to benefit from this experience. It is hardly possible that the Christian Reformed Church was unaware of this when the program was instituted. The program, then, has two distinct advantages: it acquaints the people with the Christian Reformed denomination, and, at the same time, gives the participants a valuable experience.

Is such a program needed in the Protestant Reformed Churches? Before saying anything definite, I should like to qualify the purpose of this program. The Christian Reformed Church, by the very name given to the program, calls this a mission endeavor. However, practice is not always the same as theory. I find that most of the young people with whom I have talked who have been on SWIM feel that their job was to introduce their denomination to people who were willing to listen. Most of them did not go out with the idea of trying to see how many people they could convert. With this attitude in mind, there is room for work of this type. Despite our radio broadcasts and mailed pamphlets, people of the Reformed faith can still be heard to say, “Is that ‘Protestant Church’ still in existence? I thought they came back a while ago.” “No, that was only some of them.” “Oh. Why was it, again, that they left?” “I don’t know. Something to do with grace or something.” Silence.

In instances where there are people who have expressed interest in our denomination as a response to our radio ministry or pamphlets they may have received in the mail, it may be well to send representatives of the Protestant Reformed Churches to talk with these people and answer their questions. Since we do not have an overabundance of missionaries, the logical solution would be to adopt a program similar to that of the SWIM program as described above. Let’s not look at this as a means to increase our membership, but rather as another way to make people aware of the truth we profess to own.