Barbara (Patterson) Chapman '83

Barbara (Patterson) Chapman '83
Sara Jacobson

Barb Chapman was a part of the first ever class of math majors at Northwestern College.  While researching potential careers for a class project, she got excited about actuarial science, which is a discipline that assesses financial risks in the insurance and finance fields using mathematical and statistical methods.  As an introvert, she imagined her ideal job in a room by herself with no phone. 

Soon after, Northwestern hosted a mission emphasis week with representatives from different ministries from around the world.   She approached the Wycliffe table, which was staffed by the parents of a student she knew.  She asked them “What would you do with a math major?”  Their eyes just shot open and they said, “You can learn a new language.”   She said, “No, I tried to learn French and couldn’t speak it.  Then I went to France and got incredibly homesick. No...I can’t do it.”  This couple took her under their wing and invited her to some of the Wycliffe presentations which really tugged on her heart.  

Discerning Vocation

This couple from Wycliffe--time and time again--would call her and invite her to things missions related.   She and God went head to head and she felt like God was saying “I want you to go.”  She argued with God, “I can’t learn the language” and He said, “I want you to go.”  She said, “I get homesick overseas” and He said, “I want you to go.”   Despite all her arguments, she still felt a passion inside of her that this was important!  She finally said “I will go!  I’ll go for a year on a short-term mission and see what comes.”   

In that era, short-term mission trips meant going to the Philippines and Japan as an English teacher.  She decided to go to Japan. Her first short-term project was teaching English in a local church in very rural Japan.  She lived alone. Her first day by herself she collapsed and just bawled.  The next day she got up, washed her face, and taught her first English class.  As soon as she was dropped off at home, she turned away from the car and started crying again. This went on for a week.  She was sleeping but not eating.  She didn’t have a phone in her house, so she went to one of her student’s homes and asked to use her phone, and called her parents collect.   

Encouragement in the Word

The first thing Barb said to her dad was, “I don’t know if I can make it.”  He said, “They don’t want a miserable missionary” and she rebutted, “I signed a one-year contract.”  Her dad told her that she was thinking as a child and it would be better for everyone if she would come home.   She said “OK.  I’ll see how tomorrow is.”  

The next day was Saturday, which went fine. The next day, Sunday, she went to church and had fun.  She thought, “If this is too hard, I’ll just get on a flight Monday—my day off.”   As each day passed, she felt a little bit better.  The verse God kept giving her was Matthew 19:29: And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  She would read the verse and pray, “You promised.  Because I left everything I know for Your sake, not mine.  I was going to be happy sitting in a cubicle somewhere.”  Every new day brought healing.  After a month, a volunteer Japanese teacher from the church asked her how long she had studied Japanese.  Barb said, “I couldn’t count beyond 10 before I came here.”  The teacher said, “I’ve never had a short-term missionary come and be able to speak as well as you.”  Barb shares, “God gave me a gift with the language, and He gave me a crisis point in my homesickness. He brought me through, and He healed me through it. He used my dad and the reassurance that I could go home to remind me that “I can provide for you, I will take care of you.”

At the end of her first year in Japan, she still had Matthew 10:29 running through her brain.  But she was encouraged that she could do it.  When she looked around and remembered how many families she could run to if she was in trouble, how many people she could call if she needed a ride, and how many families would include her in their holidays, she could not count them all.  God showed His faithfulness through that verse; He had given her new friends and family, and He would provide for her.  

Vocation Affirmed

During that year, He confirmed first that he wanted her in career missions. Then He confirmed that Japan was not just a one-year thing.  She also met her soon to be husband Jeff--who was also a short termer that same year.  Barb and her family have been on the mission field now for over 20 years.

At Minnehaha, just like in Japan, encouragement kept her going.  She remembers having struggles with French and a teacher who kept encouraging her she could do it—no matter how poor she did. She was not sporty at all in 7th grade.  The coach at the time encouraged her to “just keep going. “ In volleyball, she was a terrible player, but she loved being a cheerleader on the bench.  Her coach always said, “Don’t give up, just keep going, you don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to achieve what others achieve.”

To Fellow Alums

What would Barbara say to other alumni?  “While I was growing up, I often felt like I didn’t have anything important to say—that I couldn’t say anything to anyone that they didn’t already know.  In Japan, I felt like I had something important to say that people had not heard!  I can’t reach everyone, and you have been placed where you can reach people that I would never be able to reach. If you know Christ, you have something important to say to the people around you.”

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