Walorski legacy lives on through Impact International Ministries

Dean Swihart, husband of the late congresswoman, resurrects non-profit they founded as overseas missionaries.
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 6:38 PM EDT
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ELKHART, Ind. (WNDU) - Playing from the heart, this professional musician, who admittedly prefers the saxophone, is performing with strength beyond himself.

“I mean, this, this is a huge, there’s a huge void in my life,” Dean Swihart said. “Jackie touched so many lives, and it it’s just the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ that fills that void. Scripture says that, that we are perfect in Christ, which to me, that means he fills that void. Like you pour water into a pitcher, it fills every every void, in that in that opening.”

Dean Swihart is opening up two weeks after an Elkhart County car crash killed four people, including his wife of 27 years, Congresswoman Jackie Walorski.

“You know, considering the circumstances I’m doing quite well, but that comes from our faith,” Swihart said.

Faith was the foundation of his wife’s life.

“It was a part of her that she might not say something about it,” Swihart recalled, “but it was in the front of our minds all the time. We prayed so many times that this job with Congress was not, you know, an opportunity for us to get a big head. ‘Oh, I’m married to the congresswoman,’ or, ‘I’m the first dude,’ or, ‘well look what you’ve accomplished in your life.’ It was always about the Gospel.”

That was evident in their first date on August 1st, 1994.

“And throughout the course of the evening, I asked her, ‘Hey, you know, I did some missionary work in college, would you consider like selling all your stuff and being a full time missionary overseas?’ Try that out on a first date and see how that flies,” Swihart remembered. “And she kind of turned her head side and said, ‘Yeah, I could do that.’ And I thought, wow, I didn’t scare her away.”

Far from scaring her away, Jackie Walorski became Jackie Walorski Swihart less than a year later. By 1999, the pair had sold their house, their cars, and were off to help heal Romania, a nation still crippled by communism, which had fallen a decade before.

“There was no shortage of need,” Swihart said. “And there, any direction you’d look, there were hungry people, there were thirsty people, there were people that needed clothes.”

About midway through their four-year mission, which wasn’t without safety risks, Jackie and Dean founded their own non-profit, Impact International Ministries.

Church collections back home in South Bend and other generous donors helped support the Swiharts - Dean and Jackie - and their Christian ministry so they could spread the faith to a people reeling from the old regime, particularly to the Roma people, an ethnic minority.

Impact International also helped provide basic needs, like funneling life-saving medical supplies for burn victims.

“A lot of [the Roma] would burn their children with scalding oil, boiling water to disfigure them. And I mean tiny children. I mean a year and a half old. Throw a pan full of boiling grease on him. Because when your child looks horrific, and they’re begging in the street, everybody has sympathy on that child, and a severely disfigured child is going to make more money for the family to survive.”

A life-changing moment for Impact International came when Jackie and Dean needed to help Romania’s only burn unit find life-saving antibiotics because the country’s government had stopped paying for the medicine. Otherwise, children were going to die.

Thanks to an e-mail call-out, the Swiharts collected enough money overnight, went to buy the Eli Lilly-made medicine at a pharmaceutical warehouse, where Dean says Jackie learned the power of impacting one person - the warehouse manager, who was very reluctant to sell them the antibiotics.

“And he kind of started sobbing, he said, ‘You’re killing me with with his money, you’re killing my business. But I have to think that you said I have two little children at home, two little girls. And I have to think that somebody would have the backbone. If this was happening to my child, that I would want somebody to have the backbone to come in and put up with somebody like me,’” Swihart said. “And part of what Jackie said, and she said, ‘You know, I can’t do anything about your government, government problems now. But then she spoke prophetically, she said, but maybe I can someday.”

Walorski Swihart went on to serve in the Indiana statehouse and later Capitol Hill. As congresswoman, she earned Romania’s highest civilian honor.

But the ministry she and Dean started, Impact International, had to lay dormant during her time in Washington.

“How can I say this? She still ministered a lot,” Swihart described. “Wherever she was, she was in ministry. And that’s the way we look at it.”

Jackie’s ministry as congresswoman came to an end back on August 3rd. But her family didn’t forget about the one she and Dean started overseas.

“Because if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?” asked David Walorski, Jackie’s older brother.

David serves on the board of the Swihart’s ministry, Impact International. The ministry plans to start local and help people, whether they’ve lost hope, faith, or their home.

“When somebody’s house is just blown away, and they’re standing there out on the street with nothing. You know, Jesus said, don’t just go out there and beat people over the head with a Bible, I’m paraphrasing this, but he says go help those people,” David Walorski said. “And you know, what, they might not see things like you do, they don’t have to see things like you do, minister the love of God to them, you know, tell them that you care about them, that you love them, that you’re there to help them, all of these things.”

“So it’s connecting all the dots, it’s ministering to people where they are,” Dean Swihart added. “It’s taking notice of people and not just walking by them blindly.”

August 3, 2022 illustrated the power - and impact - of one person.

“And so, at the funeral, we had Jackie’s birthdate on one side,” Swihart said. “And on the other side, we had the date that she was perfected. That was just the best way that I could explain it because I will see her again.”

To donate to Impact International, simply click here to contribute via PayPal @ImpactIntl .

Monetary donations in the form of a check can be mailed to:

Impact International Inc. Ministries

P.O. Box 141

Osceola, IN 46561

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