Monica Ghali, a young missionary in Lima, Peru, wanted to tell the street children around her that God loved them, so she started collecting used bus tickets. Littering the streets of Lima are an eye sore of stepped on, run-over, and water stained bus tickets. She also asked neighbors and friends to help collect them for her. When asked why, she replied “I want to take that which has no value in the eyes of the world and give it value. I want to take that which is ugly and make it beautiful.” Using her artistic training, she arranged the tickets into a collage of great beauty and worth in the eyes of all who saw it. Continuing to work with and build relationships with each other, Monica and the children “fleshed out” the tremendous beauty and value they have before God.
Art is essential to the way Joel Klepac, missionary with Word Made Flesh, builds the church in Galati, Romania. Using sand, clay, paint, and a myriad of other materials, Joel develops community among street children and children at risk and gives them hope in life. Together with the children, Joel made a movie about two apple seeds that were thrown away but eventually grew into a full and vibrant tree that produced fruit of its own. It had tremendous impact on the kids as they realized God saw them as those apple seeds, something redeemed from a broken world and given the ability to flourish. This project brought the kids into Christian community and into nearby churches.
Sarah Lance works through the arts to build the church in Calcutta, India. Women caught in the sex trade are given wages, retirement, and medical care in order to make art. They are also given the word of God through services and Bible studies. As an artist, Sarah saw the tremendous value of old pieces of sari considered worthless as clothes. She taught the women how to cut and sew the pieces into beautiful wall-hangings, bags, and other goods to be sold abroad. The art of making these goods along with her friendship “speaks” the gospel to these women. Just as they were cut off in their sin, they have been redeemed into a beautiful creation in the hands of the great Artist, who came to cleanse them from their sins. These women gradually came to see their beauty in the eyes of God through every knot stitched.
Japan is a graceless and hard society, yet art through the gospel can enable freedom filled community to be formed. Through the ministry of a black gospel choir from Jackson, Mississippi in evangelistic concerts around the Tokyo area, scores of people joined gospel choirs, English classes, and Bible studies and are now hearing scripture preached every week. After Mrs. M joined a choir, she regularly brought her son to church, who was soon followed by her husband. It was exciting to hear his thoughts on attending a Christian worship service and opening the Bible for the first time ever! I invited the husband to join my English class, where we talked about the Bible every week. Through angst and beauty in the arts, Japanese come to know the gospel message of forgiveness and grace and people are brought into the church.
In Peru, Romania, India, and Japan, the arts help to flesh out and express “The Word.” The gospel is being heard, seen, and felt through stories like these repeated in many places of the world! Have you invited artists to be part of your church planting team? Do you also have great stories of the arts role in missions? I would love to hear about them! Please write me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roger Lowther, missionary through the arts with Mission to the World, has been serving in Japan with his wife Abi and three small boys since 2005.