It’s exciting to see God using artists to open hearts and doors. Because the creative arts are attractive to many people, he is using art in mission contexts around the world.
It’s been four months since I got back from Kenya, where I ran an art residency for SIM International Arts, and I’m bowled over by God’s grace. He has taken that three-week event and breathed life into it which just goes on growing.
It was a simple enough programme. We invited some overseas and Kenyan artists to work together in a Nairobi art studio, sharing in training workshops and going on field trips to slums and rescue homes for street kids. The object: to introduce the artists to opportunities to use their skills and creativity for God in mission. Five were Christians from overseas - from Canada, the US and New Zealand. The five from Nairobi soon swelled to 12 (because... Africa). At the end of the residency three interns had committed to long-term mission.
Now each week I hear from our Kenyan artists, who have formed a growing community which offers art clubs and gospel truth to some of the hundreds of street kids who have been rounded up by police and placed in orphanages and rescue homes. The group is being mentored by a local pastor and his artist wife. We met them on a field trip, and they’ve now made this their main ministry. Leading the group is Beatrice Njoroge, who coordinates SIM’s Children at Risk ministry.
The synergy is breathtaking. They’re all Kenyans who met because God brought them together at the art residency, and he saw to it that we made connections with a wider group of people who have become part of the momentum.
Such as Ian, a runaway. He joined us with another boy, who soon disappeared back to the drugs and painful familiarity of the street. But Ian stayed - now in school, a role model to other boys in his care home and soaking up art tuition at the weekends in the studio. Our Kenyan artists are discipling him.
Hezron is a professional artist. As he painted, watching our group from the far end of the shared studio space, I engaged him in conversation. Turns out he has been thinking God is calling him to mission, but had no idea he could do that as an artist. Now he’s connected to an arts mission in the city.
Then there’s Frank. One Sunday some of us joined Beatrice at a men’s prison for their compulsory church service. “You can do the sermon,” she informed me. But I’m an artist, not a public speaker. “It will be short!” I replied, desperately thinking. I did some big drawings illustrating a broken bowl and the same bowl mended with gold, as in the Japanese art form kintsugi, which renders pottery objects far more beautiful and valuable than before they broke. Then I spoke about the obvious connection - broken lives that are healed by God.
God was palpably in the singing and testimonies of that whole service; at the end 39 young men commited their lives to Christ. 17 year old artist Frank was among them.
Frank’s mother died when he was nine. Since then he has rarely seen his alcoholic father. But thanks to the group forged because of the catalyst of the arts residency, when he was released from prison last month they met him, and took care of basic material and spiritual needs. All of these Kenyan artists struggle financially themselves, but they have been fundraising for Frank- he’s now in a Christian boarding school.
SIM international Arts will hold other similar events, and is recruiting arts people to serve long and short term around the world. If this speaks to you, please get in touch.
Since serving as a missionary artist in Ethiopia and the Middle East, Zoë Cromwell looks after the African section of SIM International Arts. She is based in Wellington and goes to Central Baptist. Zoë also looks after communications for SIM NZ.