We are a small group. Women whose hearts dream in different languages, trying our best to communicate with gestures and borrowed words. Some wear colourful headscarves. Some have immaculate makeup and stylish haircuts. Some bring children. One brings homemade snacks. There is a warmth here which seems, for a time, to soothe their loneliness and grief. We greet each other with kisses, pour tea, sit down and get out the art supplies.
Our table is in a creaking upper room of the refugee centre. We can see the sky and sunlight through the wood-framed windows—the light and openness seem to mirror our purpose for being here. We create art together and, in doing so, I hope these refugee women will feel a lightness in their weighed-down spirits and have a safe space to bring their pain-filled stories into the light. I long for them to experience the love of the one who called himself “Light of the World”.
We spread out paper and simple art supplies. Nothing is complicated or technical, but to these women whose daily lives are shaped by displacement and feelings of helplessness, gentle guidance is necessary as we begin to transform blank pages with colour and form. We talk briefly about an idea around which we build our art-making activity: identity, happiness, home, hope, fear. We gently shape a space where sharing is allowed and start with a reminder that whatever we create or say will be met with kindness, not criticism.
This is not a class, I find myself repeating. The beauty and benefit of our shared art making is in the process of creating together, not in the product. This is a new idea for many of them. One young woman softly confides that she loved to draw as a young girl but her stern father discouraged such childish activities and forced her to marry at fifteen. Now, as she holds her breastfeeding daughter in one arm and watches over her three-year-old son, she sketches and tells me there is no time in everyday life for drawing. I can tell, though, by the way she carefully moves her pencil over the page, and the tired, wistful look on her face, that she would sit here with these pencils all day if she could. I know that tugging feeling in my own creative spirit as a mother of small children and my heart goes out to her.
I pour more tea (our intercultural love language) and watch as the women depict their hearts in images and colours. I see a lot of black and red—symbols of death and destruction, of lost homes and difficult journeys. There are also usually green or yellowish glimmers of tenacious hope, simple joys or love. Some talk about finding joy in the sunshine or trees, things that not even war or murder or displacement could take from them. Some speak of hope in heavenly paradise for a lost child, hope for a home in a new country where they can tend a garden or continue their education without fear. And I share simply why I drew my symbol of hope as an empty tomb in the middle of a rising sun.
So our time comes to an end. Kisses, hugs, “Inshallah* we shall meet again next week”. I marvel at the gift of God in art making as a way of bringing healing and building community. Beauty from pain, creation from destruction, community from isolation. Isn’t this the stunningly paradoxical way our redeemer God works?
The author is serving long-term in West Asia. She is passionate about melding art and loving community for therapeutic and kingdom-building purposes.
*If God wills.