“Embracing who they are,” missionaries in Scandinavia find a niche and make an impact
When *Jim and Teresa moved to Northern Europe they had a hard time meeting people. The cold weather and long nights seem to manifest in the Balkan personality, making people guarded and slow to open up. But Jim and Teresa discovered that God had equipped them to break down the emotional and spiritual walls around them by just being who they were—“creatives,” a term used by Teresa to describe their artistic gifting and bent. Teresa started blogging, sharing home-made craft and decorating ideas, while Jim began using his photography skills to reach their city for Christ. The result is an openness and community they didn’t expect.
“Now I don’t have time to follow through with all of these relationships,” Teresa said. “I’ve got more friends that I can handle—which I think is a pretty good problem to have!”
Their creative journey actually began when they were living in a Muslim African country five years ago. Teresa was nursing a baby and homeschooling her other children in a culture where women don’t go out much socially.
“I got on knees and begged God to please use me,” she said. “I really wanted to be involved but I couldn’t figure out a way to make it all connect or share my faith with these people.”
God gave Teresa an idea to use what she loved—arts and crafts. She decided to sell photos and home-made cards on-line and raised 1000USD to host an arts camp for local children. She introduced them to play-doh, gave them disposable cameras to begin capturing the world around them on film, and had an artist do a paint-by-numbers mural for the kids to complete. The camp was a wonderful success where the kids discovered a part of their God-given creative nature and Jim and Teresa had a platform on which to share the love of Christ. Although they have moved from there, Teresa currently hosts an Etsy blog featuring her home-made crafts and gives all proceeds to World Vision’s hunger relief program for Northern Africa.
When they moved to Europe they heard how difficult it was to make friends and experienced a little of that at first. Teresa had been blogging about paper crafts and that didn’t really resonate with the Scandinavian people. So she took on a different genre. She started a blogging about local businesses, featuring one at a time and, with Jim’s help, doing a photo shoot on location. It created quite a following and allowed them to get inside the culture. They are currently working on a new blog featuring locals in their home, telling their stories.
“The goal is to get into their homes,” Teresa said. “To break down the walls and get to know them.”
Teresa and Jim have been reaching more than their intended audience with their creative talents. Recently they were featured on House Hunters International—a television show on HGTV featuring Americans who have chosen to live overseas. Their home was also featured in the Ikea Live magazine in Europe. Although Teresa and Jim don’t care about the fame, the recognition brings more people under their sphere of influence and for that they are grateful.
“Something is happening,” Teresa said. “I don’t know what all this means.”
Although spirituality is not a big topic of conversation in the
atheist environment of Scandinavia, Teresa says that because of her blog, it usually comes up in conversation with people. She doesn’t directly talk about God on the blog, but her perspective of hope and love is a light in the midst of a dark environment.
“People I meet through the blog feel like they know me and aren’t at all surprised when they meet me,” said Teresa. “God always comes up in conversation in a very natural way.”
Whereas in Muslim Africa it was harder for Teresa to talk with the women, in their current home, faith conversations with women are easier than with men. Jim, who reaches the community through free-lance photography, has a harder time taking it to the next level. But God has provided a way through some photography exhibitions.
“It doesn’t have a blatant Jesus on a cross, when people think about artists they believe that there is something they are trying to communicate through their work and it leads to deep conversations,” Teresa said.
Jim is currently working on a photo shoot focusing on the theme of Redemption.
When Jim and Teresa first came with the IMB they weren’t doing anything creative, not believing that their unique gifts could be the way God would bring them into relationship with the lost world. But they learned that embracing who they are and using that for God’s glory makes all the difference.
“So many people think that God is speaking to them when they are in touch with that creative side,” Teresa said. “It touches a part of their soul. By putting ourselves in a place of vulnerability, it has allowed others to be able to be vulnerable with us, and we’ve seen it being a useful tool for us here.”
*Names have been changed for security purposes
Posted by Karen Pearce on May 24, 2012