More than 30 years after they first met on a six-week SWIM (Summer Workshop in Missions) trip to Burbank, Ill., in June 1980, five Christian Reformed women from West Michigan still gather every month.
The original team included Deb (Weaver) Haak, Betty (Dyke) Koning, Corrie (Bouwman) Vander Sluis, Karen (Geurink) Vriesman, Deb (Groenhof) Kennedy, and Lori (De Boer) Wierenga. They met during orientation and then spent six weeks together in Illinois under the supervision of Rev. Larry Meyer.
They canvassed door to door in Burbank, inviting kids to vacation Bible school, then spent two weeks helping teach VBS.
They spent their weekends with young people from Immanuel CRC in Burbank—a day at the beach, a ballgame at Wrigley field, Sunday-night bonfire sing-alongs, trips out for ice-cream. They also enjoyed church potlucks and Wednesday-night prayer meetings.
“It was a God thing,” wrote Deb Haak. “God is a part of lifelong friendships that can start because of a mission trip. After coming back home, our group continued to meet for prayer meetings, had slumber parties, went on shopping trips.”
The girls attended each other’s graduation open houses, wedding showers, and weddings. They’ve shared the joys and sorrows of parenting and are now watching each other’s children marry.
“We still get together once a month as a very close group of friends,” Haak said. “In the past few years, we are now a support for each other through the deaths of parents and the childhood disease of a child and other difficult life challenges.”
Haak said that some of the youth group members from Immanuel CRC became their lifelong friends as well. One of the girls from Immanuel now lives in West Michigan and joins the group for their monthly gatherings. Another friend from Immanuel became a missionary to Mali, West Africa.
They get together for coffee or dinner, shopping days, and cookie exchanges at Christmastime. “Our families all know what it means when we say we are going with the ‘SWIMmers,’” Haak said.
“We have supported and encouraged one another through the tough times, we pray for one another, we are a close-knit group and are truly friends in the Lord,” Haak said. “Little did this nervous group of girls know in June of 1980 in the parking lot of North Street CRC that this group would share all the highs and lows of each other’s lives through the years.”