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October 18, 2013

Middle East: A Picture Worth 1,000 Truths

In a city where the gospel must be shared delicately, a group of workers quietly proclaims it with art, instead.

  • “Seed of a woman”

    Artwork by an American artist.

  • “Let there be...”

    Artwork by a Korean artist.

Tom and Sarah Moore* live in a booming Muslim city, where wealthy urbanites seem to lack nothing and global aspirations are rising along with the shimmering skyline. But for all the city’s economic ascendancy, the Moores say there is a pervasive emptiness that nags its people, who can buy everything at local malls except, perhaps, a sense of significance.

As TEAM workers, the couple knows what would fill that emptiness, of course. But anything that looks like religious proselytizing would not be allowed. So they had an idea. What about commissioning a group of artists to paint pictures of the gospel, display the art on easels, and let it speak for itself?

The Moores launched a project to organize public art shows featuring pieces depicting creation and Old Testament themes. Together with friends from their church and other local Christians, they staged the first show, which was held earlier this year at a high-end venue and drew more than 200 visitors. Now they are praying and planning for the next one, creating opportunities they hope will attract Muslim high society and provide a safe way to discuss God, faith and redemption.

“We want to build bridges with this part of the world where our beliefs are often misunderstood and are loaded with historical baggage,” Sarah Moore said. “Instead of using ‘religion’ that reminds people of negative stereotypes, we will start afresh through the international language of art.”

The exhibit included work by artists from seven different countries portraying scenes that were hand-picked as conversation starters about the gospel. The Moores and their group wrote a script explaining the themes in each piece, whether a depiction of Abraham and Isaac or an apple representing the Fall. Guides used the script to lead visitors through the pieces, sparking conversations along the way.

The group had almost no budget to put on the show, so connections were key to the event’s success. The venue — an event room in a complex of towering glass buildings — was free, thanks to an architect friend who persuaded condo management that an art show would be a great opportunity to promote the facility. The management, in turn, provided publicity for the show in the local press. Low overhead helped enable the organizers to donate proceeds from the event to help Syrian refugees.

“The fact that we can get this room for free is a great affirmation for us,” Sarah said. “When (Christian) people found out that we were hosting the first creation art show in the city, they were very responsive in terms of prayer or financial support.”

The turnout for the initial show was also affirming. The group had to double the number of tours it had originally planned to accommodate the more than 200 visitors, a handful of whom were local Muslims. And among the visitors were a photographer from a local magazine and a videographer for an Asian TV show. That sort of attention might help as the group plans future shows. Nothing concrete is booked yet, but there is a lot of interest among some well-connected local event planners, according to Cheryl Anderson*, another TEAM worker involved in the show.

In the end, TEAM workers say there is even evidence of deeper conversations beginning to grow out of the show. A few guests were curious about getting involved in an art-themed small group, and one woman was interested enough in the creation narrative to take home a key chain version of the Wordless Book, which uses colors to represent the big key ideas of Christian doctrine.

“There was a very peaceful, friendly spirit over the whole event from beginning to end, including some lighthearted laughs,” Anderson said. “It was a smashing success.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.