Over the past several years the Lord has continuously spoken to my heart through the life and work of Vincent van Gogh. A strange channel of contemplation I know, but the beauty of his artistic style are all the more compounded by the reality of his early life as a pastor’s kid and his failure as a missionary. In the hall of our new home we have two replicas of his work which has traveled the globe with us, and the other The Sower. It hangs by the door that leads from our home into the streets of our unreached city as a reminder to cast the seed of His Good News on every part of the field into which the Master has sent us.
You can only imagine my surprise and excitement then when, as Elise and I were walking through a collective of artists, with carvings and curios, jewelry and material on display, I thought I saw the Starry Night. Possibly the most famous painting by van Gogh but this particular painting had been reproduced in an African setting. In place of the towering Cypress tree stands a dark Baobab tree. Instead of the quaint European hamlet sleeps a West African village.
After the artist and I wrangled on a good price I brought it home and placed it in our living room. I pulled together my books on van Gogh and began to do a side-by-side comparison of the pieces. What had the Senegalese artist changed? Why had he changed it? What pieces of the original didn’t fit into the image of an African starry night.
At the heart of the piece, a solitary structure struck my eye. Its presence in the heart of the original I had never noticed, but in its absence on the African plain was glaring. It was the cathedral. The church at the heart of the Southern French village with its spire reaching toward the unclouded sky had no counterpart in the African interpretation. Of all the huts, gathered in groups and scattered across the illuminated valley the center of the space of the canvas is blank. No cathedral. No spire. No church.
When I look at the map of this nation the artist’s depiction is in perfect keeping with most villages, and my heart breaks. When I go out into the streets of our corner of the city, where 1.5 million men, women and children call home, but there are no cathedrals of praise, no spires rising in witness, no churches gathered in worship my soul weeps.
We are so blessed to be your personal link from the local church to the unreached Wolof-speaking peoples. In the years to come, as our shared intercession rises up before the Lord for these unreached men, women and children I pray we would offer up a new painting reflecting the shift, reflecting the change, reflecting the created space that grew a movement of African people into the presence of Christ below an unclouded sky.