Prayer: A Voice When Words Fail

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By Denise Rhoades

Arriving in your host country, you’re eager to get started.  But it’s been six months, and language learning has been killer. Your new language has three different n sounds made with varying positions of your tongue.

It’s exactly what happened to me as I relocated to West Africa. I recognized that a deep sharing of Jesus as their sin-taker and life-giving Savior with my new Muslim friends was going to be more like a marathon than a sprint.

Prayer became my critical battlefield. I begged for language learning. Patience. Miraculous wisdom.

What We Cannot Say

Fast forward seven years. My husband and I have become dear friends with an Iraqi couple, refugees residing in our city in the United States. They had made America their home eight months ago and were improving their English.

From our first gathering, my husband and I never ended our visits with our Iraqi friends without praying for them. We knew they could not wholly understand our words and requests. She was five months pregnant with their first child, due to be born in February as a US citizen.

Believing in the power of prayer, we prayed for health for mom and baby; they had lost a baby just a few hours old in Iraq. We asked Jesus for a better job for the husband to provide for his growing family. We pleaded with God on their behalf to supply their needs. We implored the Holy Spirit to comfort them in their adjustment to life in the US away from all family and friends.

Our Iraqi friends came to our church for a Christmas ‘walk through Bethlehem’ outreach and really enjoyed seeing the camels and people dressed like back home. We prayed with them that they would one day understand our Father’s precious gift of Jesus for themselves.


February arrived and my husband and I received a phone call while on our Valentine’s date: our Iraqi friends had gone to the hospital. Ending our date early we headed to meet them. I was there in the delivery room as “American friend and mom”. Just before it was time for her to push, her husband left her side to get his Holy Book. She leaned over and grabbed my hand: “Denise, I scared.”

I prayed. Father please protect this child. Jesus, give her the strength & courage. Bless them with the family they desperately desire. I knew she could not understand, but she smiled and I knew she sensed peace.

Their healthy sweet baby girl was born a short time later. I prayed with them, thanking Jesus for the blessing of life.

“You Teach Me to Pray Like You?”

Three weeks later, on Ash Wednesday, I was talking with our Iraqi friend on the phone while he was at work. I told him I needed to get off the phone to get to church because today is a day that followers of Christ around the world begin our 40 days of prayer, fasting, repentance and focused time with God in preparation for the day we would celebrate the glorious day Jesus rose from the dead. (This was an effort to build a bridge to their month of Ramadan.) He said to me, “Denise, you teach me to pray like you?”

Realization coursed over me: I was astounded by the powerful witness of prayer, whether in the US or overseas. My husband and I did not know enough Arabic. Our friends did not comprehend enough English to share the whole story of the Good News. But our prayers had made a difference. In that moment, though our friend did not know it, he was asking us for Jesus. In that moment, he wanted what we had.

“Yes. I can show you in God’s Word where Jesus teaches us how to pray.”

A few weeks later, we opened God’s Word together using a side-by-side English/Arabic Bible.

When words fail, I believe the truth of Isaiah 55:11,

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

Prayer witnesses powerfully–even when words fail.

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