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A Multi-Generational Prayer

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How God answered pleas to send a worker to Africa

Richard and Victoria SweetmanRichard ’37 and Victoria (Trillet ’37) Sweetman met at Moody and set their hearts on serving in Africa. But plans changed when Victoria was hit by a drunk driver and injured her back. Because she didn’t pass the mission board’s physical exam, she and Richard were not accepted for African service.

Instead, Richard took a pastorate in Baxter, Louisiana, and the Sweetmans started praying that one of their children would serve in Africa. Marilyn, their oldest of three, recalls, “I always felt that that was my job.” Indeed, when she was 14, the Lord called her to missionary service.

Marilyn also knew she wanted to go to Moody. “My mom and dad always told me that they registered me there when I was six months old,” she says with a laugh. Marilyn applied and got accepted for the fall of 1956 but was initially told the residence halls were full. Instead she accepted a job in Washington D.C., handling President Dwight Eisenhower’s press conferences. On Labor Day, however, she got a call saying a spot had opened up at Moody. So after the government debriefed her, she boarded a plane to Chicago and took a taxi to campus.

“When I walked through those Moody arches, I thought, Man, this must be close to heaven!” she recalls. “It was a tremendous thing that the Lord worked out.”

Marilyn arrived after freshman orientation, but her aunt Lena and uncle Paul White ’38, had given her the name of a young man from their Ohio church who was a senior at Moody. “Look him up and he’ll show you around,” Lena said.

So she did, and Bob Brennan ’57 walked with her to The Moody Church for the Sunday evening church service. The couple began a friendship that deepened into love. Later, during Founder’s Week, Bob felt called by God to be a missionary to Jewish people in Brazil. After he graduated in 1957, he and Marilyn ’56–’57 married, joined the Cleveland Hebrew Mission and later the Jewish Missions department of Baptist International Missions, serving in Brazil, but not Africa.

Now it was Bob and Marilyn’s turn to pray that someone in their family would eventually go to the field of Africa. The Brennans spent 15 years in Brazil until 1976, when Bob became a director of the mission board and returned to the United States.

Their oldest son, Bob Jr. ’79, went to Moody and studied foreign missions. Besides missions and Bible training, Bob Jr. enjoyed his practical Christian training: volunteering with the Good News Club, Open Air Campaigners, youth ministry on the west side, and evangelism near O’Hare Airport. He also played soccer at Moody and was recognized as an all-region NCCAA soccer player his senior year. “My memories of Moody are fantastic—some of the best years of my life,” Bob Jr. says. “Moody prepared me well. I wanted to be an MK teacher, which is what I ended up doing eventually.”

But somehow he wasn’t the answer to the generational prayer for a family member to serve in Africa. After teaching and youth pastoring in Atlanta for 10 years, Bob Jr. moved with his family back to São Paulo, Brazil, where he taught at Pan American Christian Academy, the same school he’d attended as a missionary kid. He and his wife, Anita, raised their four children there.

Meanwhile, his parents’ prayer for a worker in Africa remained unanswered. Marilyn says, “The whole time, none of us were going to Africa.”

Four generations of the Sweetman and Brennan family
Four generations of the Sweetman and Brennan family

Prayer Answered

Eventually, Bob Jr. took a position as the head of a Christian high school in Allentown, Pa. The church they attended, Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church, set a goal to reach six tribes in Tanzania, Africa, with the good news.

“Through that outreach, my daughter Amanda’s heart was stirred to go to Africa and join one of these teams,” Bob Jr. says. Amanda spent five weeks in Tanzania with a team from Africa Inland Mission. She returned for a commissioning service to send her back for a three-year term, and the service took place in Georgia, not far from Marilyn’s home.

“Finally, someone from the Sweetman family was going to be going to Africa. That was a real thrill,” says Marilyn. “The Lord’s timing was just different from ours.”

Also there to see Amanda’s send-off was her 95-year-old great-grandmother, Victoria Sweetman, the first Moody alum who had prayed that a family member would one day serve in Africa in her place. Marilyn shared the history of the longtime prayer with her visiting family members that day.

“Grandma Sweetman got to see with her own eyes, shortly before her Homegoing, the answer to prayer,” Bob Jr. says. Victoria Sweetman died at age 97. Amanda is now finishing a degree in international service and will return to Tanzania in 2018.

“In the midst of what sometimes seems to me as very circuitous routes, God knows what He’s doing, and he’s putting pieces together,” Bob Jr. explains. “When I’m totally at sea as to what’s happening, I can trust and rest that He is in charge, and He’s taking care of my family, and He’s accomplishing His purposes.”

A Moody Family Legacy

Moody Bible Institute has long been in the Sweetmans’ blood. Marilyn reports, “Of the Sweetman family, counting those they’ve married, we’ve had 26 members who’ve attended Moody. We thank the Lord for leading us.”

Demmin and Mary SweetmanIn 1916 Demmin Sweetman began taking correspondence courses at Moody. He married Mary Grootenboer and sent his sons, Huibert ’36 and Richard ’37, to Moody, where they met their wives. Huibert married Gladys Kocher ’37, while Richard married Victoria Trillet ’37. Demmin’s daughter Jeannette married Herman Kamphouse ’38, and Lena Sweetman married Paul White ’38, whose brother Kenneth ’42 married Blanche Nickerson ’41.

Daughter Marie’s son, Floyd Ver Voorn, and his wife, Jean Weber Ver Voorn, attended evening school. Their son, Robert Ver Voorn, also attended evening school, and Robert’s wife, Linda (Morris) ’87, graduated from day school.

Richard and Victoria Sweetman had two children go to Moody: Vicki Lynn (Sweetman) Drummond ’67 ’69 and Marilyn (Sweetman) Brennan Ulmer, who married Robert (Bob) Brennan ’56–’57. Marilyn and Bob had two children attend Moody: Terri Lynn Brennan ’79 ’82 and Robert (Bob) Brennan Jr. ’79. When Bob died in 2007, shortly before his 50th Moody reunion, Marilyn went to the reunion in his place. In 2014 she remarried.

Paul and Lena’s children also attended Moody Bible Institute: Paul D. White ’64 married Jean Walker ’63; Philip John White ’65 married Myrna Kinlaw ’68; and Priscilla White ’67–’68 married Neal Hamilton ’67–’68. Philip and Myrna’s daughter Aimee White ’91 married M. Scott Lilly ’90.

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni News.

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