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Cultural Gospel: more than language
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Michelle Michaels (name changed) often goes into the African Bush to do art for the sake of advancing the Gospel. Art, she said, is 'often overlooked' in missions but is vital to contextualizing the message for some peoples.
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Artist Michelle Michaels employs in her artwork symbols familiar to an African people group to tell them the story of Jesus.
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Posted on Aug 7, 2012 | by Ava Thomas

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Baptist Press' London bureau, in tandem with Tim Ellsworth, editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations at Union University, will be providing coverage of London Olympics. Baptist Press will publish features about Christian athletes in the Olympics, recap results of their competition and cover initiatives to share the Gospel during the Summer Games and within the U.K.'s cultural milieu.

LONDON (BP) -- Her job isn't normal. She frequently heads into the African Bush armed with a sketchpad, pencils and paintbrushes.

But Michelle Michaels* 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."

Michaels promotes learning how art is integrated into a people's culture as a gateway to learning how to reach them with the Gospel. Crafts and paintings, she said, can contextualize Scripture using an art form people are accustomed to.

"Art is everywhere, and it's important," Michaels said. "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.

"Henna is important to South Asian culture, and they get really excited when they learn that a design stands for something meaningful," Michaels said.

Before she and other Christians employed henna, the bride's family and friends had been hesitant to talk, Michaels said.

"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."

Michaels' experience is one of many.

In Guatemala, missionaries had trouble conveying the Gospel message to an illiterate people. 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.

Music is also effective, said Ethan Leyton*, a musician in South Asia. Leyton helps local musicians create their own worship music rather than importing 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 indigenous musicians produced a CD and widely distributed it 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. "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."
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*Names changed. Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer and editor based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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