I Hope You Dance

I want to preface this blog by saying that I am not a dancer. I went to a week long summer dance camp when I was 6 or 7 years old and that is where my professional training ends. The only other dance I do is my crazy, cleaning dancing I do with my roommates when we decide to clean our rooms.

During the 2016 Oasis camp, I spent the early half of the week working with the Oasis staff and house moms assisting in a mindfulness workshop for them. However, that finished on Wednesday so that the moms could have some time off, which meant on Thursday I had no idea what to do with my afternoon time. I asked Amelia what I could help with and she tells me, “Everything is fine right now, why don’t you come with me to Kati’s large group dance class?”

My response inside my mind: “Uhhhh, no. No, I will not be coming to dance class. I will not be dancing at all, ever, in front of anyone in a dance class. So, definitely no. Thanks for asking, but no.”

Out of my mouth: “Yeah, sure! Why not?”

I had been doing the group dance we learned in large group every day, but that was a lot less intimidating than a class. No one would notice me in the huge group dance, but a class was smaller. I realize now I probably could have said no to Amelia and found something else to do, but I hate to turn down a new experience, so I went anyways.

Kati’s dance workshop was set up so that after every 4 counts, you’d have to come up with a new dance move. After the warm-up, the first activity started with 4 people creating different movements to lead the entire workshop. I bet you can guess who was picked to be one of those 4 people…

*hint hint – it was me*.

Now I know that dance is good for people. Dance and movement therapy is a growing field in psychology. According to Butler, Snook, and Buck (2015), “Community dance is capable of challenging perceptions of what is considered to be dance, and it enables an aesthetic to emerge where people can redefine who can and cannot dance and challenge notions of what dance is”. That quote is what Kati’s dance class was all about. It was not about being a skillful dancer, but about letting go and having fun.

I didn’t want to be the one everyone was watching, but I knew that if I let all my nerves show, it would set a tone for the girls to feel like they needed to feel self-conscious and awkward too. And it would have killed me to see them feel like they’re anything less than beautiful creations of God. Then, as I had that thought, I realized that I should be treating myself the same way. I’m God’s creation too. So I powered through my discomfort and I was embarrassing in the most fun way. I acted silly and I didn’t care what anyone thought. All I wanted was the girls thinking that they could dance and be silly too.

The next part of the workshop was in a group of 4 girls, each taking turns creating different moves on the count of 4. Then finally, we got partnered up one on one. The girl I partnered with seemed somewhat unsure of herself. She had the shy kind of smile that I recognized as apprehensive, but interested. I tried to give her my best look that said “I understand the nerves, but we can get through this together and manage to have fun too.” And we did. We laughed, danced, switched chairs quickly, and even accidentally ran into each other a few times.

Butler et al., looked at community dance in relation to cancer patients, but I think if they had expanded their study, they would have found similar results in girls like the ones at camp. They found that “…the simplicity of the gestures and movements offered a way of making something meaningful out of their shared journey” (2015). We might not be professional dancers, but we were having fun together. And after we finished I looked around, it wasn’t just me and my partner. All the girls were having fun and Kati was beaming with pride just watching them.

Am I going to drop everything and go join the nearest dance class or quit school to pursue becoming a prima ballerina? Definitely not. But will I take the joy and confidence I learned and apply that to other new and scary things? Yes, I like to think that I will. Even more importantly, I hope the girls take that with them too. Kati gave us 2 life lessons at the beginning of class. 1) Cry when you want to cry and 2) Ask questions when you don’t understand something. By the end of class, she’d taught us a third life lesson: Dance. Take the chance to try the things that seem scary at first. Later that evening I even tried to learn how to swing dance with some of the other volunteers. I haven’t nailed “The Pretzel” yet, but maybe with a little more practice! Being willing to take the risk of failing or looking silly in the spirit of joy is the most I could hope for any of us.  I named this blog after Lee Ann Womack’s song, I Hope You Dance, because it’s the epitome of what Kati taught us and what God hopes for us.

“Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance/

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/

I hope you dance.”

-Lee Ann Womack

Being Blessed Back

I’m Ivette, a Guatemalan I AM ART volunteer and currently a full time university student. In addition to working with I AM ART, throughout 2016 I was also temporarily an interpreter, nursery teacher, and radio host. I suppose you could say I do my best to fulfill any need in Jesus’s kingdom.

My first I AM ART camp was at Casa Bernabé in October 2016 as an interpreter and it was one of the greatest weeks of my year. I was able to be part of an awesome experience, so when Athentikos invited me to be part of the last camp of the year, I was excited to work at Oasis. Because of the incredible time I had, I now want to share my experience with you.

As the days passed in the week, our relationship with the girls got closer and our hearts started to become full with God’s love. I, as an interpreter, try to help the international volunteers get that beautiful connection with the girls, but this time I wasn’t “just” the bridge between English and Spanish.

The I AM ART camp started Monday morning but I didn’t get to Oasis until Tuesday, so I didn’t know the girls yet. My first time in the room, the girls were quiet and shy. They looked concentrated on their projects with the instructions that Becky, the collage workshop leader, gave them. I didn´t know anything about collages until that week. Everyone was focused on what they want to express for the first two days, so they were quiet at first, but then I started seeing the girls open up to the workshop leaders and to their projects as well. I watched the girls using bright colors and different shapes and I enjoyed seeing the girls experiment with something new. Even though the girls followed the instructions given, I could see their personal creativity and the love they put into their projects. It was like watching a super famous artist working on her next masterpiece; each girl was putting on a unique touch that would be hard to replicate. I saw real artists doing what they love with a variety of materials like glue, paper, tape, canvas, paper punchers and even nail polish. They were able to express through art what some of them are not able to express with words.

So, just as it happened to me I bet it happened to the girls: we all started with an idea of how the week is going to be, but never imagined what God has prepared for us by the end of it. The entire week was an art piece. Just like Becky said constantly, “When you make collages, and art in general, you never know how it’s going to look at the end, but that’s the beauty of art.” After the conflict day (Wednesday), I saw the girls more connected and comfortable with what they were creating and trusting that the final project would look amazing. And it did!

In a snack break we had Thursday one of the girls said, “That is what life is about, you don’t know what’s in store for you tomorrow, but you are the one who’s creating your most wonderful and colorful masterpiece”. It was a very blessed week for me because God used the girls to show me that it’s time for me to work on getting closer to Him and trusting Him on another level. I was questioning myself about my relationship with God, but it looked so easy for them to have faith in Him. They showed me how much easier it can be just by trusting every day in His hands.

I want to finish this with a small story that had a big impact. On Thursday night at the bonfire, one of the girls from my workshop approached me and surprised me with a handmade letter. She is Carolina*. She is energetic, smiley, delicate and smart. During the week, she was always smiling and giggling, giving her opinion, and actively participating with the collages. I wasn’t too close to the girls at the beginning because as the interpreter, I usually think that it’s the workshop leader who they should remember and not me, but this time it was different. I didn’t read the letter until I got home after camp, and I was surprised that she wrote, “I’ll be praying for a man who will protect you, and who will love God first and you after, for you to have hope in God’s plan.” You might say “how sweet!” and it certainly was a sweet gift, but it’s even more heart-touching to read this from a girl that suffered through mental and physical abuse. I’m not sure why she mentioned finding a man in the letter, but what I am sure about is that she cares about me and others, just like God cares for her.

These girls learned that in God’s love, there is great healing. They are mighty in God’s strength and what I love the most about them is that they share it with others. Everyone involved in the camp was hit with this truth: God will talk to your heart no matter if you are the organizer, the workshop leader, or an interpreter. Remember as you do God’s work to bless others, as they will bless you back.

*Carolina is a fake name

Art as Incarnation

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Christmas, a feast of thanksgiving for the incredible fact of the incarnation—that God would take on human nature, including human flesh, to redeem it and draw us into union with Him. “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Just in case you’re rusty on your Latin, the word incarnation quite literally means en-flesh-ment.  To incarnate something, then, is to en-flesh it, to give it physical properties.

So what does that have to do with making art? As I’m learning from Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking on Water, and as she learned from artists and theologians before her, to make art is to incarnate an expression of the soul. If our bodies are the incarnations of our souls themselves, our art may be the incarnation of an idea, emotion, desire, belief, question, or some other movement of our souls.

(I would like to interrupt myself here and assert that my understanding of this is very, very feeble, even by human standards, but I’m going to charge on and try to explain what I’m learning anyway, just in case it may prove useful to someone. I suppose this is what you call “comparing notes on the human experience.”)

The following is the best I’ve got (so far) on how incarnating movements of the soul/creating art works:

  1. God stirs our souls.
  2. God inspires us to make art about those soul-stirrings, and He even inspires our specific artistic choices.
  3. We attempt to listen to, trust, and obey God’s inspirations. We create art, and hopefully art that looks at least a little bit like the vision He’s placed in our mind’s eye. At this point we may not understand why the colors, words, shapes, or chords flowing out of us are the right ones, but that’s part of the trust and obedience. (Side note: I think this is what people mean when they talk about “good art” or “authentic art.” In my opinion, good art is created when the artist trusts his or her inspirations, instead of letting fear or vanity get in the way. I’m pretty sure it’s going to take me my entire life to figure out how to do that.)
  4. When the piece is finished, we step back to contemplate it. Now the colors, words, shapes, and chords—the incarnations of our soul’s movement—teach us more about those stirrings. They help us understand what we feel, believe, wonder, hope, etc. and why. Essentially, God now teaches us through the concrete piece of art He has just inspired us to create.

Mind-blowing, right? God allows us to share in His power of creation. We are artists, and we are tools in the hand of God. Rather, to be an artist is to be a tool in the hand of God.

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

-Mother Teresa

So how does this process play out for the children who participate in Athentikos’ I AM ART camps?

In case you’re new to the I AM ART concept or need a refresher, the I AM ART five-day curriculum centers around story. On the first two days of camp, the kids begin work on a piece that represents who they are and where they come from. They craft their pieces lovingly and are often very proud of the results. On the third day of camp, the children are instructed to drastically modify their piece in such a way that the piece looks, to them, destroyed and irredeemable. Faces are downcast and dreams seem ruined. But then, during the fourth and fifth days of camp, the artist leaders show the children how to continue crafting their piece into a new work of art that is even more beautiful than they imagined it could be.

As a result, the kids’ perspectives change. Through this material-spiritual process, they learn:

  • What is ugly can become beautiful.
  • What seems impossible is not impossible after all.
  • What seems to be within our control is not within our control, but it is controlled by the Master Artist, who loves us even when we don’t understand what He asks of us.

The art that the children take home with them is an incarnation of this new perspective—a physical reminder they can touch and feel when things look dark again.

And this incarnation is important, because sometimes when we are close to giving up hope, all it takes is a beam of light through the clouds, a hand on our shoulder, or a symbol of hope lovingly painted, to remind us who we are.

And believing you are God’s masterpiece changes everything.

 

Awake My Soul

AWAKE: fully conscious, alert, and aware : not asleep.

We have been leading teams to Guatemala for nine years now through the Athentikos documentary projects and now the I AM ART camps. Over the last 5 years, we’ve led eleven camps in Guatemala with 6 different partner organizations, 120 artists/volunteers, and nearly 2,000 at-risk children to transform pain into purpose through creative arts and God’s greater story of redemption. I have the honor to lead a camp each year and I love it! It’s a highlight of my year. It has been humbling to see this vision grow as well as how others participating in and facilitating the camps experience something new within themselves. I love showing others the beauty of Guatemala for the first time. I love seeing the team bond, as it’s significant that most people come on these trips not knowing others. I love seeing the kids get excited about their art projects and hearing stories about God’s healing in all of our lives. I also love the fun times of dancing, playing card games, and site-seeing with the teams. It’s all significant and each camp leaves a deep impact on my heart.

While some aspects of the trip may not be as awe-inspiring to me anymore… like seeing an active volcano or all the colorful textures in Antigua. I always leave these trips with a new sense of life stirring in my heart. As we led our teams through some mindfulness exercises to be in the moment, I sought to understand the impact on my own life. What is it about these trips that stir something new in my soul? 

After returning from the trip, we were singing a song in church that deeply touched me because I felt that the song’s message is what happens to the soul when experiencing a trip like this. I went to look up the Chris Tomlin lyrics and then came across one of my favorite songs by Mumford and Sons with the same title: Awake My Soul. It’s a different song than what we sang at church, but these lyrics deeply describe me:

“How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes
I struggle to find any truth in your lies
And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know
My weakness I feel I must finally show

Lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all
But lend me your heart and I’ll just let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free

Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul”

Part of my soul re-awakes each time we travel to Guatemala. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m removed from my day-to-day routine and connecting with God, others, and myself in a new way, or if being in a different culture allows my perspective to shift ever so slightly. Maybe it’s because hearing stories of great heartbreak and amazing healing is inspiring. Regardless of the triggers, part of my soul awakes during each trip. 

 I had a hard time writing this blog because it’s hard to explain the feeling of your soul awakening as it’s difficult to explain the powerful impact of our I AM ART trip. Many times I have said that it’s hard to express our experience in words. And that is the power of art: to express an inner abstract idea. Throughout time, people have used art for this same purpose— to communicate their stories, to worship God, and to express the thoughts of their soul. Dance, music, painting, sculpture… all of these and more allow the soul to express itself in ways our words cannot. And sometimes  you have to find yourself in the journey of creation.

In addition to leading the team, I taught a water-color class this time around. I love the fluid nature of the water and the paint. I  love putting water on the paper and adding color and watching it create with some direction. You can kinda direct the outcome of a piece, but for the most part the nature of watercolor technique is to allow it to “develop” itself.  You have to really let go of control and watch the beauty unfold. And the creation is beautiful!! While I LOVE this and think it’s really a simple medium, it was difficult to teach and for the most part, it was difficult for the girls to work with the water instead of controlling it. We did a variety of techniques and projects that followed our  themes, but in the end the essence of the teaching was in working with the water and how it relates to our relationship with God. As I sat and worked with the girls, I felt a connection to my soul that I rarely experience back “home.” The simplicity of creation allows the soul to feel, explore and breathe.

As I look back on 2016, I am very grateful for the four I AM ART teams in Guatemala. Like the creation of the watercolor pieces, our leadership team took steps of action to put “water and color” on the paper, but it was God that created the beauty that unfolded through the camps. The people on our teams are the core of the experience and the reason we are able to offer the I AM ART camps. I love the deep sense of community we feel during our time together as well as getting to know so many different types of people. I am grateful for the kids who willingly follow our direction in the creation of their art projects and humbly share parts of their stories with us. I am also thankful for our partnership organizations: Vidas Plenas, Lemonade International, Se Luz, Ten Fe, Kids Alive, The Oasis Home, Casa Bernabe and Friends of Children Everywhere who generously opened their communities to us. 

I hope in this New Year that our collective “artwork” will develop even more into a grand piece that only God can direct. It’s difficult letting go, listening to the depth of your soul, and taking steps in and towards God. Even though we love the I AM ART vision and want deeply for this vision to grow, at times it is extremely scary to trust God in this. We need money, people, and leadership to accomplish the great vision God has laid on our hearts. Our hope is that we will all continue to be the color that God is using to create this beautiful piece of art. While this blog isn’t necessarily about an opportunity to give, I do want to make that offer: If you have joined us on an I AM ART trip in the past, you understand the power of art and you know the sense of your soul awakening in new ways. We need you to continue to be a part of this by financially supporting the vision, please consider joining our monthly financial support team at http://athentikos.kindful.com/. If you have not yet been able to go on a trip, you can still support us! You can donate using the same link listed above and/or follow us on social media. Be on the lookout for future I AM ART camps you might want to join or other ways to support Athentikos. Your investment will make a difference in the communities we serve.

“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker
You were made to meet your maker”

To get the full lyrics to this song click here.

Many, many, many thanks to all who are a part of our community, who have shared stories, invested, loved and listened. You have left an impact on my heart and many more.  Happy 2017 to you all!

Interpreting God’s Call

The following blog was written by one of our Guatemalan volunteers, Irene. She has volunteered with Athentikos as a translator in the past, but this year she took the chance to become a workshop leader. We are incredibly grateful for her creative and passionate spirit! 

Hi! My name is Irene and I’m a student of translation and interpretation from Guatemala City. Last year I had the opportunity to work with I AM ART (IAA) Camp during Fall 2015 at Oasis. As several times before, I was prepared for a normal week of interpretation, but this one just changed my life and my way to live. I’ve been a Christian since I was 7 years old but I’ve never seen the love of God expressed through art like I did last year. I was the interpreter for Amelia and Tina in their self-portrait workshop and I loved everything about it! I loved their creativity and the way they worked with the girls, even with the language barrier. The love of God could be felt throughout the whole week and I just knew that I wanted to come back and work with IAA again!

On the other hand, besides my interpreter profile, I am also an artist. I’m a drummer, bassist and singer. This is why I fell in love with Athentikos — because they use art as a tool to spread the word and love of God. As a Christian, I’ve seen and heard of God’s love and care through words but as an artist I’ve never seen how it can be expressed in such a powerful way: no words, no long sermons, nothing but ART. I completely understood that we are God’s Masterpiece, and that if He has given us gifts, we must use them to serve others. So, I took the challenge and jumped into a new adventure, leading a workshop at the Art Camp Fall 2016 at Oasis.

This year I was beyond excited to go back and see the girls again. What I didn’t expect was that my love for that place and all the girls was going to be greater now! I cannot express how different it is to be on the side of the interpreter and the side of the workshop leader, both of them are awesome experiences but way different. As an interpreter, I didn’t have to care about what project I was going to do, how much material I was going to use, how conflict day could match with the week project, etc. When I decided that I wanted to participate, I didn’t have a clue about what kind of workshop I was going to teach. I didn’t feel prepared to be a workshop leader and sometimes I thought about declining the invitation and just interpreting, but I knew God was calling me to do something different this time. I was worried about whether the girls were going to accept me, or if they were going to like our workshop. I was worried that my personality was not going to match with theirs, but once again, God surprised me.

This year Ale, a friend from church, and I led the dance and rhythm workshop. It included jazz movements and a very basic drum technique. We were really looking forward to the camp. She didn’t know what to think since this was her first time working with Athentikos and I didn’t know how to react since this was my first time as a workshop leader. I wanted the girls to have the best experiences and to leave every worry in God’s hands. I wanted them to express whatever they’ve been through, with art, and it surely happened, but it also worked with me and Ale too.

Last year I didn’t have a strong connection with the girls because I was focused on my role as an interpreter, (as I’ve been taught, the good interpreter is the invisible one). I thought that this year just being a “workshop leader” would mean things were going to be different and the connection with the girls was going to be quicker, but it didn’t work like that…at the beginning of the week the girls were shy and a little distant. They would get distracted by the staff from Oasis that were helping us and it made things a little bit harder. By Wednesday (Conflict Day) we knew each other a little better, but that day we had a perfect connection with them. We got the chance to share with the girls the little things in our lives that have been a conflict to us and how to overcome those dark moments. They opened their hearts and allowed us to know their past. From that moment, for the rest of the week, things got better. We were blessed to have girls not only from Oasis, but also from two other houses of girls that have suffered sexual abuse. All of the girls are examples of forgiveness, love, fight and strength!

Our workshop was divided into various activities: dance, rhythm and crafts. The main idea for our craft was to work on a t-shirt that the girls were going to use for their final performance. We got to Oasis on Sunday, they gave us the list of the girls, and with that came a huge surprise! The t-shirt sizes were way smaller than our girls’ sizes!! We worried, panicked, and lost track of what was going on and what was going to happen. Thank God, creativity came upon us and we decided that the t-shirts were going to turn into a scarf. That changed part of our project but in the end, I think it worked better than the original plan.

My heart melts when I see the pictures of their lovely and innocent faces! Their hearts are huge and their future is astonishing. I will never forget these girls, how much they taught me, the way they made me feel when they called me “tía Irene” (they call “tías” the people that’s in charge of them, or the ones they appreciate), and of course how God worked through all of us with the amazing gift of arts.

I just get to think about the story written in 2 Kings, chapter 3. Two kings approach Elisha to ask for help, but before he gives them the prophesy he asks for a musician to come with him. Then when the musician starts to play the power of God came on Elisha. I would like to say that all the artists of this camp can be compared to this musician. I would say: “and when the artists overflowed with their creativity, the power, healing and love of the Lord came upon these girls.”

I know it wasn’t because of us, but it was through us. It happened because we are attending to our call. Well done Team Oasis 2016! We made it!

– Art transforms pain into purpose. –

Unmasking God’s Plan

One of our Guatemalan volunteers, Cristha Fuentes, wrote the following blog. Cristha assisted in our mask-making workshop at our Oasis camp this Fall. We loved having her creative and happy spirit as part of our team.

Two weeks have passed since Oasis camp finished and I can sum up my amazing experience in 3 acts narrated through Ephesians 2:10…

  • ACT 1: For we are his workmanship,

On Tuesday, I was sitting next to the dorms where we were staying and admiring a beautiful sunset.  While I was enjoying the sunset, I could hear the girls playing soccer close by and I suddenly started feeling overwhelmed by the outrageous love God had shown me that day. All of these feelings brought to my mind the verse of the day and especially the word “workmanship” and how if we search for its Hebrew root it actually means “poetry”… why did this matter at this point?  Because even though the beauty of the sunset was breathtaking, God’s poetry wasn’t there; it was in me, and not only in me, but also in the girls playing soccer and in pretty much everyone around me.  We are His poetry, His masterpiece; despite everything we’ve done, in His eyes we are perfect.  And that single thought reminded me how Guatemala is not just beautiful because of the landscapes it has, the volcanoes or even the stunning lakes; Guatemala’s beauty lies in its people and their stories. That was something I didn’t realize until I was able to see my country through the eyes of the U.S volunteers, they could see us in a way we couldn’t see ourselves. I have no words to describe how much it fills my heart with courage and hope hearing how much they love Guatemalan people, and how they admire our capacity for resilience. All those things gave me hope and perspective on how God sees us, His Guatemalan poems.

 

  • ACT 2: …created in Christ Jesus for good Works

Since my first camp at La Limonada with I Am Art this past summer, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life… for once I felt useful.  So when I was asked to volunteer at Oasis I immediately said yes. I was thrilled to be with the girls and humbled by them trusting me with their stories. Nevertheless, on Wednesday I started feeling anxious about the idea of leaving them after camp. I had doubts like: “what will happen to them after I leave? Will they be okay?” All these thoughts were making me feel terrible and even guilty about coming back home to the comfort of my life. God knew how I was feeling, so He started working on me.  During large group and the workshops, I started understanding how being there was my way of being God’s tool in a much bigger picture, much greater than the small fraction I was seeing. I was only a small brushstroke on God’s masterpiece, and like me, He is going to use other brushstrokes to finish what He had started in the girl’s lives.  Therefore, I understood that being there was my mission and I could rest and believe God was going to be with them and finish His good work. So, “be still my heart and know that I am God”.

  • ACT 3: …which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The biggest lesson I learned in this journey was: Trust in God’s process.  For the workshops to be a success and the purpose of the camp be fulfilled, the girls had to trust us during the process. They had to go through all the steps even if they didn’t understand them.  The girls had to go through the journey of creating something they considered beautiful, go through the pain of seeing that beautiful creation being altered through conflict, to finally be comforted by the masterpiece created after the restoration process. During the process we live in IAA, conflict was particularly harder than the last time I participated. The girls had been working on their masks, and putting in their best effort to reflect who they were in each color and design they added. All of the sudden, on Wednesday, we asked the girls to grab someone else’s mask and destroy half of it. At first they got angry, they couldn’t even looked us in the face…for 10 minutes or so they stood quietly just looking at their masks, and suddenly I started seeing tears falling from their eyes; they started crying. Even if they didn’t understand at the moment what was happening they still did what we asked them to do. After that we had a group hug and we started praying for each other and talking about the experience. Of course, they were not simply crying about the mask, the girls went deeper in this exercise. In one girl’s words, they “went back to that single moment in [their] lives when [their] hearts got broken.” Hearing those words broke my heart too. I felt so guilty for putting the girls through that experience again. Even if I already knew the next day was going to be better and they would learn to find solutions and that God can fix anything… I still suffered with them. It was an emotional and hard experience, but above all it was powerful. For once, we were not teacher and student, we were sisters; their pain was my pain and my struggle was their struggle. We really opened our hearts that day and I know they will keep that moment in their hearts forever and I´m sure I will too.

Later on that day, I was laying on my bed, trying to acknowledge all the experiences of that day and I realized that, that’s life and we need to trust that God knows the plans beforehand. He knew what would happen in the camp. He knows all our stories, and He knows how our stories will develop; we just have to trust He has control on the outcome.  He says in Jeremiah 29:11 that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Our duty is to trust Him and enjoy the ride. Just trust in His process, trust that He has big plans not just for us, but also for each one of the girls at Oasis.

So in conclusion, it was another amazing camp, I do not regret for a second spending my week there and it was the best way to celebrate that I’m finally done with college. It was God’s purpose to have me and everyone from the team there. And to finish, I just want to say thank you…

Thank you to the volunteers for flying from U.S or Finland just to help my country and to fulfill God’s purpose. Thank you to Athentikos for using art to heal wounds and for giving me the chance to finally use my artistic talents in something that is not for myself. And thank you to the girls from Oasis for changing my life forever.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

Reassembling the Collage

image1-1I came home from Guatemala feeling a lot different than when I left. Maybe it’s because I only got an hour and a half’s worth of sleep the night before I boarded the airplane home, but I think “emotional wreck” might be an understatement for describing my internal condition. I stayed up all night and into the early morning trying to hold onto the very last bit of time I could spend at Oasis with my new friends and passion for I AM ART Camp. But in the end, I knew I needed to return to go to classes, write papers, and take final exams.

Now that I am home, everyone keeps asking how my trip was and I want to be able to tell them everything, but words just don’t seem to be enough to explain it. I LOVED my time in Guatemala. The country, the culture, my team, and those girls were all enough to break my heart apart into a million pieces and reassemble it like the collages I helped the girls make in a workshop. Together we learned about the process of layering different pieces of papers and materials (ourselves and each other) to create a beautiful masterpiece, even if we didn’t know what it would look like in the end.

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(A completed canvas from one of the girls in the collage workshop)

I knew I would be sad coming home; I wanted my final collage to look like Guatemala and I AM ART Camp, not school and work. I didn’t want to leave when I was having such a great time and connecting with both my team and God in ways that I haven’t connected in a while. But what I didn’t expect was a different kind of emotion that I couldn’t even name on my own, a layer I hadn’t really planned on putting in my collage.

I asked my friend Tina who had gone on this trip last year about how she felt coming home and she finally gave me the word I was looking for – resentment. I’m not trying to say that I didn’t experience incredibly positive emotions. Everything you’ve ever heard about mission trips is true: they energize you in an unexplainable way. They supply you with extraordinary amounts of joy and love and connection. I feel all those things on a level I didn’t even know was possible. But I also feel resentment. I am bitter about coming home to all the obligations and necessary work when I feel so called to the mission of Athentikos and I AM ART Camp. Then once I recognized the resentment, I started to get mad at myself. I began asking myself, “Why didn’t I do all this work before I left? Why am I letting everything get under my skin? Why can’t I just enjoy all the positive feelings I felt before I came home?”

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(Gluing previously torn up pieces of art onto the painted canvas)

So as I wrote this blog and tried to answer those questions, I remembered a message we were told about Jesus’s presentation of bread in the Bible. First, it was chosen. Second, it was blessed. Third, it was broken. Then, finally, it was given away to be shared with others.  I was chosen when I felt God calling me to ask about working with Athentikos, and chosen once more when Amelia encouraged me to join one of the I AM ART trips. I was chosen to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Then I was blessed through my experiences in Guatemala. I’m blessed to have met all the wonderful people on my team and to have been able to open up my heart wide enough to fit over 100 girls and their stories inside. I’m blessed to be able to come home and tell my stories to everyone I meet. Yet as much as I keep trying to resist the brokenness, I know that I have to go through that too. It’s not a forever brokenness. I wrote in my Wreck This Journal this week, “Broken isn’t forever”, and I still believe that to be true. It’s hard to be grateful for being broken, but the girls at camp showed me just what it means to be part of the step where you’re given away to be shared with others. It doesn’t make missing my team or the girls any easier, but I think I might be able to love a little more and forgive a little easier. They set an example for me in their faith in God and love for one another.

As I mentioned, the night before I came home was rough. But that night (or early morning if we’re going to get specific), Amelia took my hands in her own and said a prayer for me so that I might come home and be filled with joy and spirit and not overcome by depression and pain. She didn’t pray that I wouldn’t experience hurt or brokenness; I think we both knew it was going to be difficult no matter what. But she knew that I would be changed in the best kind of way if I could let my heart be open to it… if I could give my broken pieces back to God and trust Him to create His masterpiece. So now, I am trying to figure out what that looks like exactly, and because of this trip, I have the courage and faith to grow and discover what I am called to do. I think that’s worth being a little bit broken.

God is our refuge and our strength. Our safe help in times of distress. Psalms 46:1

(Artwork from one of the girls in the collage workshop)

MacLean James: A Refresher Course in Humanity

I recently sat down with self-described lover, winner, and musician Ethan MacLean James to talk about his experience in the Se Luz/TEN FE I AM ART camp that was held this past June. If you too have an ultra chill and cuddly personality, you may be especially interested in his perspective on I AM ART. What’s that you say? You’re hot-blooded and prickly? Not to worry, the MacLean flavor is enjoyed by all. Keep reading.

Why did you decide to do I AM ART?
One of the partner organizations for my IAA trip was TEN FE, a nonprofit co-founded by Julie Leubbers, who is a Spanish professor at my former college. I had helped TEN FE a little in the past (i.e., attended fundraising galas to play ring toss and drink wine), but I knew that this was my chance to actually make a substantial, discernible difference. Raising awareness is great, and very much needed, but I wanted to see the effects of TEN FE’s work for myself.

What were you expecting before you went?
I am fortunate enough to have traveled internationally before. In my high school years I took two trips across the Atlantic, coming back with a total of nine countries under my belt. These trips were of pure educational and tourist intentions though, not to mention I only experienced fairly upscale accommodations the entire time. This, as you can guess, is a little different than what I experienced with IAA.

Inhabitants of developing countries are usually depicted in one of two ways: The incredibly poor, and the incredibly rich. The middle class as we know it just doesn’t really exist. I didn’t think I was going to get to experience the wealthy part of the country, but I came to terms with that. After all, this wasn’t about me. Still, the whole “mission trip” thing is pretty foreign to me to begin with, and when you throw in a language that I slept through two years of in high school…well you get the picture. Basically, my expectations were that this place was going to destroy me and my soul. Hyperbole aside, I really was nervous. But I had already paid the non-refundable deposit, so what’s a boy to do?

What were you surprised by when you got there?
Everything. The view. The people. The dollar-quetzal exchange rate. I felt like a king dropping 200 Qs on dinner.

What was your role in the camp? What did you do?
My initial role was to lead one of the workshops and teach the kids music. However, things happen sometimes, and I ended up with two other jobs instead, one of them assisting Tamagochi with his miming workshop and the other being the camp maestro and sound-system helper for the large-group sessions in the afternoon. I also took as many other opportunities to help with setting/packing things up as I could so that I would get truck rides from site to site. Those Guatemalan hills are killer.

MacLean Helps Tamagochi Teach the Mimes
MacLean helped Tama teach the mimes…
MacLean Sporting His Clown Nose
…and wore his clown nose proudly.

Tell me about one or two moments from your trip that stick out to you.
In Latin American countries they have what are called chicken buses—retired North American school buses that are often extravagantly painted and used for public transportation. I was walking down the street one morning and ahead of me turning the corner I caught a glimpse of the side of one of these buses. It said Dawson-Bryant Public Schools. Dawson-Bryant is in Coal Grove, a tiny village right next to my home town of Ironton, Ohio! Of course, by the time I got my phone out to take a picture it was long gone.

Another moment that stuck out happened during the first day or two of camp when I was feeling very discouraged about not being able to say the things that I wanted to in Spanish. I wanted my chicos to know I cared, and I wanted them to care about me. But a few of them were trying to ask me a question, and I was obviously struggling, so they kind of huddled up and whispered for a few seconds, then came back to me with their question in English. That showed me they did care.

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MacLean’s chicos dressed him up in toilet paper…
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…as a ninja!

Now that you’re back and have had time to reflect on your experience, what does the camp mean to you?
An accurate view of the world around us is extremely difficult to achieve without experiencing it first hand. That’s what this camp helped me start working toward. Time hasn’t really changed anything, though. The trip hit me hard and fast and that feeling has remained to this day. I documented my trip every night via Facebook, and this is what I wrote upon my return:

What I learned in Guatemala today: Epilogue
“You are our teacher now,” one of my chicos said to me as we prepared to make some art this week. Boy, was he wrong.

Kids like these will teach you more than you could ever even try to teach them. They are the perfect example of determination, purity, and wisdom in the face of adversity. Each one of them is amazing in his or her own right, and it was an absolute honor to work alongside them.

Now, as I sit in a nice air-conditioned apartment in Cincinnati, complaints of tiny airplane seats and dry, overly salted pretzels still fresh in my mind, the image of these children walking to work in the fields to put some tortillas and beans on the table drifts into my daydreams. I try to guide my thoughts elsewhere, to happier times, my own life reruns and sneak peeks of future joy, but they circle back to the same place over and over again.

Was it enough to put a few extra grins on their faces for the week? Could we have done more? Should we have? Of course. But they won’t complain.

Those smiles are priceless. I only wish they happened more often.

I hope and plan to one day go back and see them again so that they can teach me a refresher course in humanity. God knows it’s needed.”

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Breaking through the Black

The following blog was written by Anita Beyer who attended our end of camp art show at Casa Bernabe as a guest. We appreciate her thoughtful reflection and support of I AM ART camps. The photos in this blog are from the art show she attended.

Our daughter has been affiliated with I AM Art camps for the past couple of years.  We have seen her pictures and heard her stories.  We have been introduced to the goals and methods of the camp and twice have attended the ceremonies at the end of the week of classes and activity.  We did this again this past weekend as the camp being held at Casa Bernabe was coming to a close.

We arrived early so there was a lot of time to look over the week’s projects.  As I did, I stopped at the table where the sculptures were displayed.  Having personally collected quite a few toilet paper rolls to be used in this particular workshop I was intrigued at the beautiful and creative end products.  Ly-marie, the instructor and great personal friend, told me how she had led the participants to make shapes on day 1.  Shapes.  That is all.  On day 2 she directed them to construct something out of the shapes.  Anything they could imagine.

Then she described how on Day 3 they had taken all of their projects outside where she directed them to spray everything they had built black.  BLACK!!  She told how one little girl in particular, “J”, had protested.  “No, I don’t want it to be black!  It is supposed to be colorful and cheerful.”  Ly-marie, unable to give an explanation just had to stick with her instruction.  The young girl painfully and tearfully complied.

On day 4 they were able to begin adding color – to bring the project of their imaginations to life.  To redeem the destruction of the previous day.  Ly-marie reported how whereas they had been quite selfish and grabby on previous days by day 4 they began to work together, share and help one another.  By day 5 the projects were completed and ready for display.

blog-pictureAs I studied the display it was the project of little “J” that stuck out to me and kept drawing my attention.  It was very colorful and cheerful – just as its creator had intended it to be from the start.  However, on closer examination I could see some black shining through – on the insides of the shapes and some on the edges.  But surprisingly, the black that was still visible brought a rich depth to the project.  It truly made the color more colorful!

It occurred to me that the lesson had done just as it had intended.  As it walked these children through the creative process, it had walked them through life. “J”, like their Creator, had had a plan, something specific in mind, an end product with a purpose.  It would be cheerful and have lots of color.  Black did not fit into this plan.  When they were instructed to “destroy it” by painting everything black they were walking through the pain of the bad that comes as an attempt to foil the plan of the Creator.  Never do we look for these experiences or even desire to go through them.  And the process of doing so is painful. These children know that at a level I can’t even begin to imagine.  BUT regardless of how hopeless things may look on the “day 3s” of our lives the Creator is able to bring a new day in Day 4.  Hope has sprung.  Color flies.  Cheer renewed.  And the black of day 3?  Forgotten?  No, though we might wish it so.  No, it is now used to bring the depth and richness to the creation.  Actually, the end product is more beautiful than if it had never gone through “the black day”.

Yes, bad things do happen in this fallen world.  Yet our Creator, God, Father still has plans for good, not for evil – plans of hope and a future.  I love that this camp is showing the children, and others like me, that though ugly and very black things may come into our lives the purpose of the Creator has not changed and the end product can still be one of beauty and color and do as He originally intended – bring Him glory!!!

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Philanthropy vs Charity

The pictures used in this post are from our Casa Bernabe team’s camp. 

October 28th, 2016

Driving in a van from the airport in Guatemala City to Antigua yesterday, meeting our team members, taking in the scenery and dipping in and out of different conversations happening in the van, my mind drifted for a bit and fixated on the word Philanthropy. 

buildingFirst let me give a little back story of why. Christopheraaron and I are the only “mission trip” virgins on our trip, (well maybe one or two other fellows but I don’t know everyone’s backstory yet).  Anyway, most of these ladies have shed their Americanized way of living, thinking and being to uproot/shift the lives of their families and friends to live some full time indefinitely or some part time traveling back and forth.  Many times when I hear the term philanthropist I think of the most recent celebrity to receive this award or accolade, but really those acts of the worlds wealthiest, as gracious as they may be, should really be called charity. This description below is taken from Webster’s dictionary of the word: Philanthropy.Philanthropy has distinguishing features from charity; not all charity is philanthropy, or vice versa, though there is a recognized degree of overlap in practice. A difference commonly cited is that charity aims to relieve the pain of a particular social problem, whereas philanthropy attempts to address the root cause of the problem—the difference between the proverbial gift of a fish to a hungry person, versus teaching them how to fish.

So in my reflection a true philanthropist is really a teacher right? When you think of your favorite teacher, what are some components you think of? When I think of what makes a good teacher, I think of Relationship, and the only way to build relationship is to invest time.  So to those that have altered their lives in anyway, shape or form to be the hands and feet of Jesus, my heart overflows with awe, gratitude and appreciation.

Matthew 4:19-20 “Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

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