Reaching the Hearts of Europeans through Art

It is no secret that Europe is a region with an incredibly rich history of the arts. As an artist, I have often asked myself: How does art create unique opportunities for disciple-making?

For Jessica Rupp, an artist who often partners with GEM workers in Rome, “Art and faith go back to identity and knowing yourself first as an artist.” An artist of faith creates for an “audience of one”—and then the Holy Spirit runs with it.

Numerous people have walked up to Jessica during art shows and said, “That’s my life. How did you know?” or even “I saw that in a dream.” Jessica can then use that art piece to share her faith in a way that isn’t aggressive or alienating. “We serve a creative God—therefore, art goes straight to our heart, to the core of who we are or who we can be.”

For Jessica, discipleship entails mentoring other artists to create and come alive as they confront the pain that prevents them from being passionate and bold people of faith.

“When you dust off your art supplies and your heart,” she explained over a cup of tea, “things are exposed and healing can take place. The beautiful thing about a visual artist is that a lot of that healing happens in their creative space because they can physically get it out through colors, emotions, lines, texture.”

Every time an artist comes alive and finds renewed energy to create, this is a win for Jessica. Then they can help another artist go through the same process. And when artists of faith create art out of worship, the secular artists around them notice something different—and are intrigued.

Maya and Patrick Laurent are artists seeking to build bridges with people who are indifferent or even hostile to the church. As GEM workers serving in London, they are careful about presenting their faith in ways that don’t alienate the people they meet. Their business, Laurent Collective, gives them legitimacy as professionals while also presenting scriptural truths to customers. They also coach other creatives in running their own businesses.

Patrick, who has recently illustrated a devotional book by Bear Grylls and a book on prayer for children with Pete Greig, notes how his work has opened conversations with friends that never would have happened otherwise. “Your art’s going to grab someone’s attention,” he explained. “That opening conversation could lead to something more.”

Maya reflected that artists “see beyond the traditional walls of things.” Arts are a creative way to grab the hearts of people who normally wouldn’t even step foot in a traditional church. “People are attracted to the arts in some form, even if they’re not an artist.”

This is also true for churchgoers who struggle to connect biblical principles with their everyday reality. “Words don’t stick unless I use images,” said Stefan Henger, Executive Director of GEM Germany and leader of the Muslim Ministry Impact Zone. “And these images tell stories.”

Stefan uses pieces of art in sermons, sharing, and discipleship, seeking to help people see spiritual truths through the help of visual art.

One of these pieces is a painting of an eye in bold, mesmerizing colors with Genesis 16:13 written in German: “You are a God who sees.” In this passage, the angel asks Hagar to go back to where she came from, taking God’s presence with her on the return.

“Art can help people reflect on what has happened, where they have been, and where they are going,” Stefan said.

This is especially relevant given the current refugee and immigrant crisis in Europe, but it is also true for those who are fleeing the baggage of their lives, their emptiness, their doubts. “Discipleship is not just for those who are fully committed,” reflected Stefan, “but also for those who want to become fully committed.” And art is a powerful tool in this journey.

Interested in using your artistic abilities to reach Europe? Click here to connect with a GEM mobilizer.

About the author:

Kara Barlow is a GEM intern in Rome, Italy working with migrants and serving as a storyteller.