International Ministries

Exploring, Engaging, Expressing and Empowering Hope

March 31, 2015 Journal
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The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
         to proclaim good news,a
             to comfort all who mourn,
                    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
      the oil of joy
 instead of mourning,
           and a garment of praise
 instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
      a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

from Isaiah 61:1-3


Observing, clarifying, seeing, being seen

         Listening, resonating, sharing, creating together

                  Breathing deeply, feeling, moving, connecting

                           Remembering, recognizing, reflecting, celebrating community


These words above can only capture a fraction of the experiences that I lived last week. I facilitated a weeklong workshop on using the expressive arts for effective ministry at the invitation of JD and Rhonda Reed, International Ministries colleagues in ministry and Carmen Flores Choque and Richard Achu Mamani, leaders of the House of Hope ministries in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

We explored and practiced a variety of art forms including: visual and symbolic imagery, mixed media storytelling, music and up cycled instrument making, intentional and deep breathing, mime, mirroring and movement. Through repeated group forming rituals, gestures and traditions we created safety and structure for significant sharing of sacred personal and communal stories. Like all those S’s? One of the favorites was the giving and receiving of the love, using our hands to show how we offer and then accept the love. I learned it from my friend Ruth and it comes all the way from her friends in South Africa who shared it with her.

Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way says, ”Using our creativity is therapeutic, not because we need to be fixed, but because we need to be expressive.” One workshop participant shared that before she came, she had been asking God for a way to resolve some particularly challenging situations in her life and ministry. As we were finishing the workshop she shared how helpful and therapeutic the time had been for her, not because the situation had changed, but because she now had new tools to balance the stress as well as the support of others to share the load.

Many of the participants would agree with the following quotes:

        "Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist."-Eileen Miller

“During illness (or crisis) it’s sometimes hard to articulate ourselves, the different types of thoughts and feelings that we’re trying to process, we don’t always have words for them and the arts have this beautiful, universal appeal due to it’s ability to transcend the limits of language,” -Marlessa Wesolowski

          R said, “I am learning to express myself through art and music because it reaches us in the deepest places of our hearts.”

J said, “I feel better, art gives me the opportunity to express myself.”

C said, “It is amazing to be a part of God’s family, sharing with all as if we were one. Today I feel blessed by how God has been walking with us. Through the arts, I rediscovered myself. I feel stronger, more encouraged to keep working and excited to use and to share with others all of the new tools that I have learned.”

 Throughout the week we worked together to create an altered book. We transformed an old book into one that represents God’s Story, My Story and Our Story. The book itself symbolizes God, acknowledging that God is the source, author and Creator of all. Each participant was given a page from the book on which to create his or her own story. By including collaged expressions of each participant’s personal life story along with space and invitation to add stories of others who come later to the House of Hope, the altered book serves as a living, ever changing, witness to Our Story as God’s people, for the display of his splendor. It was a tangible, active and collective way to put form to faith. The process and the product of our communal creation are forever etched in my memory.

 Finally, let me share with you a significant story that stays with me as a life lesson about exploration, engagement, expression, and empowerment.

Camilla is six. Since her parents knew she loves art, they asked if she could join the adults for the 5-hour class each evening for four days. Normally quite reserved, she flourished in her element. Along with the others, she fully participated in everything. She was focused, attentive, appropriate, thoughtful and willing to share her reflections about what she created with the others. She chose to be a part, asked questions when she needed help, believed that she was an artist, took care of herself, respected herself, others and the space, and she had fun. On the last day when she shared the four resources she could depend on for life: faith, family, study and play, I witnessed what resilience looks like. When she gifted me this card, I promised her that it would go on my refrigerator with the other important art pieces that I treasure from special friends. I kept my promise, mostly because this little empowered one leads me into deeper reflection about what really matters most in life.

 For the gift and privilege I have in serving alongside of my friends in Latin America because of your generosity, prayers and support, I am abundantly grateful.

 Basking in the displays of God’s glory with you,