The Power Of Unknown Prayers
Nancy Coen is a wife, a mother of three and a grandmother, yet she has the energy of a college student and the enthusiasm of a three-year-old child. First appearances would lead most to believe she is a successful businessperson. She once was, but this dynamo is now the founder and leader of Servant Ministries, an organization whose main thrust is taking the gospel into areas where believers are persecuted and even killed. Traveling 380,000 miles a year, the diminutive woman with the big smile and booming voice constantly puts her life on the line in the most dangerous places on the globe. She really lives the Great Commission each day of her life.
Nancy’s story, from a woman who would not allow a Bible in her home to the missionary who put her life on the line smuggling Bibles into China, is a testament to the power of prayer. It is a dramatic narrative of stubborn resistance and faithful obedience. This story shines a bright spotlight on the dedication of those who simply will not give up on people and God.
“As a young child I saw a lot of things that bothered me about the Christian faith,” Nancy recalled. 1 was raised in a very legalistic church. As soon as I got away from home, I turned away from the church and vehemently turned against all things that I considered Christian. I would have sooner spit in the eye of a Christian than talk to them. At that time I even actively campaigned against Christian programs and missions.”
As a young wife, mother and businesswoman, Nancy wanted no part of God Living in Indiana, she was a member of the local social set, a country club regular, a loud boisterous woman who loved a party and embraced a “live for the moment” lifestyle. Though friendly and likable, she was a voice against any type of religion worming its way into her life. She didn’t want to hear a prayer before a high school football game or have a local Christian youth group meet in the school. She taught her children there was no higher power and that Christianity was a fable.
“One day my daughter ran across the rural road where we lived to retrieve a ball that had landed in the yard of some folks who had just moved into our neighborhood. These were anything but my kind of people. They were poor and uneducated. They had no social skills. I didn’t even like having them on the same street where I lived.
“When my daughter got into the yard, she was invited into their home. At that point I marched across the road to go get her. When the husband opened their front door this Jesus music started coming out. And I thought these people are not only ignorant and poverty-stricken, but on top of everything else they are Christians!
“I was so upset and I would not let my daughter go back to their house again.”
What Nancy did not realize was the man who greeted her at the door had not been put off by his visitor’s lack of respect for his family or his faith. In fact, he felt a call from God to pray for Nancy. Beginning that day, and continuing for seven years, he and his family prayed that Nancy would give her life to Jesus. They even involved their church in this practice, telling friends this atheist would someday be used by the Lord to affect the lives of people all over the world. Anyone who knew Nancy realized that was had no chance of this ever happening.
“The interesting thing about this situation,” Nancy remembers, is that I never spoke to that man again. Three months later we left Indiana and moved to Texas. Yet he and his wife took seriously that mandate and every day for seven years they prayed for me to be saved.”
Seven years later Nancy had not changed. She was still a hardhearted militant nonbeliever who felt the only light in the world came from either the sun, the moon or a bulb. Yet with a family and church still praying for her, the successful businesswoman was about to find herself in a situation that almost scared her to death.
“One day I woke up and I began to hear voices. The first one said, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Then a second voice would cry out, ”You know Jesus is dead and in the grave and never coming back.” Then a third voice popped up saying, “l loved you so much I gave my son for you.”
The voices continued to war in her head all night long. At the time she believed she was going crazy. “My mother had mental problems. She heard voices. She would cry for days on end. I now thought I was going through the same thing. I was going to be crazy like my mother. I had three small children, three success businesses, I didn’t have time for this. Finally, after several nights I actually shouted down the hallway, ‘I don’t believe in God, I won’t pray and you can’t make me’ Even at that moment I realized how funny it sounded for me, an atheist, to be telling God to get away from me.”
The voices tormented Nancy for an entire week. During this time she became a basket case; exhausted, frazzled and completely out of control. On her eighth night of not being able to sleep, she finally gave up, deciding to get on her knees. Not knowing how to pray, she simply repeated the prayers she had learned in childhood. They did nothing to ease her mental anguish.
“My prayers were not getting beyond the walls,” Nancy recalled. “I finally confessed, ‘I don’t know how to pray. If you want me to pray, you are gong to have to tell me how to pray.’ Even though it was night and very dark, I saw a bright light right in front of me I knew the Lord was there and I was so scared I repented for everything I had ever done wrong in my whole life.”
The next morning Nancy was a different person. The first thing she did was race to a local bookstore and buy a study Bible, For three days she constantly read the only Bible that she had ever allowed in her home. Overcome with passion to share her joy with others, she drove into the worst sections of South Texas towns and sought out prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless people. She didn’t just witness to them, she brought them back to her home, cleaned them up, fed them and allowed them to sleep there. Needless to say, it took her family a while to understand and adjust to the new Nancy. At church and on her own, she tried to reach everyone she saw. Yet in time the woman understood that this dynamic transformation must have taken place for a specific reason.. Through prayer and study she came to realize she had been called to take her strength and conviction into regions of the world where Christians were persecuted. Selling her businesses, she founded Servant Ministries and began to travel to every corner of the world not just telling her story to the lost, but finding ways to meet the needs of the poorest and most mistreated Christians on the globe.
Over the course of the next decade, in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America, Nancy was confronted by radicals from every one of the world’s major religions and a few she had never heard of. She was locked in jails and had her life threatened more times than she could count. Buoyed by the knowledge that many of those who had persecuted her had later accepted the Lord, she fought on. Yet even seeing miracles, conversions and great movings of the Holy Spirit did not prepare her for what she was to witness in 1993 in Red China.
“I knew it was a divine appointment I should meet the man they called The Greatest Living Martyr of China,” Nancy explained. We had communication before I left and I told him I was going to bring Bibles to his church. On the day I was supposed to meet with him, we were arrested and we got caught with the Bibles. Because we were Americans we only got a little wrist slap, but they took our Bibles and assigned armed guards to follow us wherever when went in China. When I got back to my hotel in my mail box was this little rice paper. Written on the paper was ‘Dear Mrs. Coen, the whole church is waiting for you to arrive with the Bibles.’ Of course I knew I was not going to be able to do that. If I had been caught even going to his house now, he would be arrested.
“Traveling with us was a native Chinese man who had been riding in a different train car when we were arrested He had tossed his bags of Bibles out the window. He went back and got them later. The night a strategy came to me to take those three bags four blocks down and put them in storage at another hotel.” Like a spy on a mission, she moved the books in the dead of night.
Nancy would spend ten more days touring China, but with the government guards always watching, she had no opportunity to deliver the Bibles. On the group’s final night in this ancient nation, they decided to tour a slum in Shanghai. That is where they lost their tails. With no one following, Nancy hurried back to retrieved the stored Bibles. She grabbed two of the seventy pound backpacks and flagged down a rickshaw driver. She gave him the address and climbed in.
“It took two and half hours to find the man’s house,” she recalled. “The bottom floor of this house was a police observatory. They were monitoring this man. On the police office’s door was a sign written in seven languages ‘It is against the law in the People’s Republic of China for anyone to enter these premises for the purpose of worshipping Jesus Christ.”
Nancy was fortunate, no one was at the office at the time. More than a little scared, she opened a small door leading to the place assigned for her meeting and was faced with a narrow stairway that seemed to go on forever. Dragging the heavy book backs behind her, she began her long, difficult climb. “I got up to the second floor, but no one was there. I began to pray, but no one came. I was here to deliver these Bibles. This is why I came. This was my assignment. I began to cry because I was going to have to leave China and never know if these books got into the hands of the people to whom they were intended.”
“I was sitting sobbing and noticed a ladder leading up to the attic. So I climbed it. There was nothing in the room but tree stumps nailed to the floor with two by eights laying across them. I now knew this was the place I was supposed to be.”
Nancy waited for more than three hours on one of those homemade pews, but no one came Realizing she had to get back to the hotel to prepare to leave China, she stood up. Then she heard what sounded like a broomstick hitting the floor. A wave of fear rushed down her spine as she turned toward the noise. It was then noticed a false wall leading to a hallway.
“I didn’t know what to expect. Out from behind the wall came a little old lady. Her eyes had been burned out with hot pokers and her ears cut off because she had dared to share the gospel. She looked at least 100 years old and couldn’t have weighed 80 pounds.
“She appeared to be listening, through that hole where her ear had once been, as if she might have thought I had left.’
“Hello,” Nancy called out.
The woman, overcome with emotion, cried out, American,” and started jumping up and down. Suddenly the room’s shutters pulled back and children poured in from off the roof.
“I looked around and was surrounded by kids whose parents had been taken the night before in a raid on the church. When they heard me coming up the stairways with my heavy book bags, they thought I was the police. They had been waiting for me to leave. Now they came in and were singing and dancing. It was such an awesome beautiful moment. Then the woman grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the children and behind this false wall.”
Nancy now found herself in a narrow hallway barely two feet wide. At the end of it hall was a bookshelf. On that shelf were eighty-nine copies of the New Testament. Nancy would discover that each had been hand copied by one of the church’s children. They had added one page per day for years.
As Nancy studied one of the Bibles, the tiny woman put her shoulder to this bookcase and she shoved it out of her way. There, in a five and half feet long by three and half feet high room, laying flat on his face on the floor was the man she had come to meet. He was praying.
“He had been in that room for ten days praying that I would find a way to get this little church those Bibles,” Nancy explained. “When he saw me he sat up and crawled out though there was little light in the hall, his face was so illuminated and bright it was almost blinding. After he told me he had been praying for my visit, I asked him what I could do for him to make his life easier. This beautiful smile came over his face as he said, ‘The Devil tempts the body of Christ in two ways, one is with intense persecution, the other is with abject apathy. I wouldn’t trade one lash on my back, or any day of my twenty-eight years in a prison, for all the money in a America. You have done what needs to be done for me already, you have prayed and you have come’
“At that moment I looked straight into his eyes and knew that I was seeing God. My life has never been the same.”
Nancy left China that night, but the man who is simply called “The Living Martyr of China” has never left her. Seeing Christ in this persecuted man’s eyes pushes her daily with a new fever to share the gospel with the lost. It is a journey full of dangerous peril, but as this former Atheist puts it, “God is sending me to places I have never been, but He is also always there to meet me when I arrive.”
I Saw Him In Your Eyes
I suggested this title to a friend of mine in Nashville more than twenty years ago. I thought it would make a good song title. That friend, Louise Mandrell, told me it would make a better book. Many years later I finally had the chance to put the book together. It contains twenty stories of the most inspirational people I know. I chose to spotlight Nancy Coen in our feature preview chapter.