Helen Cobbald, who is serving with Wycliffe in South Africa, and Franci Ball, who leads her prayer support team in the UK, reflect on the vital importance of serving God in partnership with one another.
Franci: As Helen’s prayer support team, we are a group of people made up of family members, dear friends far and near, and people from different churches who support Helen, including those of us from Duke Street Church, her home church. We all have different connections with Helen, but we are united in our desire to be actively praying for her in her work with God as a Wycliffe member.
We can all clearly see that Helen was made and called by God to fill her Helen-shaped hole in his grand plan in South Africa. And when you see someone you love and know, in the right place, at the right time to be used by God, and through their eyes and voice hear about and see the people she is making a spiritual difference to, it is thrilling!
‘When you see someone you love and know, in the right place, at the right time to be used by God… it is thrilling!’
As a team, we really value using our WhatsApp group, which Helen set up and we all use. We do feel closely involved in Helen’s work as she shares immediate prayer needs and then reports back when God answers them. It brings an immediacy to what we do. We can see the importance of it, and hear about the successes God brings, which is really encouraging. We also know that we are helping Helen in real time, and not in a delayed-response way. When we meet together for prayer, we first call Helen by WhatsApp and talk and pray with her, before ending that call and praying some more.
Elizabeth, a prayer team member, said this: ‘Her texts and occasional pics/videos are really helpful. Her enthusiasm radiates through them.’
As I write this, Helen has just WhatsApp’d us all a picture of the Himba workshop currently underway! (See right)
Another member, Les, knows Helen through his grandson David, one of Duke Street’s former young people who had Helen as a youth leader. Les says this: ‘It helps me by knowing and praying for Helen, and I think it helps her to know that she has the backing, support, and faith of her prayer team. When Helen sends a message, it’s as though I can see her smile and enthusiasm, which is always helpful to me.’
‘She has the backing, support, and faith of her prayer team… and I can see her smile and enthusiasm, which is always helpful to me.’
Janice Ratcliffe, a former Wycliffe member, has been praying for Helen a bit longer than some of us! ‘I knew Helen originally via Sutton Baptist Church. I started praying for her when she went to Ghana, as I had worked there. As a retired Wycliffe member, I was delighted when she moved towards and then was accepted by Wycliffe. The news she sends of what is happening, the knowledge of ‘field’ work, the experience of those who have gone before, and the joy of those who have God’s word in their mother tongue for the first time…’ those are the things that bring Janice joy in praying for Helen.
‘What a privilege to be praying for Helen and for our brothers and sisters in the Lord.’
When we see Helen, through her own smiling face, we also see the faces of the people she is serving. Her videos and audio recordings of Scripture engagement music workshops, of people hearing the word of God in their own heart languages and what it means to them, speak volumes. We rejoice with them! We rejoice in Helen’s being able to go where we can’t go and use her God-given, multi-faceted gifts designed just for this purpose. What a privilege to be praying for Helen and for our brothers and sisters in the Lord in southern Africa. We know that we are on the frontlines with Helen for such a time and a task as this.
Helen: I’ve now been in South Africa for 10 months. It feels a bit surreal to finally be here. Of course, there are elements that are completely different to what I expected, and aspects of the work that I didn’t expect. But ultimately, I feel so centred and certain that I’m where God wants me and that he’s using me. It’s a good place to be in.
The past few years have been challenging and extremely rewarding all at the same time. In Feb 2017 I was accepted as a ‘member in training’ of Wycliffe, and so the journey began.
First was the all-important task of building a support team. Everywhere in Scripture you see God’s people following his will together. I’m not called to go alone; I’m called to go with, to be with and to be sent from. I feel so privileged and blessed to have an amazing support network, full of people invested in the vision and involved in the mission. My prayer network feels like the blood running through my veins, petitioning God on my behalf both for the work and for me personally – it’s so valuable. And then God has answered my strongest prayers of giving me a community – pulling me into a church, building a group of friends and giving me a place to play music, right here in South Africa. When I look around me and see all that God has provided, including practical things like an apartment and a car, I feel overwhelmingly blessed and privileged to be here doing his work.
‘My prayer network feels like the blood running through my veins.’
The second task was going. I packed everything up, a lot in my parent’s loft and the rest into suitcases, and I boarded a plane to Johannesburg. The first five months were a bit of a whirlwind as I found my feet and settled into a new routine and way of life. Even though South Africa is similar to the UK in many ways, and I’ve visited a few times while growing up to see family, it felt like I had to learn how to do life all over again. Simple things, like greeting the cashier at the supermarket or booking a doctor’s appointment, were unknown and strange. I’ve had many moments of being momentarily confused when people use the term ‘pants’ for trousers, ‘chips’ for crisps, or ‘robot and circle’ for traffic lights and roundabout… But, as with all culture shock, normality developed and I came to appreciate and enjoy this new way of life.
As for the work, God keeps confirming he wants me here! There are areas where I’m serving because there’s a need, and things that I end up doing because something changed last minute. There are areas of work that I’m extremely excited about, and areas that are a bit mundane. But regularly, I get to see the changes that God’s word is making and have wood thrown into the fire that God started in me 13 years ago. I get to work in an amazing team of people, equally passionate about seeing God’s word alive in languages across southern Africa. And I get to further the work of Scripture engagement alongside translations, stretching my arms a bit inside the Helen-shaped hole that was waiting for me here.
‘I’m not called to go alone; I’m called to go with, to be with and to be sent from.’
I still yearn to see people come to discover who God made them to be, and to have God reveal himself in transformational ways through his word. I still long to see the Bible put to music, and for communities to take God’s word and to live it out through their ideas, skills and talents. Before coming here, that was a far-off vision. Now, I’m seeing parts of it first-hand, and I can see glimpses of the path God has put me on to make it a reality. Through trusting him and staying obedient to his call, I get a front-row seat to all he has planned, both for me and for his kingdom.
Top: Helen with her colleagues at Wycliffe South Africa
Join Helen for the first steps in her journey as she begins serving in South Africa. Click below to watch the video.