Wednesday, April 27, 2016


It begins.  I am writing from Fiumicino Airport, which sounds idyllic enough if you discount the hour ride in traffic and the athleticism of navigating with four pieces of luggage through two shuttle buses, two escalators, two check-in counters, and (with two pieces left) one security gate.  I won’t talk about the bathroom stops, or keeping track of the passport and boarding pass (one does not always have enough pockets).

Mission accomplished, I arrived at my gate well in time for a toast to success: a parting shot of the Italian elixir known as coffee.  I didn’t lose my documents, found the bathroom in time, and no fingernail died in the process.  Bonus: a seat next to the coveted tech chargers; I could unfurl my technology without fear of running out of power on the 8 hr. return flight.

In an hour or so I would know if flying standby would work or leave me scrambling for a hotel (Lord have mercy).  An hour to begin to decant the experience of 3.5 months in this crazy culture, lived with 50 people of 12 nationalities (nuanced by multiplied layers of personal, family and religious cultures).  3.5 months does not seem sufficient to unpack all that happened, but one can make a beginning.  This is the Road Back. 

About a month ago, I taught our students about this stage in the Hero’s Journey.  A threshold time, a vulnerable time, it requires a death to self.  It tests the Hero: did he or she truly transform, or just have an adventure?  Did we transform, or just have some fun in Italy?  Did I?  What did I need to die to?  Can the Hero (me) return home with the lessons learned, or will those lessons get swallowed up in the challenges of re-entry?

What did I need to die to?  I pondered the questions I had so recently asked others, and started jotting down lessons learned:

  • Community: I discovered its power in a new way, with its invitation to trust it to accomplish what I can’t accomplish alone—an old lesson, newly absorbed.  Countless times, concerned about reaching a particular person in difficulty, I learned that others in the community got there first, and all was well.  I marveled to watch the synchronicity of gifts in action, each one helping to meet the needs of another.  The community thrived;
  • Limits: some new, discouraging ones were generally related to the aging process; others, also related to the aging process, were more positive.  Fierce even--to protect new horizons and freedoms gained by experience and ‘mileage.’ I want to ‘act my age’ and not try to keep up with younger ones; but I also have some work to do.  How do I re-pace myself to do that work, and finish the race set before me?  There are things I could do 5 years ago that I can no longer do; but I can also do things now that I couldn’t have done 5 years ago. How can I leverage and protect what I know now for a new season of ministry?
  • Enlarging: related to the above, I felt a new call to  “enlarge the place of my tent” (Isa. 54:3) and think bigger. There is more to Incarnate than Incarnate, which includes reproducing a model of community, leadership and spiritual life that is becoming increasingly rare, and much needed.  We are not just teaching artists how to be missionaries, how to articulate their faith in a foreign context, deepen their spiritual life, or understand the theological underpinnings of their call and gift. We are teaching them (and the Italians) about community, worship, revival; about transformation, the renewing of the mind, and healing for the wounded heart. 

But my hour is up and my name is called—I'm on!  I swiftly pack up my technology, and claim the coveted boarding pass.  I didn’t score business class, and haven’t finished compiling my ‘lessons learned,’ but happily settle into Zone 2, seat 21H.  I have 8 more hours aboard Delta’s Flight 445 to New York to decant. 

Monday, April 18, 2016


Today we read the report from the OM Italia communications director, featuring reflections from one of the volunteers at the facility we've been staying at, Centro Evangelico Isola.  I wanted to share it with you all.  Once again, we marvel at the 'collateral goodness' that happens during our Incarnate schools--other than students, we have a sometimes unforeseen impact on others.  Here's the reported by Michel:  

A few days ago, Incarnate 2016, a 3-month school organized by OM Arts for Christian artists, ended. The purpose of the course was to help students explore the concept of art and better understand how it could be used to serve the Lord, the church and the community. Here are the spontaneous reflections of Sara, a volunteer at Centro Evangelico Isola, after the departure of the OM Group:

"I want to say something about these three months spent together. I know it will be difficult to fully express what I experienced, but I try. Before you came to Isola, I felt a little bit discouraged. I thought maybe I would not be well integrated, because English is far from me! But after three days together, I thought already to be part of you, as when one is in the family!

"I understand that the plan that God has for us does not let anything, let alone a language, hinder us from God, who does not spare His blessings!  The smiles, hugs, laughter, silence, gestures, sincerity—so many details have expressed more than 1000 words could!  Many different cultures, but a strength and a common love: God!

"This allowed us to see the best part of the other, to encourage it, appreciate it and encourage it. We knew this time would end and that's why we wanted to give, sparing nothing. Every moment should be lived! It was nice to discover a new way to worship God through art; it was uplifting, feeling stuffed with his Spirit, focused on his resurrection, on its beauty, the joy of victory—in this I heard a cure for my soul!

"It was nice, symbolically, to do what Jesus did: wash the feet of our neighbor, sharing the holy supper. So I understand that I need to live what Jesus lived. I understand that I need to do what God wants.  God spoke to me through you.  He made me feel loved, worthy, accepted, cared for. They have no importance—the pains of life, and no matter what we have ruined.

"I saw the resurrection and power in you when you said, “No longer I, but Christ!”  God gave me people who understood the need for a hug.  He gave me people who reminded me I have to be happy every day because this is life with God: to live in joy.  A new way of seeing, a way that contemplates His presence, contemplates the power of His name, and His victory in everyday life. Thank you all!  This experience at Isola would not be the same without you."

Have a look at some of our students hanging with some of the young Italian volunteers!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Toymaker & Son

It was a special joy to receive Dr. Colin Harbinson as one of our guest lecturers recently, and share another Incarnate experience with him through the week. 

I first met Colin in Paris, during an arts conference that changed my life.  What I thought was me exploring possibilities of art in mission turned into me discovering a global arts movement in church and mission. 

Colin didn’t waste a word during that conference, with such clear vision and intellect—vision that matched my own. 
I found myself longing to work with him, thinking it impossible.

Little did I know that a few years later, shortly after my arrival at OM Artslink, Colin would approach us as artists within OM to see about partnership.  He also offered me a position working with him! (I turned it down, having just arrived at OM Artslink.) 

The partnership was struck.  Colin mentored us as we forged OM Arts Intl.; we hammered out a vision and mission statement, decided on objectives, and came up with tag lines.  We laid out our 5, 10 and 15 year plan--a painful task which yielded much fruit.  Nine years later, here is Colin again, working alongside us at Incarnate, just one of the luscious fruits of this very special partnership.

A pioneer in the Christian arts movement, Colin began life in a church culture that had no room for the arts, and forbade dance and movies.  One weekend Colin was invited to fill in for a drummer in a band (although he didn’t play drums), an experience that opened up the arts world to him, and transformed his life. 

Colin is the author of Toymaker & Son, an award-winning theater piece which presents the gospel through toys.  He went on to become the principal of a school in England, before being called into mission.  That call eventually led to Canada and then the USA—where he accepted an invitation to develop the arts in Jackson, Mississippi, as Dean of School of the Arts for Belhaven University.  While there, he met Bill Drake.  And me in Paris :)  The rest is art in mission history.

Colin shared with our students theology and stories—incredible stories of a lifetime in mission through the arts.  Doors opening through arts festivals in St. Petersburg, Bulgaria and China, as the Communist world was collapsing.  In Communist China, Colin brought a team of artists to share the gospel;  one of those artists, Marge Malwitz, would become my arts mentor. 

Handel’s Messiah was performed.  In spite of strict censorship, the Minister of Culture introduced it, “This is about Jesus!” The next day, the news headline declared “”Messiah touches hearts!” 15 news outlets carried the story, and 7 television stations.

Colin and team spoke at universities, and special needs educators-- about art and play therapy: releasing the potential of the special needs child. 

Now retired in Canada, Colin continues to work as a consultant, including helping us at OM Arts, teaching the power of the arts to touch people’s lives.  What a special joy to work again with him, and know that we carry the torch he passed to us--to mentor the next generation of artists in mission.

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”—2 Tim. 2:2