Walt Disney called his theme park the happiest place on earth. Diane R. Swan of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, agrees, but not for escapist entertainment reasons.
Walt Disney World is where she met Jesus.
Swan’s life had been so rebellious and destructive in her teens and early 20s, with drug and alcohol abuse and promiscuity, that her mother often feared she would receive a call announcing her daughter had been found dead in a gutter. By 2002, the then-26-year-old Swan, a recently divorced, single mother of two young children, felt desperate.
Unsure how to turn her life around, Swan only knew for certain that she wanted to be a good mom to Nicole, 6, and Andre, 5. But growing up in an abusive and broken home, she didn’t know how. So she decided the best way to be a good mother would be to take her kids to Disney World in Orlando.
“It’s so ridiculous!” Swan says. “But that’s what I thought.”
She packed up her children and traveled to Florida. While touring a Disney resort for a time-share promotion, she became fascinated with her guide, Steven Paul Gonzalez.
“He had so much joy and peace pouring out of him,” Swan remembers. “It puzzled me.”
She finally asked. Gonzalez told her he felt so contented because had given his life to Christ.
“When I heard his story and looked at all his joy, all I could think was, If God did that for you, I wonder what He would do for me?” she says. She wanted what Gonzalez had and admits she didn’t care what she had to do to get it.
Gonzalez led Swan to salvation in Christ. Swan says that she, too, experienced an immediate and radical transformation.
“I never touched another drug or had any more desire for that lifestyle,” she says. In that void, she says the Holy Spirit filled her with overflowing peace. “Some people say it’s like a river. Mine was like a geyser!”
For the rest of Swan’s vacation, Gonzalez discipled her and encouraged her to get connected to a Bible-believing church. As soon as she returned to Pennsylvania, Swan called Karen Winters, her children’s former baby sitter, whom she remembered as a Christian. Winters invited her to attend Bethel Assembly of God in Chambersburg. As soon as Swan entered the church, she felt welcomed.
“I wanted to tell everybody I knew about what Jesus had done for me!” Swan says.
Swan, 43, a credentialed Assemblies of God minister through Global University, is still as grateful as ever. She is now a speaker and a core team member of PennDel Ministry Network’s Women’s Ministries. She also leads Seven Swans Ministries and works as a licensed professional Christian counselor with Greencastle Family Practice, where she specializes in helping people heal from past abuse, trauma, family difficulties, and drug and alcohol issues.
“I can look at what these people are going through and tell them I understand,” she says. “I’ve been there.”
Kelly Kipe, Swan’s spiritual mentor, who along with her husband, Garry, pastors Bethel Assembly, attests to Swan’s transformation.
“God has clearly placed His hand on her life,” Kipe says. “It’s exciting to see Diane step into what God has created her to be.”
“God is so good at redeeming every part of your life,” says Swan, who is grateful not only for her salvation and new purpose, but also for her husband of 15 years, Todd, as well as blended family of six: Nicole, 23; Lexi, 23; Andre, 22; and twins Isabella and Samuel, 14.
Seventeen years after that divine appointment at Disney, Swan is no longer the girl her mother feared would die alone in a gutter. For her, that’s truly a dream come true.