Shame, Shepherds, and Sons: Pastoring Through Art in the Middle East

A few weeks ago, a team traveled from our office to help a long-term World Horizons field worker establish an art gallery in the Middle East.

Setting up the gallery involved working with a local carpenter to obtain movable walls and picture frames. At first, we had tried to work with a carpenter we’ll call Mohammed, but he neither met our deadlines nor responded to our messages, so we decided to work with someone else. On one of the evenings that we hosted receptions in the new art gallery, Mohammed walked through our door angry, seeking to collect a debt from us. Our director, after fulfilling the debt, invited him to walk around the gallery to look at the art.

  

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As this unlikely pair strolled the gallery together, they stopped to look at children’s drawings transcribed on a big, colorful canvas. Our director told Mohammed that these drawings were made by kids living in one of the most destitute neighborhoods in the city. The children of this neighborhood could not sit still; the pieces of paper we handed them were novelties and one boy ran away with a colored pencil. Yet the images they had made were full of vitality and we had wanted to present them in a way that would show their power rather than the dirt of the village on crumpled paper. Hearing the story of the pictures’ origin, this Arab man, a Muslim, broke down weeping and his companion joined him.

 This beautiful thing had been born in a place like Nazareth-- the kind of village of which one would ask, “Can anything good come out of there?” Through an image, the power of the Son, born in a feeding trough, was made known to a modern Middle Eastern carpenter who had not wanted to build the wooden support on which the canvas rested.

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Heart now opened, Mohammed next saw a painting of a sheep, sensitively rendered by Asheville artist G. Carol Bomer. He heard from the mouth of the Christian beside him that Jesus was called the Lamb of God and was sacrificed as such. He asked, “So God became an animal?”

Mohammed entered the gallery angry, but left it as a softened supporter. He changed because the images and the people in the room worked in tandem to tell the story of a God who became a sacrificial lamb, a God whose love sent his Son to be born in a small town among livestock, a God whose love sent his followers to the slum. He saw and heard of the God who would leave behind ninety-nine of his hundredfold flock for the one lost.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

-Luke 15:4-6

Mohammed heard the message of the gospel not because someone with a “Pastor” nametag came up to him on the street, but because a diverse group of people worked together to create a room saturated with the power of the Good News. Administrators, American artists, Arab Christians, refugees, slum kids, and more contributed to an art gallery in which people could be gently guided through testimonies of a God who stooped to love them, like the Father embracing his lost Son in Bomer’s Bending to Love. The shepherding-- pastoring, if you will-- was done not by preachers, but by painters and partners. 

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May more people have eyes to see this love on the front lines of God’s redemptive activity on the earth. He is rushing to meet the sheep of every flock, shaming himself to embrace his lost sons and daughters from all the nations.

-Rachel Neikirk