Among a myriad of people from many different countries, sharing encouragement and fellowship at the church’s mission center, Brunstad, I meet Patricia Fenn. She is standing and conversing quietly with some friends when she spots me and her face lights up in a big smile. Together we find a place where we can talk without being disturbed by the bustling activity of the mission center.
Pat was raised in Connecticut, USA in a Catholic home. At the age of 20, she married Gary Fenn whom she had grown up with and gone to school with for many years.
Together they started searching for more meaning in life. After their first two children – Sarah and Michael – were born, they went to a Bible school in the state of New York. While in New York, they met an evangelist from Brunstad Christian Church named Jether Vinson. After they got to know him, the young family traveled to a small conference that the church held in Landsdown, Canada.
I couldn’t understand how they had the physical or mental strength to bear the children.
The first thing Pat noticed about the church was the large families she saw at the conference.
“I couldn’t understand how they had the physical or mental strength to bear the children,” she says.
Nevertheless, there was something about these people that drew her and she understood that she needed to get a hold of it. For her husband, Gary, meeting the friends from the church was life-changing. He had found exactly what he had been searching for.
“I didn’t have the same longing as he had,” says Pat.
Halfway through the week, Gary told her that he wanted them to move to Urbana to live closer to the friends from the church. His interest in moving to Urbana came suddenly and unexpectedly to a young woman who still didn’t fully understand what she had found.
“But I did understand that they had something I wanted, and I knew that meant that we had to move,” says Pat.
At first, it was a challenge for Pat to get used to the new life. Even though she understood that accepting children wasn’t a prerequisite for living according to the gospel, she experienced an inner struggle.
“I prayed that God would open my eyes,” she says.
Slowly but surely, Pat began to think differently; but it was after reading a verse in the Bible, that she made her decision. The verse was, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matt. 10:30)
That filled her with such confidence in God’s guidance for her life that she made up her mind.
“I will bear the children,” she decided; but her decision also had another component. “When I agreed to bear all the children that God wanted to give us, I also made a commitment to bear them all the way to heaven,” she says.
By myself, I don’t have the patience and love required to be a mother
Her task as a mother of 13 has given Pat a lot in life. “It is when you are pushed to your limits that you get to know God,” says Pat thoughtfully. Through a long life, and especially as a mother, she has come to know God both as a Friend and a Helper.
“By myself, I don’t have the patience and love required to be a mother,” she says and explains that she recognizes her lack of kindness, care, and love.
“But God has given me the gospel and the gospel becomes a way out.”
The gospel has allowed her to develop into someone who is kind, caring, and loving.
As a mother, however, she has also had experiences that were not easy.
One morning her son called her from work. “Mom, I just saw a plane crash into the building right next to mine,” her son said.
“They hadn’t realized yet what had happened,” Pat explained, “but my son had watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center right next to the building where he was working.
“They got out of the building, but had to stand and watch as people jumped from many stories above. It was a devastating experience for him,” Pat recalls, and she says he didn’t speak for two weeks afterwards. Her son was not a believer at the time.
“But the experience brought him into need,” says Pat.
Often the toughest times are the most valuable
After she had her fourth child, Pat was involved in a serious car accident. “I saw the truck coming directly towards me,” says Pat. The next thing she remembers is two church members standing beside her hospital bed praying for her. The young mother had been seriously injured in the accident and had among other things broken her pelvis. Thanks to the prayers of the church members, she healed quickly.
Pat was alone much of the time at the hospital because Gary was at home with the four little ones. At the hospital, she had a lot of time alone with her own thoughts.
She developed a close relationship with God by using the time to pray, and the scriptures became an enormous help for her. “Often the toughest times are the most valuable,” Pat says and explains that during those times God gives specific, personal help that you can later share with others.
Pat is an active person, and would rather play sports than sit still and do hand work. “So it’s a good thing we had nine boys,” she laughs, and tells about playing baseball with the boys. “It was a lot of fun when I could still beat them!” says Pat.
At the age of 57, she’s not as good at baseball anymore, but Pat spends a lot of time with her 16 grandchildren who are constantly in and out of their home.
The decision to receive the children was the most difficult decision Pat made, but it has become the greatest treasure for Pat who now has 13 adult children and 16 grandchildren.
“The children have been a great blessing and joy for me,” she says, and the family describes her as a caring, good, and warm mother. Pat continues her spiritual battle so that her children are preserved till each of them reaches heaven. “Some have ‘strayed’ for a while and then come back again,” says Pat. But when they have returned, they have come back with a new heart and a new mind. “It is a miracle that only God can perform, “she says.
Her daily struggle now consists of praying for her children and being good to those around her – her children as well as her grandchildren.
She concludes by referring to the verse in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth.