Seven years ago, God called Sue and me to pull up our roots here in the Rochester area and move 1,000 miles to the south to work with Operation Mobilization in the USA headquarters.
At that time, I had been working for over 30 years in IT and Software Development. My role at the OM USA headquarters was to work with a team of IT professionals, supporting both the approximately 130 people working in the US office, along with a dozen smaller offices throughout Central and South America.
In 2011, I went on a missions trip to Hungary with a half dozen visual artists, along with some other musicians and dancers, and saw God doing amazing things through the creative arts, seeing lives changed. What God said to me during that time was that He had given me the gift of creativity and the skill to work with clay, not just as a hobby, or a way to find my own enjoyment, but as a way to glorify Him, and to tell people about His kingdom.
But then, how does God speak to people through the visual arts?
In 2008, a group of artists went to Istanbul, Turkey, on an OM Arts sponsored outreach. One of the first things the team did as they arrived was to spend a couple days walking through the city and praying for whatever specific message God might have for the people they would be interacting with. During the rest of the outreach, these artists worked both with the local people, doing workshops, and building relationships, and creating their own art.
One young artist on the team painted a picture depicting a large keyhole in a door. Looking through the keyhole, you could see a darkened room, and on the opposite side of this room, a doorway, partly cracked open. Through this open door, light was streaming into the room.
At the end of the outreach, the team put up an exhibition of the artwork which had been created, both by the artists on the team and by the local people they had been working with over the past weeks. They set up their work in the middle of a city square where a large number of people would be walking past throughout the day.
Part way through the day of the exhibition, an elderly Muslim man walked up to this particular painting of the keyhole. He stood in front of the painting, weeping. The artist didn’t know what to make of this response to her work, but she approached the man and began to talk with him to ask what it was in the painting that so deeply affected him.
The man looked at her, and then looked at the painting. Pointing to the painting, he replied through his tears, “This painting is my LIFE. All my life I have felt like I was on the wrong side of a locked door. I can see through the keyhole, and I can see the light of God on the other side, but I cannot get through to the other side because the door is locked to me. Can you please tell me, what is the key to unlock the door so that I can run into the light of God on the other side?”
The young lady was able to explain to this man that Jesus was the key to that door, and that by putting his faith in Jesus, he could in fact, experience that light of God.
When we try to tell people the Good News of the Gospel, I have found that we often run into all kinds of barriers. There are so many mental, emotional and intellectual walls that people put up that we often find it difficult to get through to them. However, as this story illustrates, art speaks to people in a different way. Rather than appealing primarily to the mind and the intellect, art speaks directly to people’s heart issues. In this way, art allows God’s voice to step past those barriers and pierce directly to the heart.
We will always need to preach the Word–to tell people the Truth of the Gospel–but what many Christ Followers are beginning to realize is that there is an undeniable power in artistic expression to proclaim shed light. Art can ask hard questions of people, questions which begin to poke holes in their world view, and perhaps begin to unlock the doorway so people can find themselves running into the Light of Jesus.