Eli and Margaret Sweany will this week board an airplane for the long flight to Senegal, Africa, where they will take jobs as house parents in a school for the children of missionaries.
Eli moved to Great Bend when he was a sophomore, coming from Washington, Kan. He graduated in 2002 and is the son of Pastor Jack and Denise Sweany who work at Community Christian Church.
Like so many young people, Eli had a checklist of what he wanted for his life after graduating from Great Bend High School. He was going to go to Manhattan Christian College, major in family ministry and then go on to graduate school to be a therapist.
After graduation, things turned out differently for Eli. While waiting for Margaret to graduate from MCC, he got a job doing mechanical maintenance at a factory. It was there that he found his talents-and his calling.
“It opened my eyes to the talents I had,” said Eli. He likes to fix things, like his father who grew up on a farm. Family vacations were spent at the farm helping out.
Margaret always wanted to go back to Africa. Her folks had moved back to the U.S. her senior year of high school, but she spent most of her growing up years in Africa without running water, no electricity and definitely no internet or telephone.
Schooling was different for Margaret. Her mother, Terry, had home-schooled Margaret for a couple of years, but that didn’t work out so well. Margaret then went to a one room school house with the Africans.
For junior high and high school, Margaret was at a boarding school for the children of missionaries in Ivory Coast. It took her parents two days to drive her there, and 3-4 months for a letter to arrive.
However, she loved boarding school. “I have friends all over the world,” Margaret said.
In Margaret’s family, it’s a tradition beginning with her great-grandparents on her father’s side to be a missionary. Her father, Mark, was a missionary kid in east Africa. Mark followed the tradition and was a missionary in Guinea, Africa.
Margaret’s mother’s extended family live in Hillsboro. Her parents are currently living there.
Margaret spent kindergarten, 4th grade, 9th grade and 12th grade in the U.S. “Every time I came back I was less cool than the time before,” she said. “Kids didn’t know how to relate to me.”
She didn’t have a television, celebrated African holidays, not American, and the food was different. In addition, Margaret has been sick with malaria, tape worms and round worms.
“The soil has diseases in it,” said Margaret. The family bleached all of their fruits and vegetables and cooked meat well-done. Water had to be filtered.
But boarding school changed her life. It let her connect with other kids and feel normal.
The missionary kids at the boarding school are from all over the world, and they will go back to such places as South Korea, Canada and Amsterdam.
Margaret wanted to give back to the boarding school that meant so much. Her only trouble was convincing Eli.
With the in-between job, Eli realized that his skills were desperately needed in Africa, not only as a house parent, but also setting an example of what a husband should be.
The two put their heads together trying to figure it all out. Plans have fallen into place after much fundraising and prayers.
“We can impact the world from one spot,” said Eli. “We’re helping establish a solid foundation in these kids. We’ll help solidify minds to stay rooted to Christ.”