Fulfilled living in later life

Wednesday 20th January 2021

Life stories: Jill, Pilgrim Gardens

After 35 years planting churches and training future missionaries in Brazil, Jill Chapman is now living at Pilgrim Gardens, Evington. She told her story to Kaela Dutton, our Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Pilgrimsfriend Pilgrim Gardens flower border

At 15 years old Jill heard the call to become a missionary as Billy Graham preached in Harringay, London. At first, she resisted and, adamant not to leave the UK, spent five years wrestling with her calling, while becoming a teacher and leading a normal life.

However, one afternoon reading a devotional, the words “go, obey” leapt from the pages. Jill recollects, “I knew I could no longer ignore God prompting me into life as a missionary.”

Aged 22, she attended a two-year biblical training course led by Redcliffe Bible College and was 25 by the time she arrived in Brazil in 1964. Little did Jill know she would stay for 33 years.

For the first 10 years Jill worked with local communities, travelling only by foot to share the good news of the gospel. She served closely alongside an Australian nurse, Joan. Jill reflects fondly on her role in the safe arrival of hundreds of babies in tiny villages with no electricity – she held a torch so Joan could see!

Some of Jill’s most cherished memories are of those first 10 years in Brazil, working with deacons Cicero and Antonio. She led Sunday school lessons, teaching the stories to children, and still excitedly recalls them reciting all the books of the Bible, the youngest being just under four years old.

Alongside her fellow missionary, Jill would visit homes and market squares to preach and play music. Most of the onlookers were men who had come to spend their wages at the market. Some of those men became part of the congregation. Jill recalls how different life was, “The villages were very dangerous places to live so men having a weapon to defend themselves was the norm. Many would bring their guns and knives to church, it was a very normal part of life, like wearing a hat.”

Alongside four other missionaries, Jill helped purchase the land on which to build a Bible school in Montes Claros. At first, the base offered informal three-year courses with an intake of up to 15 students per year, but Jill still needed a MA in Biblical Studies to help set up the WEC Missionary Training College offering a BA in Biblical Studies.

She left Brazil to study at the University of South Carolina, and returned 12 months later to become a teacher in the WEC Missionary Training College. Jill loved every graduation day, rejoicing as students departed with the tools to share the good news in other lands.

She committed a significant portion of her life to this work, and though Jill has since settled back into life in the UK, she has returned to see the growing project she helped establish in Brazil all those years ago.

Pilgrims Friend Pilgrim Gardens Return visit years later

Looking back, her message for those who have heard the call to mission is clear, “Whatever God tells you to do, do it – He only has the best plans for us.”

She now serves as a Deacon at her church, Oadby Baptist Church, and shares life with her Pilgrim Gardens family. Having not seen a fresh, green lawn for much of her 30 years in Brazil, tending to the beautiful communal flower beds at Pilgrim Gardens is a delight, and a wonderful blessing to her neighbours.

Perhaps her approach to mission has encouraged her to seize opportunities they first present themselves. “I think people leave it too late to move to a place like Pilgrim Gardens,” she says. “I am so pleased I was able to move when I did. It’s wonderful to be able to contribute to a community.”