The transformational power of the arts

24 Aug, 2017 | International
Janet Weber, with Lauren O'Shea, Sharayah Fonyad
When I became a Christian during college I really feel that God breathed life into my artwork and it changed - it had a different depth in it, explained OM Arts artist.  Photo by Garrett Nasrallah
While on tour in 2008 with his band in Azerbaijan, Bill Drake knelt after a successful concert, broken before the Lord. He laid his career as an international recording and performing artist at God’s feet, sacrificing it to see God’s kingdom furthered in other ways. Bill knew that God would take this sacrifice and birth a movement far greater than he could have imagined. Four months later, Bill and artists with a similar vision to use the arts in missions drafted the founding charter of OM Arts International. What started in 2009 as a handful of artists has developed to a team of 40, serving a growing network of artists and ministries in 24 countries.

In the past four years, OM Arts has sent 517 artists on 95 short-term mission trips in 30 countries, trained 118 artists to be missionaries, and presented the gospel to 110,000 people.

Equipping artists for short- and long-term missions

The OM Arts Incarnate programme, brainchild of Mat Carson, then OM Arts Director of Training, started in 2012 from a desire to equip artists with discipleship training before sending them out. In this 16-week holistic programme, participants engage in artistic and spiritual mentorship, academic courses to learn more about God, what role they have in His story and how they, as artists, interact with the stories of others. The first 12 weeks are spent in residence, and the last four in a practical placement.

“Incarnate isn’t an arts training programme; it’s an artist-transforming programme,” said Bill. “We want to see transformed artists transforming lives and communities. The academics provide biblical, spiritual and creative structure to what we do.”

In its short existence, Incarnate has produced incredible fruit. A number of participants have become professionals in their disciplines, a full-time visual artist was sent as a missionary to Belgium, and arts ministry began in Italy and Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Susanna Rodriquez participated in Incarnate 2014, during which God re-birthed her long-time vision to open a dance school to glorify God in her home country. Upon returning to Costa Rica, she called 20 creative friends and former co-workers and shared what she had learnt. She was going to work with OM Arts and added, “I want you to be a part of it.”

Ten of the 20 committed to helping her start the dance Academia Sabik**, with the support of OM Arts. She and her little team currently serve 70 students a week, ranging from children to adults, in 10 different dance classes, from Zumba to hip-hop to ballet. They witness, perform together and invite students to join in Bible studies. “I want to have multiple studios with music, dance, theatre and visual art. I imagine a place where people from all over Latin America can get Christian training and discipleship using the arts. I imagine something big, because I serve a big God!” Susanna said.

Bridging cultural gaps

OM Arts teams worldwide touch audiences in various ways. Live street music draws a crowd; dancers provide wholesome entertainment; painters pique public curiosity. Once artists have touched a seeker’s heart, a door opens to share about what they are doing, what lyrics to a song mean, why dancers want to glorify God, and what a painting represents.

“Art is broadly powerful because people are used to communicating through art. They respect art and admire art; when an artist brings art overseas, he or she gains an audience. Bridging the cultural gap is absolutely critical to sharing the gospel, and one of the most effective, strategic ways to accomplish this is through the arts,” said Bill.

Heart Sounds International (HSI), an OM Arts ministry started by Frank Fortunato, seeks to bridge cultural gaps by working with communities to develop indigenous expressions of authentic Christian worship through song writing and music recording. In February 2016, HSI sent a team of ethnomusicologists (those who study music in its cultural context) to help a group of North African singers and one of only a few-known Sudanese Nubian believers to write a worship song in the Nubian language. Before this project, many of the North Africans had never interacted with Nubians. “As outsiders, we built a bridge between two peoples,” said Kelly*, who led the team. “We used music as a tool to build relationships.”

The ethnomusicologists worked with the Nubian believer, the North African singers and secular Nubian musicians to create a first draft of a worship song in the Nubian language and traditional music style.

“This project was a great encouragement to the Nubian believer,” Kelly said. “The possibility of seeing how God can work in your own people group is exciting.” Through the project, the North Africans and the Sudanese Nubians developed strong relationships that would last.

Our creative God

“The arts can be transformational,” said Bill, “causing us to see things differently and therefore think and behave differently. Our creative God has bestowed transformational power on the arts in His Word to express His heart, His truth, and His redemptive purpose for mankind. The arts reflect the full range and beauty of abundant life in the here and now. Let’s enthusiastically embrace that! We will be better prepared to gaze one day straight into His magnificence and see the Divine Artist face to face.”

*Name changed

**Sabik is a Tagalog word meaning to earnestly desire, to pursue, and to be greatly enthusiastic.

Janet Weber, an American, has served with OM since 2008 as a writer and editor in England and Germany. Passionate about enabling young writers and photographers to use their God-given skills in missions, she currently serves as OM’s International Communications Director. She and her German husband are based in the US.

Credit: Janet Weber, with Lauren O'Shea, Sharayah Fonyad · © 2017 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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