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What Are You Going to Do? The Inspiring Story of Everett Swanson | Book Review

book cover of what are you going to do by eric wilson and matt bronleewe on a desk with vase and plant

I sponsored my first child from Compassion when I was in high school, a little girl from Mexico. I received colouring pages and letters from her, it was really neat to feel like pen pals from one country to another.

When we moved to Tanzania, we met workers with Compassion International, just as part of the ministry community. We were always encouraged by their steadfastness to serving others for the sake of the gospel and valued their intention of working through local churches.

So, while I'd never known the history of this ministry, I was excited to learn more through, What Are You Going to Do? by Eric Wilson and Matt Bronleewe, because it's the story of Everett Swanson and the founding of Compassion International.

Let me tell you more about it!

book cover of what are you going to do by eric wilson and matt bronleewe

What Are You Going to Do? The Inspiring Story of Everett Swanson | Book Review


My Take: 3 Reasons This Story is Inspiring

Hajarah's Story The ongoing work of Compassion International

quote from What are you going to do the inspiritng life of everett swanson


Purpose of the Book

This is the story of Everett Swanson, a farm boy who becomes an evangelist and starts a nonprofit organization to care for the orphans of South Korea during the Korean War, which goes global, after his passing, as Compassion International.

Table of Contents

PART 1 Fall 1952

PART 2 Spring 1953

PART 3 Winter 1957

PART 4 Summer 1959

PART 5 Autumn 1963

Today: An Exclamation Point


This story of Everett’s life is laced with the theme, which is a question: “What are you going to do?” When we encounter a difficult situation, we’re exposed to new information or face a problem, the Holy Spirit pricks your heart with the opportunity to respond. We see this in his life, and we also get a few snapshots of the lives of other South Koreans who come into contact with Everett through his ministry. 

quote from What are you going to do the inspiritng life of everett swanson

My Take: 3 Reasons This Story is Inspiring

1 One man’s passion

A simple farm boy has a passion for the gospel and though initially he’s a shy young man, his fervor leads him into a preaching ministry across the United States and eventually overseas. On a preaching tour he finds himself in South Korea and has an encounter where he discovers a handful of orphans hiding in an alley. He’s downcast with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to provide for them, yet his love motivates him to try.

His earnest desire and calling is noted by his wife and a friend. They steadfastly support and encourage him as he begins providing support to these orphans and raising the needs for help among those in America. The persistence and perseverance required to  garner support through his preaching ministry and writing newsletters is astonishing; in this we see Eugene Peterson’s admonition to a long obedience in the same direction.

This calling bore much fruit in the lives of orphans in South Korea, and eventually beyond. As he passed, Everett didn’t know the reach his ministry would have, as the board expanded their efforts into other countries later on. I’m reminded that faithful obedience isn’t measured today, though we live in a world where instant gratification prevails, the Lord doesn’t conform, he is patient and purposeful as he leads us and does his work in and through us. 

2 Humility for a lifetime

Throughout the book, Everett is often found reminding others, this ministry is about the orphans. You can see by the way the orphans greeted him and loved him during his visits that they truly sensed his love and care. He found a way to serve and when he couldn’t reach them all, for there was always more need, he went straight to his knees in prayer, trusting the Lord to provide sponsorship for one more orphanage, one more child—reminiscent of George Mueller’s devoted prayer life.

A common downfall of those who see success—yes even in doing the Lord’s work—is pride. The humility of Everett Swanson shines in contrast to someone close to him. A devastating betrayal near the end of his ministry was a result of entitlement and greed which deeply pierced his heart. 

I wish this weren’t the case in ministry, that sin wouldn’t ruin relationships within the body of Christ, yet it’s a reality we face. Though it weighs so heavy on my heart, I think the Lord uses it to convict me of my own sinful tendencies and my daily need for confession and repentance. I pray I will never grow weary of my knees hitting the floor in dependance, seeking reconciliation when I’ve erred, and of refreshing daily my need for the gospel and his grace.

3 He didn’t bury compassion

Aren’t the needs around us overwhelming?

We watch the news, read articles and easily surmise the desperation and depravity of wars, famines and floods across the world. Now, more than ever, we’re attuned with crises flooding our newsfeeds.

Sometimes, I wonder if we develop a habit of burying those emotions in the helplessness and powerlessness we feel to actually make a difference. There are so many needs, we can’t possibly meet them all, and even if we tried, we wouldn’t know where to start.

“We help one person at a time, just one at a time.”

I think this frame of mind was so helpful for Everett’s ministry, just taking one step at a time, one orphanage, one bowl of soup, one sponsor. We can do the same, by prayerfully discerning the needs around us, where the Spirit leads,  and focusing on a single way to help.

And a few more...

Ministry is costly; in time spent, balancing family life, emotionally and financially. We see his wife Miriam as his prayer partner and teammate. He recognizes her as a pivotal part of the work. He endeavours to bring her with him on a trip and eventually she would continue on the ministry's board after he had passed. I think this speaks volumes to their marriage, knowing this kind of legacy is not as simple as it sounds.

I also appreciated a conversation he had with his son David, when David was struggling as a preacher's kid feeling a ton of pressure with expectations laid on him from others. His dad easily encouraged him to walk his own path, to be less concerned about "what dad does" than what God had gifted and prepared him to do. This reminds me as a parent to encourage and pray for my kids as they grow and develop, to follow their passions, skills and abilities to be faithful to the Lord in wherever he takes them.

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My Recommendation

I highly recommend reading this journey through the life of Everett Swanson. I think you’ll be encouraged toward faithful obedience in your own life, renewed in your fervor in prayer and able to better navigate the needs of those around you. His story is truly inspiring, I pray you’ll catch his passion for serving others. 

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Quick Stats

# of Pages: 336

Level of Difficulty: Easy

My Rating:  5 stars

More Like This

Hajarah's Story: Compassion International's Ongoing Work

In this 6 minute video you'll meet Hajarah and learn how her life plummeted into poverty; how a good samaritan paused to seek help from others for this family; and how their lives were changed through the ministry of Compassion.

Scriptures About Compassion

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? (1 Jn. 3:17)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:36-38)
Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal. 2:10)
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Prov. 19:17)
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9)

Follow Along

*A big thanks to Moody Publishers for the complimentary copy of this book and for the opportunity to post an honest review.


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