Swyers’ dream realized in Panama
Commissioner Swyers returns to Latin America North after 30 years to see work begin on Dr. Eno Girls’ Home, divisional headquarters, and officer quarters.
by ROBERT DOCTER –
“Somebody needs to do something about this,” the young Captain Philip Swyers said to himself 30 years ago after viewing three separate Army facilities in the Panama Division, the oldest representation of the Army’s work in that region. A second cornet player in the Texas divisional band, he was helping that nation celebrate 75 years of Army service.
The divisional headquarters, the Dr. Eno Girls’ home, and a large closet used to house an officer couple and their two children all were in serious states of disrepair. Located in the middle of a rain forest, the wooden DHQ seemed to be held together by the termites. The children’s home, donated by the physician who had discovered the cause of malaria during construction of the Panama Canal, seemed ready to crumble, and the quarters seemed to him uninhabitable.
“Somebody needs to do something about this.”
The Holy Spirit drove those words, indelibly printed on his mind, back into his consciousness 30 years later when he saw those exact facilities listed by IHQ as urgently needed projects. He was by now the USA West territorial commander, Commissioner Philip Swyers. As the names of the buildings leapt off the page he knew immediately who “somebody” was. He felt it deep within his heart and committed the resources necessary to do something.
Accompanied by Territorial Financial Secretary Major Victor Leslie, Swyers accepted an invitation by Colonels Jorge and Adelina Ferreira, Latin America North territorial leaders, to attend the groundbreaking ceremonies at the three sites.
Funds were allocated from the 30 percent of World Service money reserved by each territory for designated project use. Over $600,000 will complete the new two-story headquarters and it will be constructed from cement blocks “which will make the termites very unhappy,” Swyers added.
In speaking about the Army’s work in Colon, the oldest port in Panama, Swyers noted that “there is nothing comparable in the United States to the level of poverty we see there. And right in the middle of it is this senior residence providing older Panamanians with the basics for life itself. If it weren’t for the Army, these people, some over 100 years old, would have no place to go. A delightful Canadian couple serve there.”
Leslie added that the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps sent a working mission there earlier this year to assist in repairing some vital electrical and plumbing work as well as other building needs.
From there they visited San Jose, Costa Rica, where the territory has a training college with five cadets. Here, they participated in the welcome of cadets and dedicated a new library. The territory also has a training college in Cuba with seven cadets in residence.
In Costa Rica they walked through the completely new quarters on the second floor of the corps building—a Western project that made something livable that had earlier been located in an uninhabitable basement storage room. When the officer moved into the new space with his wife and children he said to Swyers: “I have been praying for the past five years that God would send someone to help us move from that basement closet—and God sent you.”
In expressing sincere appreciation to the officer for his remarks, Swyers made it clear that he was the representative of dedicated soldiers and officers of the Western Territory who contribute to World Services and make it possible for us to do these things. “We recognize God’s role in this, and I am simply the conduit of his love,” he said.
“When you see the response of the recipients of this kind of giving, you know that you are part of a much bigger picture—partners of a brotherhood of believers,” Leslie added.
“While there, we met Captain Rojas who ran the Refugio de Esperanza, a Harbor Light program for men,” Swyers said. “I gave him the nickname of ‘Cookie’ after the great Philadelphia second baseman. We noticed, as he was showing us through his building, that he had this gigantic butane tank in his kitchen—where the fire was roaring to feed these people and with electrical wires draped all around. I said to him: ‘Captain Rojas, have any city inspectors said anything about that butane tank surrounded by all this fire?’ He then told me that they constantly advise him that the tank needs to be outside the facility, and that if they don’t comply by May the city will shut them down. We learned that wires could be replaced in the ceiling and the butane moved outside for $12,500. I said to Major Leslie that we’re going to need to find that money or they will lose the entire program.”
Both Swyers and Leslie returned with a deep awareness of the needs within the area and strong motivation to assist that territory in meeting those needs. “In the face of our opulence in this nation, it behooves the Western Territory to give a widow’s mite back to God in the form of meeting those needs,” Swyers said.