The Seeds that Fall – Bob and Becky Patten [Interview]
I recently had the privilege to sit down with Bob and Becky Patten, veteran missionaries to the Deaf in Chile. Here is the first part of the fascinating discussion that ensued.
Joe: I’m so glad to get the chance to talk with you today. I think that it is so important for us as missionaries to the Deaf and people working with the Deaf to get to know each other and learn from each other. I want to start out by sharing your testimony about how you got involved in ministry, how you became interested in working in the deaf, and how you got started.
Bob: Well, I got started with the Deaf in Puerto Rico when I was in the Navy. I usually worked second or third shift in the Navy, and I was saved at a Christian serviceman’s center in Puerto Rico. I was introduced to the Deaf school that was nearby, and so I began going to the deaf school, knowing some of the students, and got involved. I was their maintenance person for their vehicles, lawn mowers and buildings, just to help out in whatever way I could with the time that I had, because I had a lot of free time.
Becky: Well, as I was growing up, even as a small child, my parents had two couples of friends who had Deaf sons, and I remember playing with the Deaf boys, and I remember being really interested and enjoying being with them. Then when I was just starting high school, a new family came to our church that had a Deaf daughter, and several of us in the church went to the Bill Rice Ranch to learn Sign Language.
It was really interesting, at that time my parents had already paid for me to go to one Christian camp that summer and they didn’t have the money to pay for another one. And there was a man who is now in heaven who paid my way to go to camp that summer. I often think how when we give something to the Lord, we never know how he is going to use it. That is just kind of exciting to me.
When we give something to the Lord, we never know how he is going to use it.
Through high school, I just loved singing in Signs, so that’s how, since we only had one little Deaf girl and we didn’t really do much of a ministry at the church, so I didn’t have a way to stay in contact with the Signs, but I just loved to sing.
Joe: There’s a beauty in signing songs.
Becky: There is. And so that kept me from forgetting my signs. My first teaching job was at a Christian school in Hawaii, and there I met a missionary couple, a Deaf couple who were working as missionaries to the Deaf in Hawaii, just for a short time. Their work didn’t really catch on there, but I did work with them for a while and that helped me get back into Signs.
Then the Lord led me to a little Christian school for the Deaf in Luqillo, Puerto Rico, and when I heard about the need there I thought I would go back to school and get my Deaf Ed., but they said since I had had Signs and had my teaching degree that they would train me and give me summers to take classes in Deaf Ed. So I went to teach in what was then called the Escuela Evangélica de Luqillo, Puerto Rico.
Joe: So you both really got started in Deaf ministry at that school. Do you know who the missionary was who founded that? If it wasn´t for that school, neither one of you might be in Deaf ministry today.
Becky: We know that Fred and Betty Bolt worked there for many years, and I´m trying to think who the other people were. Roger and Pam Rawlings were from Canada. There were a number of Canadians who had worked together in a school for the Deaf in Ontario, Canada.
Joe: Because in that time frame, there weren´t very many missionaries to the Deaf. Brother Vernon, who started the ministry here in Peru, was one who inspired a number of other missionaries to go to the field. He was instrumental in many of their lives. It´s interesting to see how one ministry or one minister with the Deaf may or may not have a lot of fruit, but the results of that ministry always lead to someone else who reaches someone else, and it may or may not have this huge outreach throughout the course of their lives.
I´ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately, because there´s something about Deaf ministry, where one can feel that they are not making that much of an impact. There are not that many Deaf people out there in comparison with hearing people, and sometimes, you can feel like you´re not really making as much of a difference as you would like. Have you ever felt that way?
Bob: I think our impact many times is not always known to us. We´ve seen over the years how different ones were impacted, especially among the Deaf, and a lot of that we may never encounter in this life, but I think the Lord has a purpose and place for each one. And humanly speaking, we see ministries blossom and then die off like a flower, but a lot of times that flower has seeds in it that fall and are planted somewhere else, and so, it continues in a different path or a different way, and maybe we won´t see it in this life, but I know and am confident that in the Lord, we will see fruit down the road.
Maybe we won´t see it in this life, but I know and am confident that in the Lord, we will see fruit down the road.
Becky: It´s interesting too that, I think, the Lord understands we get a little bit discouraged that way sometimes, and sometimes he gives us a little glimpse to help us and encourage us. Just in the last couple of months we met a Deaf man who did not have any spiritual interest, and we didn´t think he would ever amount to anything for the Lord or even really be saved, but he moved up north in Chile, and got into a church and has really grown in the Lord, and we just saw him for the first time in fifteen years recently.
And then it´s interesting, just last week I took a Deaf lady that I hadn´t seen for a long time. I´d heard that she was having a hard time with a health problem and that she had nobody to take her to the doctor and was really frustrated and had been for several months. She needed help, so I went to see her and took her to the doctor, and then the second time, I brought her by my house and just went through the plan of salvation with her. She had come to church fairly faithfully for a while but then had stopped, and so I just asked her if I could explain the little tract that we have, and went through it with her.
She said, “Yeah, before, I did many wrong things, and I know I needed God to forgive me, and I asked him to forgive me, and now I talk to God every day.”
So I said, “Well, you need to be coming to church, so you can learn more about him!” So last Sunday she was in church, and hopefully she was back today.
Joe: Oh, wow.
Bob: Now, this was over a period of ten or twelve years.
Joe: So that seed was planted a long time ago.
Bob: Yes, a long time ago. So, many that you think, “Oh, Lord, whatever happened to so and so…” The fellow that lives in Arica, and just happened to be in Santiago when one of our Deaf had passed away. He heard about the funeral, and that´s where we met him again. And he told us the whole history of the past fifteen years, how the Lord led him to a church and a business in Arica. So, like I say, the flower may look like it dies, but there are seeds that fall.
The flower may look like it dies, but there are seeds that fall.
Be sure to come back next week and read the next segment of this encouraging interview! The Pattens and I will discuss ways to recruit and train future ministry leaders, as well as creative strategies and tools to reach the Deaf in our time.
Can you identify with the Pattens? Comment here to share your story!