by Cheryl (Warren) Brugel '90
April 12, 2009
Recently Cedarville University received a letter from an alum from the 80s, which brought back a flood of memories — of a dedicated husband, a faithful prayer, and a life-changing miracle.
The letter was from Dennis Ian Patterson ’84, who some may recall arrived on the Cedarville campus from Australia in 1983 with his two young daughters … but without his estranged wife. Twenty-five years later, Patterson wrote this letter to thank Cedarville and everyone who enriched his family’s life during that amazing year they spent in the States. He shared in his letter, “I have such fond memories of my time [at Cedarville]. It was so unbelievable. How blessed we are.” In celebration of God’s amazing work in the Patterson family — and for all those who did not have the privilege of being a part of the miracle that occurred during the 1983–84 school year — we felt it would be great to once again share Dennis’ story, a story of the power of prayer to bring healing and redemption in the most desperate of situations.
Dennis had been awarded an overseas scholarship to study music at an American university. As a relatively new believer, he chose to attend Cedarville where he could combine his love of music with his desire to grow in the Lord. He and his two young daughters, Jodie and Clare, arrived on Cedarville’s campus in the fall of 1983, having never set foot on American soil before. Noticeably absent was his estranged wife, Joy. She was still in Australia, seemingly lost to Dennis and his girls forever. But the Cedarville family soon learned of Dennis’ heartfelt prayer: to be reunited with his wife after seven years of separation. The student body joined Dennis in earnestly praying for Joy. His desire became their desire — to see Joy come to salvation and return to her family!
A Family Apart
Dennis and Joy Patterson’s story actually began years before. The couple married at the young age of 18, and Joy was a mother of two four years later. By the age of 24, she was experiencing deep depression and felt she could no longer cope. Struggles from her past would cause her to fall into despair for hours, sometimes days.
Then something snapped, and one day Joy threatened to cut her wrists if Dennis did not give her the car keys. He relented and she left, spending the next seven years trying to find what was missing.
A professional musician, Dennis appeared to have an exciting life. He says every night was “soaked with fast music, bright lights, large crowds, and generous sums of money.” But he had turned away from God. One day, two years after Joy left, his thoughts drifted to his conversion at the age of 12. He remembered the fun, the joy, and the innocence of that time compared to his present turmoil. It was a turning point for Dennis. He felt a “strong beckoning” in his heart, as if God were drawing him. So he went to church and, that night, gave his life back to the Lord.
The very next day Dennis resigned from his band and within a week had begun a Bible study in his home. As he grew in Christ, God began working on his heart regarding his marriage. Dennis felt God leading him to restore his relationship with his wife even though he had no idea where she was or what she was doing. Thus began a five-year journey of prayer for healing and restoration for Joy and their marriage.
During these lonely years, Dennis often felt an overwhelming need to find his wife. On more than one occasion, he would drive up and down the interstate in search of her. And, miraculously, God would bring her across his path. Twice they stopped opposite each other at a busy intersection in Queensland. Another time, he ran into her at a campground. Dennis said, “It seemed like every six months God would unsettle me and challenge me to find Joy.”
In 1983, Dennis sought Joy’s clearance to take their daughters to the United States to study at Cedarville. For her part, Joy marveled at Dennis’s inner peace and joy and saw in him a zest for life that had been absent before. Dennis promised he would not give up on her or their marriage. But Joy said she just could not see life the way he did. So she granted permission for him to go … and seemingly said goodbye to her husband and daughters forever.
Half a World Apart
Now in America, Dennis, Jodie, and Clare continued to pray. And they shared their hearts with the Cedarville University family. In late October, the entire University came together for a half day of prayer. Joy Patterson was on the prayer list.
While Dennis and the Cedarville family cried out to God to change Joy and restore Dennis’ marriage, God was doing a work in “the land down under.” Joy had been living on a farm in Queensland, keeping goats. She had grown crops of marijuana, delved into the Hari Krishna sect, and dabbled in New Age and occult practices, experimenting with séances, astral travel, and fortune-tellers.
Joy had come to a dead end. Life no longer had any purpose for her, and she thought often of suicide. From this pit, she cried out to God, first accusing Him and arguing with Him, then telling Him how lost and desperate she was. Her heart began to open, and she begged God to change her. She heard a still small voice say, “Joy, I am the way, the truth, and the life.” With that, she knew God was giving her the answer she needed. Joy hunted down a Bible and discovered Jesus had said those words. On her knees, she gave her life to God and asked, “What do you want me to do?” The answer in her heart was immediate: “Go back to your husband!”
In the meantime, Dennis and his girls were preparing to celebrate their first American Thanksgiving. The night before, they attended a little country church for a special service. Through tears, Dennis’s friend shared with the church his concern for Joy. The entire congregation joined in earnest prayer. The next day, as they were about to sit down to dinner, the phone rang. On the other end was Joy … having finally located Dennis from her sister’s home in Queensland. Her words brought joy and celebration, “Dennis, I found the Lord!” After seven years of rebellion, God had lovingly and gently turned Joy around. She was ready to come home. For the Patterson family, it was a true day of Thanksgiving.
A Heart of Joy
Upon hearing the exciting news, the Cedarville student body collected money to pay for Joy’s airfare to the states. On December 20, 1983 — in the middle of a heavy snowstorm — Dennis finally met his wife at the airport with a warm coat and a dozen roses. By God’s strength, they were ready to rebuild their lives together.
Today, Dennis and Joy live in London, where he works as a music director. After leaving Cedarville, God blessed the Pattersons with four more children — Zachary, James, Jordan, and Micah. Their daughter Jodie is now a mom and part-time journalist/graphic designer in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She is married to former Cedarville lecturer Dr. Franco Gandolfi. Clare is back in Australia working as a medical doctor in rural New South Wales.
Although it has been years since Dennis and Joy were reunited, their amazing story remains a testament to God’s work in a believer’s life when that life is fully given over to Him.