Michelle Michaels’* job isn’t normal. She frequently heads into the African bush armed with a sketchpad, pencils and paintbrushes.
But she isn’t there to play around.
“Art is often overlooked when it comes to missions,” Michaels said. “A lot of people go straight to humanitarian aid or church planting. Art is seen as more of a luxury than a necessity.”
But if you learn how art is integrated into a people group’s culture, you learn how to reach them, she said. “Art is everywhere, and it’s important.”
Crafts and paintings can contextualize Scripture using an art form people are accustomed to, Michaels said. “They can relate to it better that way, and it really helps get the message across.”
Michaels once developed a henna design for a South Asian bride on her wedding day. In the dyed design was a Bible story pointing to the Gospel, she said. “Henna is important to South Asian culture, and they get really excited when they learn that a design stands for something meaningful. It provides an opportunity to share the Gospel with them.”
Before she and other Christians started doing henna among the bride’s family and friends, they had been hesitant to talk.
“All of a sudden, when we started doing the henna stories, it seemed like there were lots of opportunities to have conversations,” she said. “It has been so great to see how it can have eternal purposes.”
It’s not the first time it’s happened.
In Guatemala, missionaries had trouble conveying the Gospel message to an illiterate people group. After attempting to teach the Bible with no success, they decided to portray the stories through dance.
“The people were able to understand, and many people came to Christ as a result of that,” Michaels said.
It happens with music too, said Ethan Leyton*, a musician in South Asia. Leyton helps local musicians create their own worship music rather than translating and using music from the West.
“Music has a way of speaking deeply to people, so infusing the Good News in the music of a culture offers a powerful way to communicate the Gospel,” he said.
A few years back, he and some local musicians produced a CD and distributed it widely in several cities.
“One day, a friend was in a taxi in one of those cities, and the driver put on a CD. It was the one that I’d helped to put together,” Leyton said.
He and his friends have been amazed at how people will voluntarily listen to the Gospel message when they enjoy the music style.
“When people put on music that they’re comfortable with and that communicates the Gospel, it gives them a chance to ponder the sometimes uncomfortable yet ultimately freeing and rewarding message Jesus brings,” Leyton said.
*Names have been changed
Ava Thomas is an IMB writer/editor based in Europe.