Boldly I Pray

Boldly I Pray

I had the amazing privilege of meeting Helen Jean Parks while living in Dallas, Texas, and I hope you will enjoy reading a bit of her story and her words!

Helen Jean Parks was born in 1928, in Abilene, Texas. She planned to become a journalist, but during her senior year of college at Hardin-Simmons University she answered a call to vocational ministry.

In 1952, Helen Jean married Keith Parks, whom she had originally met at the Texas State Baptist Student Union Convention, when Keith—a student at the University of North Texas—was the state BSU president and Helen Jean was a delegate from Hardin-Simmons. They became better acquainted later at Southwestern Seminary in classes and campus activities.

Shortly after the birth of their first son, Helen Jean and Keith moved to Indonesia in 1954. During their 14 years in Indonesia, Helen Jean worked in small churches training Indonesians as teachers, she taught music and religious education at the seminary, and led the Indonesian seminary choir. She also valued her role caring for her children at home.

When the Lord called Keith back to the U. S. in 1968, Helen Jean felt she had lost her country, her people, and her calling. But with their four children (ranging in ages from five to fourteen) in tow, Helen Jean gradually adapted to her new stateside role of education and support for Kingdom work and walking with her husband in his various top leadership roles. She was an effective speaker and teacher, sharing in churches, at various meetings, and leading seminars throughout the United States on cross-cultural work, prayer, and the Christian life. She visited countries around the world to learn, to meet local Christian leaders and people, and for mutual encouragement with families, and not only wrote about intercession but was a serious intercessor and role-model herself.

Following you will find excerpts from her book Holding the Ropes (published in 1983), a rich exploration of prayer and overseas work. I think you will learn much, just like I did, from her wisdom. May these words encourage your heart and equip you for what the Father has set before you.

Source of Power

It works! my heart cried. It works! Prayer works!

I knew the elation of a wonderful answer to prayer.

No, checked my mind. God works! Not prayer!

To say ‘prayer works’ or to talk about ‘unleashing the power in prayer’ makes it inanimate and divorces it from God.

The Key to God’s Plan Is Christ in You

He is not just an external Savior, not just a Helper alongside us, but he actually, literally lives within us by his Spirit, living his life through us. The only hope of our becoming all he wants us to be and doing all he plans us to do is Christ living in us.

Just as we could not save ourselves, so we cannot live the Christian life. Through dying to ourselves, our own desires and conveniences each day, by faith, we ask him to live through us.

If we are crucified voluntarily every day, his mind can think through us, his love can love through us, his strength can work through us, his voice can speak through us, his life can live through us, his prayers can be voiced through us.

Prayer and Learning

The best lesson I ever had as a new [worker] about learning a language came after I had finished formal language school! We had completed a year’s formal training, moving on to another city where we were engaged in seminary teaching and church planting. We continued studying several times weekly with tutors who helped us translate material for teaching.

A university English professor, my teacher, was trying to help me translate an illustration into Indonesian. It seemed to me that morning that his suggestions and corrections were too vague and wordy. I wanted an exact translation. So I dropped the story and started on something else.

Very un-Oriental-like, he stopped me. He sensed my feeling that his grasp of English was less than perfect. He was gentle, but pointed.

“Please, Mrs. Parks, may I say this? The difference in you and your husband is this: When you cannot say exactly what you want to say in Indonesian, you stop or switch to English. Your husband, however, ‘mem-belok-belok’ (meanders). It is the idea of going around and around a winding road. If he cannot say it exactly, he will use what words he knows. He goes around and around the idea until we understand his meaning.

“Let me ask you, Mrs. Parks, are you perfect in your own language?” We laughed, because we both knew the answer, though my father was also a university professor of English. “Well, then,” he continued, “you will never be perfect in Indonesian either. But you must keep striving to learn all you can, to be as correct as you can.

“I have taught college English for eighteen years and studied it for ten years before that. I still make mistakes. I tell my students that the purpose of language is communication. If you can convey your purpose, you have succeeded… even if you make mistakes.

You will keep working to master Indonesian. You want to sound as much like us as you can. Learn our phrases, our inflections, our idioms. Strive for perfection, but use what you know until then.”

What a perfect lesson for prayer! We will stop and start, falter and try, fail and succeed at prayer. But as we learn and strive to pray as Jesus commanded us, we will not wait until we are perfect. Learning to pray only comes as we pray.

What lessons have you learned about prayer as you have walked the cross-cultural journey? What have you learned about prayer from the workers who have paved the way for you?

*Used by permission from the author


  1. Rachel Kahindi November 6, 2019

    Such great insights! I love all these excepts. My favorite: “God works! Not prayer!”

    One thing that I learned recently was that my obsessive prayer about a particular thing actually revealed a lack of faith in me. Difficult to explain, but the reason I felt the need to keep praying was because I wasn’t trusting God with the outcome. I think that in certain cases (especially when I crave control), it is most faithful for me to pray about it once or twice, then let it go. And when it comes to mind again, to simply commit again to trust God with it.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann November 6, 2019

      Rachel, I love this- or more accurately, I don’t love it because I’m feeling very convicted. 🙂 Thank you for sharing, and bringing up obsessively praying. I had never thought about it that way, that it is a lack of faith or trust. I see that in my own life, where constant praying for something can move toward constant complaining and constant, “Why haven’t you answered by now???”. I need to keep chewing on what you said.

      So many good quotes in this book- I’m so thankful for Helen Jean’s words and wisdom!

  2. T December 25, 2019

    I’d love to read the whole book…is there an ebook version or a pdf? YouTube talks by her covering stuff in the book?? I love learning from older, wiser women! 🙂

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