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‘They have huge hearts’

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Kayla Bunge
January 20, 2008
— Ben and Pam Patterson’s cups runneth over with love.

Both came from dysfunctional families. Pam moved 14 times as a child, and Ben was physically abused. So when they were married, they were determined not to let that pattern continue.


The Pattersons, parents of two children, took in any child who needed help and soon discovered their niche. They opened their home to a number of teenage girls, who struggled with depression, addiction, eating disorders, cutting and abuse. In August 1998, Agape House was born.


“God was calling us, telling us we were supposed to start a Christian children’s home,” Pam said.


“Agape,” which is Greek for unconditional love, symbolizes the ministry: Troubled girls receive counseling, mentoring and, above all else, love.


“It’s like your own daughter coming to stay the night,” Pam said. “We tuck them in; we pray with them; we tell them we love them. And they’re starved for it.”


The couple, young and inexperienced at the start, said they often questioned their ability to answer God’s call.


“I had a lot of insecurities,” Ben said. “Am I doing this right? Am I setting good examples?”


They were stretched thin. Their biological children had to share their parents with strangers, and the couple rarely had time alone.


“I was going in 10 different directions, trying to save the world,” Pam said.


And, at first, her desire to help the girls wasn’t only about the girls.


“When I started, it was to fulfill a need in me to be needed,” Pam said.


She soon realized that her self-worth depended on the girls, and that was unhealthy.


“I crashed and burned, and I was depressed,” Pam said. “I thought I could take care of the world. I thought I could do all things.”


Together, the Pattersons prayed for God to guide them.


“There’s no way we could have continued without God’s direction,” Ben said.


He said they had been given a talent to work with broken children and needed to put aside their needs for the good of the girls.


After a one-year hiatus from Agape House in 2004, the couple returned renewed. They moved the ministry out from under their roof and into a standalone building. They added a transitional home for young women who are too old for foster care and other services.


Pam serves as the executive director of Agape House and as the principal of Agape School, established in 2007. Ben takes on more of a behind-the-scenes supporting role. And that makes the couple an exceptional team.


Former Agape House board member Liz King of Williams Bay said the couple’s complementary roles make the ministry effective.


“They have huge hearts,” King said. “They’re Godly people, who love people. I’ve never known them not to help others.”


Former Agape House board member Janita Smith of Fontana said she continues to be amazed by the Pattersons’ overflowing hearts and what they’re able to do for the good of the girls.


“It’s something I couldn’t have done,” she said. “Just way more than I could do.”


BEN AND PAM PATTERSON
Age: 46 and 44, respectively
Community: Walworth
Occupation: Salesman and executive director of Agape House, respectively
Family: 11 children, two biological and nine adopted, ages 18 to 34; and three grandchildren.
Favorite part about being a parent: Watching the children grow up to become who they were created to be and find their own purpose
Favorite way to get away: Boating and camping
Words to live by: “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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