Latoya Evans-Swain has always been a fighter who dedicated her life to her three daughters. As her children grew older and began to attend college, she decided that it was time to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. So, she started going to college in her home country, the Bahamas.
In 2016, her college in the Bahamas was damaged when Hurricane Matthew – a Category 5 hurricane – tore its way through the Atlantic Ocean, directly hitting several areas in the Caribbean and even the United States, in South Carolina. The Bahamas experienced extensive damage. Latoya recalls the terrible state that its destructive path left the island – downed trees, power lines in the roads, the flooding and destruction of multiple homes; her own house’s roof and front porch were blown right into her neighbor’s yard.
Sadly, only three years later, in 2019, without much time for recovery, Hurricane Dorian made its way across the Atlantic, striking the Bahamas harder than its predecessor. In the wake of Dorian, Latoya’s new roof, fortunately, survived, but the house was now affected by tremendous flooding. Not only hers but thousands of homes were found in the same conditions, severely damaged or beyond recognition. She recorded the level of flooding, showing the water settled several feet from the floor, going above the top of a window in her home.
Hurricane Dorian ran its course over the island in two days. At that time, the water accumulated from the outside and the sewers and sat in Latoya’s home. It destroyed everything; nothing was salvageable – except for a few clothes. “Once that happened, that kind of put the kibosh in school again for me,” Latoya commented. But, she didn’t give up and continued to go after her education.
In doing so, she came across some news that another university offered free tuition to the University of Bahamas’ students. At the time, however, she was not a part of the university and didn’t qualify for their offer. She and her family prayed that another opportunity might arise. “I don’t know, one day, I was just sitting down, and I was thinking that there is got to be something….” So, she sat down and started searching google and social media platforms. Nothing seemed promising. Then, one day sitting in her car, she went on Twitter. Twitter was an app she usually never used, and as she was scrolling through her feed, she saw a post about a school – Washington Adventist University (WAU). She had never heard of this university before. She tried to look more into the post, but it only referenced the school’s name – so she looked up WAU’s number and called in.
Latoya remembers the conversation, the very first person she spoke to, who encouraged her to put in an online application. When that was finished, she received an email affirming that they were offering full tuition, room and board, meals, and everything she could hope for. It was shocking. As she continued to send in information, she was met with such kindness from the employees at WAU. “Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed, just from the emotion, and talking to people who were just so sweet to me…they had never met me. They didn’t know anything about me [or my situation concerning the hurricane],” Latoya said.
Meanwhile, even with her excitement over her WAU acceptance, she was handling the hurricane’s aftermath – cleaning away the wreckage, helping family, and dealing with the damage of the house. Struggling with the conflicting emotions over receiving a new opportunity, she continued to, “…keep the faith, even though we can’t see it.”
Latoya resumed talking with WAU representatives on a daily basis, waiting for a turnout. Some of the needed documents were delayed because of the hurricane, and she received them in January – three weeks into the spring semester. At that time, it was already too late to apply for a visa at the U. S. Embassy in the Bahamas.
When she was finally able to have her interview, the semester was going into the fourth week – already nearing the last couple of days where you could add to your course load. She was very anxious about her interview at the Embassy. “You’re in a long line, watching people go through and leave. And you can hear the immigration officer say, ‘No, you can’t have it,’ multiple times. That’s nerve-wracking,” Latoya remarked. When the time came to speak with the immigration officer, she was met with the same dreaded answer, no. Because the spring semester was already four weeks in, they could not give her the visa. It was distressing news; even more so, the application would have to be canceled, and she would have to come back and reapply. However, despite the ‘no’ that she received, the immigration officer eventually decided to give her another chance. Instead of telling her that she needed to reapply, they were able to change her visa for August. This change finally allowed her to come to the WAU campus to continue pursuing her dream!
But this isn’t the end. Latoya still has faith in the dream she has been working for, for years. Currently, she is continuing her fall semester virtually at WAU. She encourages others to hold to the promises made in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (NIV). “If He has those plans for you, what else is there to worry about? I’ve been holding onto that promise for twenty years. It was true then, and it is true now,” Latoya stated. “It doesn’t mean that obstacles aren’t going to come your way. It just means that even though those obstacles come your way, He already has a plan for you to prosper.”