Alumni ProfilePeter Boelens '57
Finding the possibilities in prayer

boelens coupleOne late, late night during his medical internship at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Peter Boelens ’57 walked back to his dorm room after stitching up a stabbing victim. What happened next changed the course of his life.

“On my nightstand was a commentary on Romans that I was reading. I looked at that book, and a sudden wave of deep depression swamped me. I knew that I had done my best, and yet I was doomed to a life of Christian mediocrity. I tossed the book aside and said, ‘I give up.’ Then it was as if the floor, the ceiling and the walls were diamonds, and someone turned on a hundred searchlights. God’s presence was real. From then on the scriptures directed my future in medicine.”

Acting on Matthew 9:35, Boelens and Eleanor Vandervliet Boelens ’60 went to Korea to establish clinics and preach the gospel. Back in the States, in 1970 Boelens went to the poorest county in the Mississippi delta and opened Cary Christian Center, a clinic The New York Times in April 2007 called “the only beacon of light in the entire landscape.” In the ’80s and ’90s, he initiated a support model for indigenous Christian doctors and nurses in underdeveloped countries; 30 clinics now operate on five continents.

eleanor boelensYet in those nearly 40 years, Boelens said, “I couldn’t find a way to bring people to that intimacy with God that I’d been given as an intern. Was it the traumas in their lives that kept them from experiencing the fullness of God?”

The question led Boelens to the healing prayer ministry of Francis MacNutt. He and Eleanor took MacNutt’s training courses and began their own prayer ministry in Vicksburg, Miss. “God brought such healing to severely traumatized people that I had to document it in a medical study,” Boelens said.

With referrals from physicians, Boelens enlisted 80 participants for the study. All were given a numerical score based on their answers to the Hamilton Anxiety and Depression Scales. Forty-five randomly selected participants then met individually with Eleanor for prayer once a week for six weeks. The other 35 participants, as a control group, received no healing prayers.

Boelens explained that Eleanor’s prayers for a participant were not “normal” prayers. “Ours are prayers over time. God lives in an eternal now, so to God it’s as if a person’s trauma is happening right now. We ask a client to relive their trauma, to latch onto their feelings of it, while Eleanor prays for God to heal. What most often happens is that God separates the emotion from the memory. Anatomically, the memory is still there; it’s in the synapses. But the emotions triggered by the memory are gone.”

Eleanor also showed participants how to meditate on scriptures chosen to help them change self-destructive thought patterns.

After six weeks, Boelens found the anxiety and depression scores of the control group were unchanged, while the scores of the prayer group fell into the normal range. Those healthy scores are holding 12 months after the prayer intervention.

Boelens calls the results “God-good”—so good, in fact, that he was asked to present them at a conference sponsored by The Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University in late June. Now the biologist in him is curious.

“With new imaging studies of the brain, we could investigate what transpires neurologically because of prayer,” he said. “The possibilities are endless!”

E-mail to sign up for Boelens’ prayer study reports.