Yes, artists can!
“I’ll be wearing a grey and black stripe top,” I had told the man on the phone. “I’ll be sitting with my suitcase in the lobby.” Now a voice beside me said, “You must be Polly;” someone I’d never met, except in a couple of emails, introduced by someone in a mission organisation I’d never worked for. We went to his car, and began our Sunday morning ride across the border to my new place.
A Road Less Travelled
I was heading into unknown territory. No SIM representative had met me at the airport, or would show me the ropes. In fact – there was no SIM office within thousands of kilometres. I’d come here knowing that this was all up to me. But of course it wasn’t! God was there, and not only had he called me to this needy piece of land, but he had lovingly prepared things for my arrival.
On the drive the man said, “My wife and I will be going to church later. We thought you might like to come, it’s up to you. I can also take you to meet local friends of ours – they have an empty apartment and you could have a look. No pressure, but it might suit. Literally within an hour of arriving, I had likeminded friends, a small church fellowship and a lovely apartment. (Which even had a bath! Don’t you love how God looks after the details?) Not only that, but I had the first of a continuing stream of art tasks that are the “packaging” within which I serve the Lord here.
My first experience of full-time mission had been a routine story: applying for a vacancy overseas that fitted. I served for three years as an art teacher in one of SIM’s schools. Ironically, it was while there, and because of being there, that God seemed to say that, actually, he had a place tailor-made for me elsewhere using my art skills.
At first I didn’t see how this new location could work. But I searched for international missions which worked in this area as well as my home country, and finally found a solitary one. It had two projects there – and neither of them had room for an artist. Creative people wanting to serve overseas might find this a familiar story.
A wider vision
Then came the small, insistent idea: just go. Be an artist there. See what God does.
Since arriving two years ago, God has faithfully held me. So many opportunities to live and speak the gospel have been brought across my path – not to mention the guidance, the protection from harm, the string of necessary visas, the laughter and tears with local friends, the support back home, the rich blessings of using talents he gave me, for his glory. He is good; I lack nothing that I would have had in an organised mission setting.
My experience makes me positive that we have to widen our vision about how serving overseas can be done. Recruitment, logistics and all.
People with skills in any of the arts have the ability to reach their counterparts in a way that others can’t. They also seem to fit alongside the skeptical ones in a traditional society. They make creative spaces around themselves where people of different ages like to spend time, and stay to engage. They help reflect God and his character. They serve the local church with their talents.
All of these things have been part of what I do here: for example, teaching refugee kids about colour, design and creativity; mentoring craftswomen to help them make their products more saleable; painting murals. When I sit out under the trees at a local women’s shelter with my new friends, a group of hurting teens, and we paint, using colours that make them smile, I’m excited by what God has for me to do here. Sarann holds her paintbrush slightly awkwardly. Covering the back of each damaged hand is a healing scar, from when her father held a scorching iron to each limb as a punishment for stealing. I shake my head to think that I might have waited for a mission organisation to have a job vacancy.
About the author: In order not to jeopardize Polly’s ministry, her identity and exact location have been withheld. She adds this postscript: Though I am here on my own, SIM has blessed and supported this venture. They took a risk on me, and it has been a valuable learning experience for both of us. I am grateful for their patience, willingness to listen and, above all, their can-do attitude.