ORANGE CITY—Tim Swart’s 23rd birthday holds a special place in his heart, but not for the obvious reason some might expect.
A native of Oostburg, WI, Tim transferred to Northwestern College in Orange City at the start of his junior year. He shared an apartment with a couple of his male friends during his senior year.
One of their next-door neighbors was Bethany Hegstad of Sanborn, a 2004 graduate of Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn High School in Hartley and a junior at Northwestern.
“We just started hanging out and eventually started dating,” Tim said.
A year later, on Oct. 5, 2007 — Tim’s birthday — the two took a trip to Oostburg to visit Tim’s family, but Tim had something special planned for the autumn day.
“We live right on Lake Michigan, so Bethany and I took a walk on the beach,” Tim said. “I had put a message in a bottle, and she opened the bottle and read the message.”
But, by the time Bethany finished reading the message, Tim was down on one knee.
“I was really happy,” Bethany said. “I think I was in shock for a while. It didn’t really seem real.”
Tim and Bethany got married June 28, 2008, at Christ Chapel on the campus of Northwestern College.
Although Bethany’s father, Gary, is a pastor at First Reformed Church in Sanborn, their church was undergoing some remodeling at the time and was not large enough for the ceremony Tim and Bethany had planned.
“Plus, I’ve kind of always wanted to get married there since I was a little girl,” Bethany said of Christ Chapel.
Although the ceremony was traditional, Tim and Bethany still added their own special touches.
Instead of having the typical one pastor officiating, they had two.
What’s more, they were relatives.
While Gary walked Bethany down the aisle, Tim’s grandfather, Calvin Bogaard, a retired Air Force chaplain from Sugarland, TX, stood at the altar.
After Gary gave his daughter to Tim, he took his place next to Calvin and the two tag-teamed the ceremony.
“It was a little unique,” Tim said. “It’s something not a lot of people get to have.”
And for Bethany, it was a heartwarming experience.
“It was a lot more emotional to have my dad marry me,” she said.
After the two said, “I do,” a specially-themed reception was held in the form of a fundraiser.
Instead of supplying each table with a bag of party favors, the newlyweds placed a $5 bill in its place.
If anyone decided to strike knife to glass, signaling for the couple to kiss, they had to hand over the $5. And if they wanted another kiss beyond that, they had to pay out of their own pocket. Wedding guests also could have other couples kiss by handing over $5.
The nearly $900 raised at the reception was in turn donated to victims in Parkersburg, the northeast Iowa town that was devastated by a deadly tornado on May 25, 2008.
Bethany’s family had lived for nine years in Aplington, which is five miles away from where the tornado hit.
“We had a lot of friends from Aplington and Parkersburg at the wedding,” Bethany said.
Following the wedding, Tim and Bethany moved five miles outside of Oostburg and have spent the last year preparing to serve.
After visiting Bethany’s family in Sanborn for a week, the couple departed for Milwaukee on Monday, June 8.
In Milwaukee, the pair boarded a flight to Philadelphia, where they stayed for two days, undergoing pretraining sessions for their 27-month assignment in the Peace Corps.
After any needed vaccinations or medication was prescribed to Tim and Bethany, they flew into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, boarded a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, and took one more flight to their assigned location: Chisinau in the Eastern Europe country of Moldova.
“We were actually originally assigned to Sub-Saharan Africa, but the economy has been not so friendly,” Bethany said. “The Peace Corps has had to cut over 400 programs in Africa, and we were delayed and our location was changed as a result of that.”
Once in Moldova, Tim will work in agribusiness and Bethany will teach grades 4-12 English and team-teach a core subject with a Moldovan teacher.
Although the two are experiencing mixed emotions, they have no doubt they are doing the right thing.
“During my junior year of college, when Tim and I weren’t even dating yet, I kind of felt called to go overseas. It was something I toyed around in my mind a lot with,” Bethany said. “Through different service projects in college, I became aware that there are just so many needs around the world, in our own country and in our own communities.”
Bethany thought she could do her part to help someone somewhere.
“I felt like I was equipped to do something, or God could equip me,” she said. “We’ve been blessed with a good education, we’re healthy and we have strong family support, so I feel like we can give back.”
While Bethany and Tim will serve in Moldova for a little more than two years, they are not quite certain what the future holds.
“I feel like this will clarify that more,” Bethany said. “Whether we will want to go into the mission field and serve abroad longer or we’ll be ready to come back, I don’t know.”
This article appeared in the June 13, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.