Can Arts Also Be Missions? (VIDEO)

By Tom Mills, Aug 15, 2019

Art can build bridges between cultures, create community, provide a window into lives and hearts, and make us more aware of our humanity and our brokenness. Listen in as five MTW missionary artists discuss art and missions.

Video transcription:

Tim Mills, Thailand: I read one time that if you want to understand a culture, looking back thru history to understand what they held dear, what they valued, what they worshipped, you can look at the art that is being created at that time. For me, stepping into another culture, there is a focus on language study, but much more so cultural understanding, and so art has been a teacher.

Roger Lowther, Japan: You know, it’s interesting: The Chinese character that they use in Japan for beauty implies brokenness, and a kind of brokenness that is beautiful through sacrifice. And as I’ve looked at the various kinds of art in Japanese culture I see that theme over and over and over again in the music and visual arts. It’s amazing to me that God has given this pointer to the gospel right there in the language and the Japanese art. And I see these pointers of how Christ sacrificed on the cross for us is there in the artwork. And this is not Christian artwork, obviously.

Shannon Hinkle, Australia: For us in Australia, and in the context in which I’ve been doing ministry with creatives for quite a while, for me it’s about storytelling. The indigenous people – they have stories and they use art in their stories. And so I will often use art as a way to process and then also tell a story so that it’s a place for us to connect. And that connection brings community and beauty and brokenness and so many things.

Abi Lowther, Japan: I love seeing how art creates community naturally. It brings people together, it gives a way to go deeper. It gives a window into life and into hearts.

Tim Mills, Thailand: People can come around a painting together. They may not speak the same language, but they can look at that painting together. And they may be moved by that painting or spoken to by that visual experience in a different way, but they’re both engaging that same work. Or a piece of music—it transcends our cultural languages, but somehow it’s speaking this unified human language. But I think about how the arts awaken us to our humanity, and when we are aware of our humanity we also are aware of our brokenness. When I heard you say that Roger, about the broken beauty—when I was a ceramic artist in college I was really drawn to an Asian and particularly a Japanese aesthetic that I think appreciates that beauty. I think the western aesthetic, perhaps, is different.

Roger Lowther, Japan: I can’t help but think about the earthquake that struck Japan. Some of my most powerful experiences were when I came into those gymnasiums which were serving as shelters, and to see how in the midst of that brokenness when people had basically lost their humanity, how the atmosphere of the room would change through music. It would build this community in the room—not just between me and everyone who was listening, but with each other. I mean, people were pulling out their instruments and responding and saying, “Oh, listen to me play this.” It was amazing how the atmosphere would change from this kind of somber, quiet room to kind of a jubilance even in that atmosphere. It was amazing in that situation that people could switch so quickly.

Shannon Hinkle, Australia: I often think about art therapy and when children are hurting they oftentimes come and they process [through art]. We can see how the common use of those things can bring about healing.

Abi Lowther, Japan: We see non Christian Japanese people learning about God through African American gospel music in Japan. It’s brought hundreds of Japanese to Christ. We have gospel choirs all over the place that are full of—at least when they start—non Christian Japanese, and yet they’re singing all these words about Jesus and hope and heaven. It’s lovely.

Joe Congdon, Japan: When you talk about music, making music, making art, creating in community, you really see Japanese people really open up. We have a similar group of people gathering together to discuss movies. The first few movies we watched were Western, and they thought it was so cool that we could have a spiritual discussion about Christianity, about the cross, about the gospel, even though the director was not a believer. I proposed the idea, “Let’s try it with a Japanese movie.” And they said, “Oh, we won’t have anything to talk about. There won’t be any gospel, there won’t be any Christ in a Japanese movie.” So we did watch a Japanese movie, and it brought out more discussion than any of the Western movies that we had watched. It was so fascinating.

Abi Lowther, Japan: They never trust that they can see it in their own culture, that they can see aspects of Jesus and signs that this culture too has God’s fingerprints on it.

Tim Mills, Thailand: We come together around an experience, music. Everyone’s asking in their hearts, “What is this that has awakened in me?”

Joe Congdon, Japan: Every Japanese person lives in God’s world, it’s inescapable. And because of that we can build bridges in innumerable ways, and artists, I think, have a unique position from which to do that.

Roger Lowther, Japan: Art doesn’t just give us a unique window into a different culture, it doesn’t just give us insght into this creation that God made. It gives us an insight into the way that the kingdom of God will one day be, that God is making it to be.

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