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The S.W.A.T. (Spiritual Warfare And Tactics) Team was a Christian-based, Seattle street outreach group active in the late 80’s. It was founded by Johnny Johnson and Mike Mayer.

The ministry began, not as a formal strategy to evangelize a target audience, but came about naturally and spontaneously as Johnny and Mike first came in contact with some kids who lived on the streets of Seattle and were invited to their place of dwelling; an old boarded-up tenement home, known to the street kids as a “squat”. When Johnny and Mike visited the squat, compassion filled their hearts for the condition these kids lived in and the rest is history. From that moment on, Johnny and Mike began making regular trips downtown to visit with the new friends they had made and to offer them whatever immediate assistance possible, especially to share God’s love with them.

Over the months to follow, Johnny and his wife Lynne and Mike and his wife Joy both took kids into their home to foster; providing an environment of love, helping them get off drugs and find work, as well as discipling them with Christian principles and encouraging them to put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ.

THE TEAM IS BORN:

Interest in these outreach endeavors grew and soon more friends of Johnny and Mike (many from the church group they attended) started getting involved by coming down to the streets to meet the kids and just be available to the need. It became immediately apparent to Johnny and Mike that God had begun to put something significant together and their desire was to serve as faithful stewards of this work which the Holy Spirit obviously began. As God began to reveal to Johnny and Mike a direction for organizing this outreach, they adopted the name S.W.A.T. (Spiritual Warfare And Tactics).

ChenDrewMohawk-bw Not only were some of the first members of the team from the church that Johnny and Mike attended, but also one of the ministry’s first contacts on the street who had given his life to Jesus eventually became one of the longest participating members of the S.W.A.T. team, Drew Ecker (a.k.a. “Chen”). When Johnny and Mike first met Drew, he was a punker with a huge mohawk and a “talent” for making bathtub crank (a.k.a. “meth”). He was living in that first boarded up house that Johnny and Mike visited. Drew’s life was so dramatically changed by his conversion to Christ, that he wanted to go out on the streets and share the same truth about Jesus that he had come to know himself. After going through a period of discipleship training while living in Johnny and Lynne’s home, Drew became a regular participant in the team’s outreach work to Seattle street kids.

Ross and JohnnyEach visit to the streets (which generally occurred on Wednesday and Friday evenings) was preceded by fervent group prayer (thus the “spiritual warfare” part of the name) and, as the team would arrive on the streets, doors of opportunity seemed to open without effort and a direction became clear as the Holy Spirit guided each night’s activities (thus the “tactics” part of the name). The blessing of God was apparent on just about everything the team seemed to participate in. Soon more kids were coming off the streets and Johnny and Lynne were taking more kids into their home. Mike and Joy did the same.

Blessing followed as even the local police gave respect to the team and was glad to see their involvement with the kids. One owner of a local ice cream shop that was located right on the avenue, a man by the name of Norm, even designated parking for the team so they would always have immediate access to Broadway even at the busiest times when there was no easy access to parking anywhere on the avenue. Norm, who was encouraged by the team’s endeavors to reach out to Seattle’s troubled young people, would often treat the team to ice cream.

A sense of expectancy began to develop over the months as the budding team would see God orchestrate miracles in the way of kids making decisions to get free of the streets and turn their hearts to God for help. While not all of the kids put their ultimate hope in God, they were certainly exposed to His love through the lives of those who volunteered their time, finances and resources to reach out in whatever way possible.

THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE:

Throughout the first several years of the ministry’s existence, the team served as an unofficial but cooperative outreach of Christ Fellowship Church in Mountlake Terrace, Washington (pastored by Colin R. Wellard). As kids were coming off the streets, several members of the congregation became actively involved by taking kids in their homes and also giving them jobs and helping to disciple them. Some of the ladies in the church lent a hand by packing lunches in the church kitchen that the team would take down to the streets and hand out to the kids. Blankets, sleeping bags and clothing were also donated. At Christmas time, gifts were collect to take to the kids and the S.W.A.T. team had a Christmas party right on the streets downtown, complete with a Christmas tree, food, and music.

Most of the members of the team at that time were also members of the congregation; however, the developing ministry was not isolated to members of Christ Fellowship church, but open to really any person who professed a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, a love for kids on the streets, and who made a connection with the team in some fashion and shared the same heart to reach out through “the language of love”.

This was the unique trademark of the S.W.A.T. Team outreach from its origin; the entire motivation was love rather than some programmed religious strategy to pass out Gospel tracts or preach from street corners (not meaning to entirely discredit the value inherent in other methods of outreach such as this that some groups use, which may also be led by love and direction of the Holy Spirit, but which are also typically employed as “mechanical” strategy to simple achieve a prescribed religious result). The S.W.A.T. team’s successes were realized through the relationships that were developed over time. The team understood that, as Scripture teaches, some plant the seeds, others water them, and others reap the harvest… though not always are all three elements of evangelism observed by the immediate participant.

This concept, while embedded heartily in the hearts and minds of all those on the team, seemed difficult to grasp at times by the leaders of some religious organizations and among those more traditionally-minded that, though they were sometimes encouraged by the testimonies they heard and wanted to be taught the “principles” of evangelism that the S.W.A.T. team was impacted by, would also occasionally express discouragement that tangible results were not more quickly realized (i.e. numbers of souls being saved, which naturally translates to more people in the pews and “bragging rights” for the success of a church program).

TRAINING, EVANGELISM & MINISTRY:

Still, the ability of the S.W.A.T. team to be able to successfully penetrate into areas of outreach that most churches had no clue how to begin approaching, caused a number of churches and various para-church ministries to inquire about these methods, and this made it apparent that teaching was needed. With this realization, Johnny began to develop the S.W.A.T. team’s Spirit-inspired strategy into a written training syllabus that could be taught to congregations and other Christian organizations to help them understand what it was that made S.W.A.T.’s methods so effective.

S.W.A.T. became involved in a multitude of outreach venues around the Northwest and also enjoyed connections with some other well respected ministries and Gospel workers such as Mario Murillo, Jack Willis, and Nicki Cruse to name a few. Outreaches extended not only to the streets but also church youth groups and even convalescent homes. Wherever there was opportunity to share in the excitement of the Lord at work, the S.W.A.T. team sought to get involved.

From the beginning, the S.W.A.T. methodology was simply demonstrative of God’s love in action through individuals that were in relationship with Him. The catch phrase “the language of love” became the most basic and profound element of this doctrine for reaching troubled youth. God led Johnny (and Mike) to develop a training format to help educate churches and other ministry groups with this basic Gospel strategy… something that they really should have understood organically anyway. From this time the “team” part of the S.W.A.T. T.E.A.M. came to mean “Training Evangelism And Ministry.”

FLYING COLORS:

One of the primary trademarks of the S.W.A.T. team, from its earliest days, was the black leather jackets that sported the letters S.W.A.T. with a white splattered paint effect on the back. In the beginning, painted leather jackets were popular among the kids on the street and were typically donned with images of skulls and other symbols and lettering. The S.W.A.T. jacket became one of the most recognized images among street kids in downtown Seattle. They knew that if they saw S.W.A.T. they could trust these guys. They knew the team was there out of love, respect and consideration for them.

In all the years S.W.A.T. worked the streets of Seattle, not a single casualty was experienced among its members, even though many times they were found in perilous circumstances such as being at the scene of gang fights, street riots, or other back ally occurrences. God protected every member the entire time.

THE FINAL YEARS:

In 1990, Johnny took a position on staff of a church in Eastern Washington (Calvary Church on the Rock – Richland, WA). Mike Mayer continued as head of the Seattle team. Johnny attempted to introduce S.W.A.T. in the Tri-Cities area (Richland, Pasco, Kennewick) over the next couple of years. Instead of the streets, the new evangelistic turf became the local malls and similar locations. Johnny also toured Europe with evangelist/singer Janny Grein and engaged in street outreach work there.

Despite the fact that some amazing times of outreach occurred over these years as well, it’s probably fair to say that the success of the endeavor to implement S.W.A.T. in the Tri-City area was marginal, at least by comparison to the Seattle work. Certainly it was different in “flavor”. Perhaps part of the reason was the different environment apart from that which S.W.A.T. was first grown in. The Tri-Cities had no major inner-city community of “street people” like Seattle and the trademark leather and jean jackets probably also seemed out of place, though they had become an accepted symbol of team membership by this time.

Also, by this time, the concept that originally inspired the outreach had moved beyond its simplistic, “organic” format to a more structured and established ministry concept that relied upon stricter principles and rules of operation. Over time, the excitement S.W.A.T. once seemed to invoke among those involved with and exposed to it, waned… and by this time, several members had dropped out of the team for various reasons. Whatever reasoning by speculation those who have been intimately acquainted with the S.W.A.T. team and it’s leadership from years past may come to, the magnitude of the S.W.A.T. T.E.A.M.’s influence and popularity did in fact appear to have been greatly reduced from its original state. Whether this is because of errors made or because it was simply time for change, change indeed had come.

All the principles of practice that were discovered organically from the beginning remained present (certainly in the minds of its supporters as well as its leadership and absolutely in the teaching presented), but (in some ways) it seemed the ministry had lost its heart. That is not to say that those involved with the team over the years had allowed their relationship with the Lord to grow cold. On the contrary, many became more focused and fervent in their individual desires to find the Lord’s purpose for their lives and others simply moved on to different responsibilities of life, locations, or ministerial focus.

Eventually both chapters (Seattle and Tri-Cities) decided to cease operations as it was apparent that each member’s schedule was now occupied with other activities that prohibited full involvement in the S.W.A.T. program.

REFLECTING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD:

For the team’s original leaders, Johnny and Mike, both have remained involved with youth over the years. Johnny currently lives and works in the Kennewick, WA area and enjoys fellowship with local believers as well as continuing to work with young people whenever the opportunity presents itself (and also can be found playing music at various venues). For more information, you can visit his Facebook page. Mike Mayer also continues to work frequently with young people from a number of different backgrounds and lives in the Kennewick, WA area. You can visit Mike’s Facebook page by clicking here.

Perhaps the lesson of the S.W.A.T. team, most of all, is that God’s love and the leading of the Holy Spirit, is what matters most for all of us (as well as for those we come into direct contact with at any place or time). People sometimes err when they attempt to over organize, over sensationalize, or become overly infatuated with a genuine move of the Spirit and it turns from something wonderful, living and real to simply another religious program. That having been said, the principles of the S.W.A.T. T.E.A.M. remain inherently Scriptural and beneficial if kept as a motivation for organic, Spirit-led outreach and a positive reminder of what can happen when individuals allow God’s incredible love to guide them.

All this having been said, it is hard to entirely regard S.W.A.T. as being “dead” since the motivation that first inspired it remains as true and powerful as ever; that being the language of love, which is the primary vehicle that God always works through in all of our lives since He himself IS love. Many of those who were involved with the team and exposed to its influential concepts (those that were breathed by the Holy Spirit) will never be the same. Many of us are still impacted by a longing to see troubled youth find freedom and joy in a relationship with Jesus Christ. A number of us still feel a pull to some kind of evangelistic ministry; though not according to some religious program’s edicts, but of a sincere motivation by God’s Spirit.

Who knows… S.W.A.T. may yet have a future and may be reborn or at least realized in some fashion as the Lord leads. Time will tell. For many of us, what we learned will never die; It continues to thrive within our hearts and it is with this attitude and intention that this website is presented – for the remembrance and encouragement of others.

We hope you will share your thoughts in perspective… especially if you were a former member of the team or remember the team in some way. Perhaps you were one of those folks who were the recipient of the team’s outreach in those early days… If so, we would very much like to hear from you!

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