Richard and Barbara Barker


Retired Missionaries to Japan
By Rachel Elwood, Writer
May 2012

“Holiness works in whatever culture you’re in.”

Richard “Dick” and Barbara Barker practiced what they preached during their 15 years in Japan as missionaries with World Gospel Mission, and later for eight years with Global Partners. Their primary ministry focus was Immanuel Bible Training College, which trains leaders of Immanuel General Mission, the national church in Japan.

Dick grew up in Detroit, Michigan. “When I was very young, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I told my dad I wanted to be a missionary,” Dick said. During a revival service in high school, he felt a definite call to the ministry. He attended Kentucky Mountain Bible College and completed his degree at Indiana Wesleyan University. Dick then earned his MDiv from Asbury Seminary (Kentucky). “God used that relationship [with my Japanese roommate in seminary] to confirm my call to Japan,” he said.

Barbara was born in Southern Rhodesia, now the country of Zimbabwe. Her parents, Lilburn and Florence Adkins, were also missionaries with WGM. Their family moved to Kenya when she was very young, and she spent most of her school years at Rift Valley Academy. After high school, she attended Asbury University, where she met Dick. “For a long time, I just thought I’d go back to Africa as a missionary when I got out of college,” she said. “But just to suppose something doesn’t mean it’s what God’s will is for you.”

Barbara had also been feeling the Lord leading her toward Japan. She and Dick had started dating by then and joyfully discovered that they shared a call to Japan. They were married in 1957 after completing their education.

After pastoring churches in Michigan for seven years, they finally arrived in Japan in 1964. “We were really thrilled to just be answering God’s call!” Dick said. “It’s never been a question in my mind that that’s what God wanted us to do.” At that time, they had three small children: Lester, Martin, and Norman. They would later add Cheryl and Keith to their family.

Dick immediately dove into language study and soon was teaching at IBTC. Barbara’s main role in those early years was raising their children, and she was also active in building relationships with ladies in their neighborhood.

At that time, it was difficult to obtain books on holiness doctrines in Japanese. Dick helped start the Wesley Book Club, which translated theological books into Japanese, specifically material that dealt with the theme of Christian holiness. Working together with other missionary co-workers and Japanese pastors, numerous holiness classics were translated.

As their children grew up and left for college, Barbara taught piano and organ at IBTC, as well as English Bible classes, and taught cooking classes with a devotional component. “A lot of ladies, including those who had traveled internationally, wanted to learn Western cooking,” Barbara said. “We would cook the food together, eat our meal, and then have a Bible study. It was a lot of fun, and many of the ladies had never been to church before.”

In 1979, Dick and Barbara took a leave of absence to pastor a church in Michigan for three years. They then served as Student Involvement directors at Asbury University until 1993. They enjoyed working with college students, encouraging them to serve the Lord in missions and organizing work teams.

Still, Japan was never far from their hearts and minds. Just days after officially retiring from WGM in 1993, they returned to Japan with Wesleyan World Missions (now Global Partners). During that time, they worked with both organizations through the Immanuel Wesleyan Federation, always with the goal of strengthening the national church. They returned to the U.S. in 2001, settling in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Today, they are active at the Wilmore Free Methodist Church. They get together with others in the area who have served in overseas missions, volunteer at the Francis Asbury Society, and spend time with their grandchildren; and Barbara sings in a ladies’ singing group at Wesley Village.

Throughout all their various activities, Dick and Barbara remain grounded in their faith. “The Lord guides us and leads us day by day as we stay in relationship with Him,” Dick said. “That’s the best security and strength you can have.”