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January 08, 2013

Central Asia: Beautiful Stories

Henna artwork, a traditional beauty technique used by women in much of the world, is used to illustrate Bible stories in a meaningful way.

  • Beauty Technique

    Henna artwork is a traditional beauty technique used by many women all over Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These women are drawing intricate patterns illustrating Bible stories.

  • Beautiful Story

    This artwork depicts the story where Elijah flees to the wilderness and finds peace in God. Elijah is represented as a heart in the middle of the hand. Elijah’s return path to God is on the thumb.

A worker applies henna artwork to her hand about once a month, carefully choosing images from stories that she hopes will resonate with friends and acquaintances.

In Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, this beauty technique is popular among women, who use dye derived from the henna flowering plant to create temporary artwork on their hands and other parts of their body. Using this technique to illustrate Bible stories is a culturally acceptable method to share the Gospel in a non-threatening way.

Around 30 stories from the Bible, all the way from the story of creation to Christ’s return, are told through intricate patterns drawn on the hand. For example, in the story where Elijah flees to the wilderness and then finds peace in God, different symbols are used to illustrate the story. The wilderness, represented by leaves, is drawn on the palm of the hand, along with the tree and cave where Elijah hides. The mountains where God tells Elijah to go are drawn at the top of the palm, and the fire, earthquake, and windstorm Elijah endures are drawn on fingers. God’s gentle whisper and Elijah’s return path to God are drawn on the other fingers. Elijah is represented as a heart in the middle of the hand.

When a friend visiting the worker’s home noticed the henna artwork on the worker’s hand, she knew this was her chance to share. The worker had been praying for this moment and had chosen a Bible story specifically for the friend. But as the worker began to tell the story, the friend got up and walked away, busying herself with small tasks in the other room. The worker silently prayed, “Jesus, bring her back.” The woman returned shortly thereafter and listened to the rest of the story, but didn’t say much in response. The worker prayed throughout the rest of the day for her friend, and those prayers were answered later in the evening when the woman said, “Thank you so much for the story you told me. Thank you for giving me that story from your holy book. You thought about me and prayed for me. Thank you.”

Positive reactions such as this are meaningful to the worker. “The most exciting part is when the women who have heard the stories then re-tell the stories to other women,” she said. “It’s really amazing to hear these stories being told from women to other women in their heart language.” The worker hopes that as more of the stories are told, more hearts and minds will be open to the Gospel.

-Written by Lisa H. Renninger
-Photography by Robert Johnson and provided by worker

For more information about using henna artwork to talk about the Gospel, visit this website.