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Brokenness Transformed

Brokenness Transformed

Brandon RichardWebster ’15 is a computer scientist and National Science Foundation grant recipient. (​Photo credit: ​Wes Evard, College of Engineering, University of Notre Dame)

“I wouldn’t trade my life for anything,” says Brandon RichardWebster ’15. “Every single circumstance led to me being where I am in my faith today.” The circumstances he refers to were not easy ones. RichardWebster grew up with a mother who was a meth addict, and at age 11, he had to testify in court that she was an unfit mother. From that point on, he lived with his grandparents, whom he calls “awesome people.”

But RichardWebster carried that childhood trauma with him as he grew. “I was always angry,” he says. In high school, teachers noticed his rage even as they also noticed his intelligence and computer prowess. He took programming classes and built websites, but his deepest passion was his faith. He set his heart, and his sights, on becoming a missionary.

At Bethel, RichardWebster worked toward that goal by majoring in biblical and theological studies. While he found his major interesting, he didn’t feel passionate or engaged about his studies. His difficult past, and the unresolved emotions around it, affected his relationships and his studies. “Those first few years I was very broken and very angry,” he says. “I was on academic probation with a GPA of 1.84.”

A study abroad experience proved to be a turning point. “I spent a semester in Kenya through Bethel’s study abroad program,” RichardWebster says, “and my roommate was a computer science major. I was tutoring him in computer science, and I suddenly realized I was in the wrong field.” He began to see his natural talent and passion for computers as a gift from God. He remembers asking, “Can I make this into my mission field? And the answer was yes.”

With a renewed sense of purpose, RichardWebster changed his major to math and computer science. He found support and mentoring from Brian Turnquist, professor of mathematics and computer science, and from faculty and staff in general. In fact, he attributes his healing and growth to the caring relationships he found at Bethel. “The people I met at Bethel—whether they were professors or custodians or academic support staff—saw that my struggle wasn’t with school,” he says. “My struggle was with the brokenness I brought from my childhood. Inside, I was still a hurting child. My conversations with people at Bethel helped me realize that I didn’t have to be a broken little kid in the body of Christ. I could be a man in the body of Christ.”

Today, RichardWebster is a computer scientist in a Ph.D. program at the University of Notre Dame, where he received a prestigious National Science Foundation grant to fund his research on artificial intelligence. He’s accomplished the goal God set in his heart all those years ago, though not by the path he imagined. “I realized I didn’t have to be a vocational missionary in order to share God’s word,” he explains. “I’m a computer scientist. And I’m a missionary. Every single one of us is a missionary in the Lord’s kingdom.”