I have been in Europe for the last 2 months. Every day feels like a dream. I am in a place where attention to beauty and detail has permeated every inch of the culture for thousands of years.
Originally, I was coming just to visit for a couple of weeks. My plans quickly changed when I was invited to help with a church plant in Lisbon, Portugal. Me, an actual missionary? I was raised in a home, where everything we did was a chance to be a missionary. This meant that everywhere you go, in everything you do, you have the opportunity to serve others. When people asked me why I was here, I had a tough time at first. “I’m here to help start a church,” I replied. The response was blank stares or a change in topic of the conversation. Churches are almost non-existent. Yes, there are many beautiful church buildings, but I have found it rare to find a “community church.”
When people asked me why I was here, I had a tough time at first. “I’m here to help start a church,” I replied. The response was blank stares or a change in topic of the conversation. Churches are almost non-existent. Yes, there are many beautiful church buildings, but I have found it rare to find a “community church.”
Lisbon is a city of beautiful colors. Tans, blues, and soft pinks follow me every day. I work remotely, and I’m not here just on vacation or just helping with a church. Most days, I’ll take my laptop with me, get my work done then pick a new place to go explore. The people (myself included) in the city are surrounded by beauty everyday. Let’s add the fact that the city overlooks the wonderful Rio Tejo that meets the Atlantic Ocean.
I love going by the river, it is a long trek for me as I live in the most northern part of the city. If I show up around 5 o’clock, people are leaving work and their routine includes a stop by the river. All they do is sit and enjoy the view. I love that routine, our brains need a little of rest from the mundane tasks and iPhones of the world. These people are just being. They do have one thing right: sometimes life needs little pauses to enjoy the people you are with, to truly enjoy a sunset by the river, to hear the sound of the waves crashing.
Like many European countries, Portugal has had a large Catholic Influence. However, the modern world/history is at a point in time, where religions “seem” to be irrelevant. 1% of the Portuguese people (12million) are evangelical Christians, the rest are agnostic or Catholics by tradition (similar to evangelical Christianity being a tradition in the USA).
Yet, the needs and desires of every human are the same anywhere: we want to belong, we desire to be known and loved. Usually, we are in a pursuit to know who made you and why.
European’s are smart people, they are intellectual and well-rounded. They are also doing well in terms of finances. Compared to other nations in the EU, Portugal has been through some tough times economically. However, in the grand scheme of things, they are still doing ok. I grew up in a country (Honduras) where I personally know people who go home every day and sleep on dirt floors or don’t know where their food is coming from the next day. There are people like that here as well, (I see slum houses every day as I walk home, and I recently became an acquaintance with a homeless man). Most people have good jobs, a decent home, and enjoy the variety of activities the city offers. Anyone in the ages of 15-40, is probably living a “good” life.
The church I’m serving is lead by a team of educated, young, bright and passionate leaders. They live in a culture where they are in fact the odd ball out. They are Christians: they have truly given up their old ways of living in order to pursue Christ. They are so sure of this love that their dream is to change their country through Jesus. That’s why I came in the first place, because I could tell from one conversation that this dream of transforming a nation was something deep in their hearts, so taking my little steps to get here became easier. Partnering with people with a clear passion & vision is freeing and beautiful.
My friends are SO SURE OF THEIR LOVE FOR JESUS THEY ARE WILLING TO TAKE STEPS (that look NOTHING like the Portuguese culture) and start a church. They are bold, courageous, & hungry for Jesus.
They don’t want to find the “evangelical Christians” of Portugal. They want to share the gospel with those who are living lives in pursuit of the next big thing. They want to show the Jesus they know to those who have no idea that a perfect Love from God exists.
They live in a place of thousands of rich young rulers. The rich young ruler had the most difficulty in leaving everything to follow Jesus, he lacked nothing, he freely gave; but the thought of giving up all financial stability, everything he knew was too much, too scary. It is the exact same here.
Why would you leave a life where you have a nice job, great vacation time, and can start partying at 9pm to get home at 5am the next day?
Is it possible that we are in a culture today that seeks to find beauty, resembling the quality of cultures hundreds of years before us? Is it possible that God is wanting to move through the creative arts (fine arts, music, photography, dance, etc..)?
The church I’m helping with has GREAT musicians. I by no means am a great musician, but you know how sometimes you can sense a crazy talented person when you see them: those are my new friends. They are so humble about their talents: it is a joy to hear them speak about their passions. Their world revolves around other young adults who care about design, the arts, music. That is who their message is catered to, the 15-40 something-year-olds that will only act if something is “cool” or “fiche” (as they say in Portugal).
So they are going to create the best music and in turn the coolest ads and posters, etc to draw someone’s eye in. They can’t just release a new song out with sub-par level artwork. They can’t share an ad for their next hangout with comic sans font (NEVER!). It has to be beautiful. Think about it this way: their message (a most important one) is competing with the BMW ads, the new Cristiano Ronaldo ad, or the new Music Festival that’s happening in a month, etc.
What I’ve realized is that for this church to be successful (for any church to be successful) is that they have to meet the unique strengths of their culture and see how God is wanting to move within that context. God is so much bigger than I can think of and he can move in ways I cannot fathom.
I have one month left in Portugal, and my task is to create beautiful posters, beautiful facebook ads, videos, etc. to draw people in. What I create is only an imitation of that which the Creator spoke into life. The thing is: the people who come to church, might be drawn in just by seeing an ad I make. That means there was something in that design that caught their eye, something that connected with their heart strings. If everything I create is only an imitation of that which God spoke into life, then the people who see that ad are recognizing a certain quality of God.
Reflection: Questions for you
So whether we (at Epic Life Creative) do design for you, or if you are just reading this because you stumbled upon it, here’s a couple of things to think of that have spurred my thinking the last month:
- How does God want to move in your context, with the gifts he’s given you, with the gifts in your church or ministry?
- I have a feeling that God will use music to bring about change in Portugal (don’t think ohh just an EP, think big movements like Hillsong or Bethel).
- Why is Jesus relevant in today’s culture? Do you truly believe that Jesus is the complete truth in the bottom of your heart, in the pits of your soul (past the head knowledge that has been presented to you)? Are you so in love with Jesus that the only possible response is to transform your life & talk about him constantly? (Think about falling in love with someone, all you want to do is talk about them, because you are passionate about him or her, because you know that person to the depths that no one else does).
- If you are a church leader/ministry leader/house church leader: are you paying attention to the people that sit in front of you? What are their talents? Are you calling out the unique qualities of those whom you lead in order to grow God’s Kingdom?
- How do the arts play a role in a Social Media infused world (one where we are constantly bombarded by imagery)?
For now, that is all. I could probably keep talking about the arts and change. It is something I’m passionate about, and this trip has solidified in my heart how the arts connect to other people’s hearts. So there might be a chapter 2.