Amanda Swain’s very first memory is of riding on her dad’s shoulders. She treasures that memory in a special way because he died three days after her fourth birthday. “I remember him smiling as we played Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey at my birthday party,” she reminisces.
Her father, Tom Sharp, was passionate about missions. In fact, her parents, Tom and Sue (Battis) Sharp, were serving as missionaries to Mexico when Amanda was born. At two-and-a-half, Amanda became ill with what was finally diagnosed as a rare liver ailment. She had a nine-hour surgery at San Diego Children’s Hospital, the first of its kind done there. Her mother was seven months pregnant with the family’s third child, Ben, at the time.
Ben was only ten days old when Tom’s doctor told him his chronic Crohn’s disease had turned into colon cancer. He was given a few months to live. The family moved back to Ohio to be closer to family.
“My dad refused to just sit in the hospital and die,” observes Amanda. He was determined to stay strong, and lived over a year more than expected. The family settled in Bellville, near Tom’s parents, and Sue attended Ashland College for her master’s degree. “She would take me to classes. I sat on the floor and ate gummy bears,” Amanda remembers.
When Amanda was almost six, her mother remarried. The result was a blended family of six children. Three years later, another child joined the family. Then her step-father sensed a call to missionary service in Mexico, and the family moved once again. They returned to the United States before Amanda started junior high school.
Blue-eyed, blonde Amanda struggled with the realization, “I look like everybody else here, but I don’t think like them.” It wasn’t until she went to Grace College that she took a TCK (Third-Culture Kid) class and began to realize there were other kids going through the same thing. Third-Culture Kids are children who have grown up in a culture different from that of their parents, so they develop a third culture of their own as they seek to reconcile the two cultures they are caught between.
In college, Amanda began dating David Swain, whose parents George and Cindy were missionaries in the Czech Republic. She spent the spring semester of her sophomore year studying in Spain, and she and Dave were married that summer.
When Women of Grace USA began to plan a women’s team to Prague, Dave’s mom suggested that Amanda come with the team. Her response was, “No; I have two little kids.” However, someone else mentioned the team to Amanda and said, “I thought of you when I heard about it.” When a third person, in a totally unrelated situation, invited Amanda to join the team, she decided she should consider whether God might be trying to tell her something.
“I discussed it with Dave and he was very supportive. My mom came and stayed to help with the kids, which they loved!” Amanda shares.
Before leaving with the team, Amanda learned she was pregnant. Despite morning sickness, she enjoyed the trip, and was enthusiastic when approached to take over for Miriam Pacheco, who was wanting to retire from leading teams. Since then, Amanda has led teams to Argentina, Cambodia and Haiti. Before the Cambodia trip she learned she was pregnant with her fourth child. “Even though I wasn’t able to keep much food down, I really enjoyed leading the team and getting to know the people of Cambodia,” she laughs. “I even survived in a room that smelled of fermented sugar water after a bottle our driver had given us exploded!”
“These are all opportunities I would have said ‘no’ to on an earthly basis,” Amanda points out. “How many stay-at-home moms do these things? But I love it! I love coming alongside women who go on these trips. I love walking people through the process of being sensitive and aware, helping them see how to process even if it goes against your mindset.”
Her father would be pleased. His passion lives on in his daughter. — from Grace Touch, wgusa.org