Helen Jean Parks, former missionary and wife of R. Keith Parks, former president of the Foreign (now International) Mission Board, died Sept. 13. She was 93.
The former Helen Jean Bond, born in Abilene, Texas, and her husband were appointed Southern Baptist missionaries to Indonesia in 1954 and served there until 1968. Her commitment to international missions shaped her service as the couple returned to the United States for Keith to join the home office staff and through his tenure as FMB president from 1980 to 1992.
Mentors and encouragers
Jerry Rankin, who succeeded Keith Parks as IMB president and who also served in Indonesia, said he best remembers the couple as mentors and encouragers when Parks served as area director for Southeast Asia.
“Helen Jean was especially outgoing and relational, given to hospitality and showing interest in our family,” he said. “She readily shared spiritual insights and advice out of her own missionary experiences but was not reluctant to voice strong personal opinions relative to mission strategy and policies as well.”
Helen Jean was never in the background, he said, “but was always alongside Keith providing counsel and support in his various leadership roles.”
The Parkses served 14 years in Indonesia. After language study, they did evangelistic work and served on the faculty of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Indonesia in Semarang, Java, where Helen Jean taught music and religious education. She also led the Indonesian seminary choir, worked in small churches training Indonesians as teachers and held conversational English classes with Muslim faculty wives of the Diponegoro State University.
They moved to Richmond in 1968, when Keith joined the home office staff to lead work in Southeast Asia. In 1975 he was named director of the Mission Support Division and in 1979 was named executive director-elect. He became executive director (later changed to president) on Jan. 1, 1980.
Always a missionary
Although Helen Jean had to resign as a missionary when her husband joined the home office staff, she never relinquished her missionary calling. She actively promoted missions, interacting with constituents and relating to missionaries from her own experience.
Along with receiving a bachelor of arts degree from Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas, and a master of religious education degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, she also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Hardin-Simmons in 1987. And she was honored by the Logsdon School of Theology in 2007 with the Jesse C. Fletcher Award for Distinguished Service in Missions.
She also authored the book, “Holding the Ropes: Intercessory Prayer for Missions.”
Before her missionary appointment, Helen Jean was a Baptist student worker in Texas and Missouri. She also was youth and music director at First Baptist Church Henrietta, Texas, and part-time reporter for the Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News.
She is survived by her husband of 69 years; four children: Randall (Nancy), Kent (Erika), Eloise and Stanley (Kay); seven grandchildren; and three great grandchildren.