Genesis 11

backward canvasses

We always have canvasses around the house. Plain fabric stretched and nailed to wooden frames waiting to be transformed. And of course our walls are covered in canvasses too. Paintings from around the world. Reproductions of Dega and Van Gogh and original paintings from across Africa. Once white cloth now fully soaked in brilliant colors. Each one with a story to tell on its surface.

We learn so much about a culture by searching out the soul of their art. With dye and resin people tell us the surface stories of their existence. The artist places brush to cloth and pours his soul into each shape, each stroke a symbol of his humanity, each movement a searching out of meaning.

The guard who watches our house during the day is a canvas. His life is lived in color. His clothes burst with greens and browns. His face is filled with character and experience. Talking with him you can feel the structure that carries him from day to day, like the wooden frame beneath canvas. His canvas is fully painted. And yet, his piece is unfinished. His life is Christ-less.

Recently I noticed he was having difficulty with his lower back. Moved by the Spirit I asked him about his back and if I could pray for him in Jesus’ name. He said yes. When I returned from a nine-day trip serving and connecting with the Chadian church, he came up to me rejoicing. His back was healed. His face was radiant with the joy of Jesus’ healing. He took out the arabic tract our friend gave him months ago and said, “This Jesus, the one from the Injil, the one who’s name you prayed, He is the same?”

It was like watching brilliant color seeping through from within. As if God was painting beneath the surface, on the backside of the canvas. Those colors are beginning to bleed through his life.

The University of Valley Forge sent a team to work with our family for half the month of May. Day after day they met new people and each day they allowed the colors of Christ pour out from their canvas. They took what God was doing on the inside, on the backward wall of their canvas that has been signed with the love of Christ, and expressed it to the unreached peoples of Senegal. A great example of that was how they loved our bus driver.

Day after day they painted our bus with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Every day was a new expression of what Jesus was writing beneath the surface. We invited him to help us with French as we taught children memory verses. We invited him to the walk with us, laugh with us, experience his country with us. We invited him to our table to eat with us, to sit around the rice bowl and consume the Bread of Life.

His canvas is transforming. He has seen colors bleeding through like he’s never noticed before. In his heart he has a clear witness of Jesus. In his hands he holds our greatest gift, the Word of God. With prayer and practice the team from Valley Forge wrote the love of Jesus Christ on the inside of his life’s canvas.

An artisan friend gave me a gift of a painting he’d recently completed. Without my knowing it, the team from Valley Forge signed the back, between the wooden frames, beneath the bright paint. It now sits along my office wall, backwards, as a prized possession and constant reminder to look beyond the surface, beyond the facade on display, to see what God is doing deep within.