Something Changed Forever


The following blog was written by one of Athentikos’s volunteers and workshop leaders, Kati Korosuo. 

Going to Guatemala had been hunting me for about 13 years, until last summer (2016) I finally made it there. I spent five weeks in the country teaching Dances to a Beat (DTB), a dance technique I’ve developed myself, to a vast variety of different groups: from teenagers in an elite dance school, to dancers in a wheelchair dance company, to kids in the ghetto of La Limonada. DTB is a technique based on improvisation, repetition and rhythm. It deals a lot with seeing oneself as part of a bigger, meaningful picture and understanding one’s crucial importance there. DTB is a technique where the aim is to not just to accept one’s own movements, history, and personality, but to appreciate and enjoy them. It ultimately is a technique to celebrate the uniqueness in each of us!


I was very happy to be able to share DTB at Athentikos’s I AM ART camp with Vidas Plenas in La Limonada. Athentikos’ values about authenticity and transparency resonated strongly in me, and I had a good feeling about this collaboration. In La Limonada the extreme poverty, criminality and violence become a concrete reality that was, literally and metaphorically, thousands of miles away from my everyday life in Finland. Teaching the kids there had an impact on me, that is difficult to put in words. It changed something in my heart forever.

After my experience that summer, the culture shock returning back to Finland hit really bad. It was frustrating and difficult to become interested in all those meaningless things that we, in a western welfare state, have the luxury to become interested in and spend our lives on. And this shock didn’t ease out until I had decided to go back to Guatemala.

I wanted to continue working with Athentikos, and ended up spending two months in the country planning and executing an Artist in Residence pilot program that Athentikos plans to launch in 2018. This residency included two IAA camps and in-between working with Athentikos’s established partner organizations plus creating new connections with the local art scene there. I realized that coming back to Guate to continue the work I had started there was like a reconciliation: an action that had to be followed after that something that had started to stir in my heart.

My third I AM ART camp in Guatemala was held at Oasis, a home for sexually abused girls, where I had visited twice before. The camp didn’t start off so well, and new girls kept coming into my workshop in the middle of the week. They were super shy and reluctant teenagers, who seemed to resist everything I suggested. I quietly acknowledged that this week wouldn’t be so great now, however, I still wanted to do my best. And on the third day things changed. The girls started to open up and they would end up telling me things I would have never imagined. They shared with the group and they shared with me privately. They wrote letters. They told me how important this week was for them and how they had learned so much about dance and self-worth, how this group was like a family to them and how they wished this week would never end. The last days there entailed more hugs and tears than many months would.

Photo by Amelia J. Moore

Spending longer time in the country gave me the opportunity to understand the Guatemalan culture better, the both wonderful and challenging sides of it, as well as to connect on a deeper level with the locals. There was time to form real friendships and to see the kids in different moods, having good days, having struggles, having graduations. Returning back to places, seeing the kids again outside the camp setting also made me to understand that I’m just a visitor in their lives. I will be gone, and they will be just fine. However, after my last IAA Camp at Oasis, this perspective was challenged once more as I realized that the experiences we had and lessons we taught will stay with them forever.

One night at the camp the director of Oasis told our team some statistics and facts about the sexual violence in Guatemala and generally about some of the girls’ cases. I had not prepared for such hard facts and intense stories. This reality was very difficult to take in. In the beginning I had surely wondered about what kind of a story each girl there had (especially when some of them went to court and hearings during the week), but later, every time a story would get a face and a name, I crashed. I then felt that it was better for me to work with these kids without knowing all the details of their pasts. When I taught them, I wanted to concentrate on the things we were doing together and the qualities that make all of them incredible kids, not their heart-breaking pasts. 

All these three art camps by Athentikos have been different yet equally meaningful for me. The highlight of this last camp was the process with the girls. Again, like after each of these camps, I feel that I have been operating with something that is like the most important thing on Earth. And that my heart is exposed and broken in a way that it hasn’t before. It feels absurd that I wouldn’t return here anymore.

Photo by Amelia J. Moore

Why Mission?

Daughter with Daughter. Athentikos: I AM ART

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Why Mission?

The idea of a mission trip is daunting for most people. Anyone over the age of 6 has responsibilities and connections that beg us not to go. Add in caring for others and reporting to the people who electronically deposit your paycheck, and well, it’s tough. Of course there’s also fundraising and the acknowledgement that your heart will emotionally split right open. Then there’s the discomfort of the unknown, possible language barriers, and the threat of illness. Who wants to sign up?

No joke, all of that is true! But this would be a terrible promotion for mission trips if I didn’t suggest all the grace and growth you can gain too. I AM ART taught me that pain leads to growth. Heartbreak, grief, disappointment, struggle, and sadness can lead to a deeper understanding of love, joy, perspective, and contentment. Choosing to engage in mission is a subconscious decision to welcome grace into our lives.

My decision to travel to Guatemala with Athentikos for I AM ART at the Oasis Home For Girls, was a longing for healing and perspective after the deaths of my brother and mother, and to feel connected to my nephew that was born in the beautiful, yet complicated country of Guatemala. Knowing the story of Athentikos and the work they are lovingly committed to, I knew the perspective of my grief and the outlook on my world would change. I was pretty sure my heart would break deeper from observing and hearing the stories of people around me, but I was also confident I would feel a sense of healing by sharing my heart, humor, and empathy with the people I would met.

My heart did break open, many times for many reasons, but what continued to draw me back to center was the love that so obviously surrounded me. One of the most profound days on my trip was during “Conflict Day” when our class was invited to share our story with one another. I was asked to share what brought me to art camp. Through sloppy tears, and many pauses, I shared my heartache and fear with the girls. One of the older girls, Sondra, prayed for me with our group in such a detailed and beautiful way. She prayed for my courage and peace to trust God’s love for me and to release my fear. This girl, who had been removed from her home and family to heal from a crime committed against her … was praying for me. These beautiful children, even the girl mothering her own child, were lifting me up despite their own fears, heartbreak, and brokenness. We looked at each other and knew we are different, but our brokenness and humanness made us know and love each other deeper. Despite the pain, there was still so much joy and love.

[/vc_column_text][mk_gallery images=”7957,7958,7959,7960″ column=”2″][vc_column_text]From an early age, I have known the brevity of life. This has encouraged me to consider how I want to spend my time here while I have it. I have a servant’s heart, so naturally, some of my most profound understandings have come from serving others. I encourage you to discover your gifts and then use them in service to others. When you discover that treasure inside you and then give it away to a greater purpose, it fuels you in a way that has no need for caffeine or sleep. Well, maybe sleep and a little caffeine, but it is a force that can’t be denied.

Our world is straight up nuts right now. It’s scary and often it seems we’re either too afraid to or too numb to respond. Trying to understand one another is like wading through mud. Where do we step first? What if there’s conflict or pain along the way? What if we’re judged harshly by what our heart is feeling? And even worse, what if we do nothing? We are made for loving one another. Even the folks that get right under our skin and squirm around. Yes … we’re meant for loving them too.

[/vc_column_text][mk_gallery images=”7956,7962″ column=”2″][vc_column_text]While trying how to figure out a difficult relationship, I read a devotional that described a woman who kept asking God to change the other person so it would be easier to share her love. The answer God revealed to her was asking her to consider how HE loved the “difficult” person and asked her to try loving her in the same way. Perspective, it changes everything.

When we enter mission with an open heart and mind, and with the understanding we will occasionally be uncomfortable, magic happens … Grace happens. That grace helps us meet each other with a clearer vision that we are all connected. And, when we acknowledge we belong to one another our response changes. Our hearts soften, our ability to listen deepens, and our empathy allows us to respond in a more meaningful way.

Athentikos is planning two I AM ART camps in Guatemala this fall. The regular registration deadline is August 15. Take a look, and listen to your heart. Even if this is just a seed planted for another time, take a few minutes to see grace in action.[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”x-large” url=”” fullwidth=”true” bg_color=”#dd9933″ btn_hover_txt_color=”#dd3333″]Click here to learn about I AM ART Fall 2016[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The Wound Is Where The Light Shines Through

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I am sitting here at Lake Atitlan reflecting on my second I am art trip. Winding down and preparing to head home. This is actually my fourth trip to Guatemala in about 2 years. I came here originally to visit my son and family who were missionaries at the time. Earlier that year, my wife of 42 years passed away suddenly and I lost my job. It was a stressful year and honestly, I was angry with God for the tragic changes in my life. When I visited my son, he was providing food for about 50 homes in need in the area around Guatemala City. I ended up spending a day at a beautiful children’s home in Escuintla. I returned the following year with my church on a mission trip and I stayed on to visit the home in Escuintla. I have a degree in art and began painting seriously after my wife’s death. The year before she died, I felt lead to paint a large mural in the new addition to my church of Jesus seated and surrounded by children.  I had never attempted anything like that and after my wife’s death, I felt God was calling me to paint and I poured my grief into my painting.

While attending church in Guatemala with my church missions group, I met Rolando Monterroso who was filling in for the pastor that day. He found out I had painted a mural at my church. He started talking to me about I Am Art. The next day I found myself stranded for the day in Guatemala City waiting for my ride to Escuintla and Rolando showed me the mural at La Limonada and I was awestruck. We talked about I Am Art and Athentikos. I felt God had sent Rolando to me that day. Rolando called Amelia and Scott then and there to sign me up for the next trip. Honestly I was overwhelmed and skeptical of what was happening.  Here I was contemplating coming back to a foreign country after only ever leaving the US once. I came home unsure of the commitment I was making. But as we all know, God has a plan. Through that one mural that God led me to paint, I began my journey and a new life for me. At present, I’m working with 2 other artists creating the story of the Bible with 26 murals and transitions that upon completion, will be over a quarter of a mile long.

As awesome as that is, nothing compares to my two experiences with I Am Art. The first trip was to a home for sexually abused girls called Oasis. Initially was I very nervous and although I knew God sent me there, the unknown is always a little scary and so much in my life had changed. The experience at Oasis was amazing. I finally felt that my artistic ability that God gave me was being put to use. Spending an entire week with these girls was so moving. Just watching and seeing the arts impact their lives for 1 week and realizing that 1 week would in some way affect their lives long term and give them hope. Using my art as a tool to show them the love of God is always there. As impacted as obviously their lives were, mine was irrevocably changed forever.  That trip led to this trip to LA Limonada. After spending a lot of time working with kids in several locations and my fantastic experience at Oasis, I thought I was prepared for my experience at La Limonada.


To go into the slums of Guatemala City gave me a glimpse of their lives. Spending time with the children was the most moving experience of my life. Seeing God and Jesus working in the lives of these children was beyond description. The people who dedicate their lives to helping these kids are amazing and in themselves a blessing from God.  Walking into some of the most dangerous parts of Guatemala City and seeing first hand the poverty and the people while standing with young men sniffing glue and seeing the hopelessness in their faces brought me to tears. I Am Art uses artists to bring hope to these kids.  To be able to work with I Am Art is a privilege and a blessing and will undoubtably change your  life forever as it did mine. I Am Art opened my eyes to the most important way that I can use the gift of my artistic ability to impact lives for Jesus. I will continue to work with I Am Art as much as possible and as God leads me, I will follow his plan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”7931,7925,7924,7929,7928,7927,7926,7930″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Stories Are Written One Chapter At A Time

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The week of IAA has come to a close…what a full week it was!

The entire experience was a time to learn, to create, to make new friends, to listen, to communicate, and to grow. The children of La Limonada were so proud of their art pieces and the chance to show them off to their families and others in the community during their art show Saturday morning. The workshop leaders were all challenged and touched by the juxtaposition of these kids being so thrilled to play with balloons and create toilet paper costumes for their leaders…and the extremely hard environment they are growing up in. To see them at the art camp location, one would never know that these same kids have no running water, have little to no food to eat, have lost one or both parents, are often alone the majority of the day, or know loss first hand through the death of a loved one or friend. Many are confronted with gang violence on a regular basis and can walk 10 steps outside their door and see their peers using drugs or sniffing glue to get high. Many suffer abuse regularly. These are the stories of their lives.

And yet, by day 3 these children let us in, let us hear their stories, trusted us with their pain and anger, and allowed us to walk through it with them. They listened as we showed them their worth in the eyes of their Creator and shared the truth of Scripture with them. Some even encouraged our leaders when they shared their own stories of pain.

This trip was a learning trip, as the team was given opportunities to visit La Limonada and some of the kids’ homes while there. We were given the chance to pray with staff of Vidas Plenas, single mothers, children, gang members, and a very special lady that has become somewhat of a celebrity through her appearance in the Reparando film, collecting doll parts to restore it to a whole, from the Guatemala city dump. She welcomed us into her home, and shared about her current struggles, all the while displaying a deep and abiding faith in our God.

We met a man whom I have wanted to meet for several years, that is making handmade shoes in the La Limonada Community, and with the profits of the sale of the shoes, he is feeding 10 children in his community. In my book, he is a hero.  (We bought lots of shoes.)

The end of the trip was rich as we learned some essentials of Guatemala’s history by visiting the national cemetery and learning how their history has directly influenced the current, modern Guatemala. It was eye opening and helped to put a ‘WHY’ to the problems Guatemala continues to face. Interestingly enough, our own country’s actions are largely to blame.

As the trip came to a close, and we had our last team meeting, we realized that we started out as a team of strangers, but were now among new friends. Friends that experienced the rawness of the last 10 days with us and we knew that God was with us, that He had entered in. That He was working in each of us, as we sought to serve Him this week.

I am certain, that God is not yet done writing the story of I AM ART and Guatemala’s restoration. The question we leave with you is, have you considered that maybe YOUR name is included in the next chapter?[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”” fullwidth=”true” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#dd9933″]Click here to learn about I AM ART Fall 2016[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”7907,7915,7908,7910,7914,7913,7917,7916,7920,7911,7909″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Returning To Guatemala

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today was the day I have often thought about and anticipated over the last five years. Since our last visit to La Limonada in 2011. La Limonada is a place unlike any other I have ever experienced first hand. It is a place that is full of sharp contrasts, a place with beautiful people, and extremely hard lives. A place that is known for violence and poverty and crime. Even amongst Guatemala’s own people, it is known for it’s unsavory reputation. When we were in Antigua earlier this week, we were talking with someone who asked where our group was from…when we replied with what we were in Guatemala doing – facilitating and running an I Am Art camp with Athentikos for children in Zone 5 – we were given a shocked and completely surprised response. A response that said, “wow…you guys are crazy!”

But what most people don’t realize about La Limonada (Central America’s largest slum community) is that it is also a beautiful place. A place where the people living there are no different than you or I, a place where you will most likely be greeted with a hug and a smile and a Buenos Tardes as you pass them on the narrow streets. You will be welcomed into their homes and given first priority for a place to sit. Many of the residents in the slum look out for their neighbors, and are doing the best they can to raise good kids and make ends meet…you know – just like you and I.

What struck me today, as I visited the community for my third time – is that there is an amazing amount of hard work, determination, and love that has already been established in the community – that makes it even possible for a ‘gringa’ from the States to visit. This work, this labor of love, and this choosing to extend Jesus’ grace and good news of His Gospel to any and all – is the work of the amazing staff members and leader of Vidas Plenas, Tita. I affectionately call Tita a Guatemalan Mother Theresa, because, well…. few people on this planet love and live as Tita does. The beauty of the slum was first seen in her eyes, and because of her compelling to engage with the people in the community – there is now a beacon of Gods light radiating there through the work of the committed staff and Tita, and offering hope and a future to precious kids in the Academies.

I was thrilled to see kids in our art camp this week that I had first met 6 years ago. They are taller now, but they are still there – excited to participate and engage and dreaming big and wanting to do right. Learning about Christ, and thriving in an extremely difficult environment. It has blessed my soul. I will forever be grateful to Tita and her work, and thankful for my opportunities to experience the beauty that is La Limonada.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”7875,7872,7871,7869″ column=”4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The art of creating begins in our dreams

La Limonada

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today was the start of I Am Art, Vidas Plenas. Our location is a small church outside the La Limonada slum in Guatemala City. The neighborhood isn’t pretty by most people’s standards and is a very hard place to live, but the people of La Limonada and those that live in the surrounding zone 5, are beautiful! We started off the day talking about the theme of the day, who we are. We wanted the kids to start to think about who they were, in their community, in their school and in their families. Most importantly who they are to their creator. That they are God’s workmanship or poetry as Ephesians 2:10 tells us and that all of God’s work is a marvelous creation therefore they are a marvelous creation. After the children went into their workshops we had a chance to talk with many of the children about who they are and who they would like to become. To our surprise many of them seemed to have it already figured out! They dream about a brighter future than what they currently have. Most are confident in who they want to be and the things they take joy in. Simple things are important to them, like ice cream, fotball (soccer), and their pets. They’re also concerned about weightier things like family, good jobs and safety for their future. The kids also know that they have to work hard to achieve their goals and dreams and are not afraid to try new things, whether it was learning to dance or write their own stories or try their hand at the art of miming, they quickly became engrossed in the task at hand and their personalities started to shine. We are looking forward to sharing with you throughout the week what the kids learn about who God says we are as a reflection of Him, and how that gives us purposeful lives.

Dreams are limitless[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”7847,7848,7849,7850,7851,7852,7853,7854,7855,7856,7857,7858,7859,7860″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

You Are Art

I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Team

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On Thursday morning Laura held her breath and waited to see if her students would come back to class after she had melted their art before their eyes. Miraculously, they did, and as they sat down she finally got to reveal a sculpture she had made of her own melted pieces and those of her translator and workshop assistant—a mass of colorful, curling and swirling plastic, reminiscent of a Chihuly blown glass chandelier. The students approached with wide eyes and began turning, touching, and examining the sculpture from every angle.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]“Sometimes in our lives we might feel like trash,” she told them. “Sometimes we feel like we’re not who we’re meant to be, or who we thought we were going to be. But even when we can only see pain and ugliness, God has a purpose for us. Today we’re going to put our pieces back together to create something unexpected, and even more beautiful than before, just like God can do with us.” Without missing a beat her students broke into smiles and began eagerly reaching for the hot glue gun, lifting and turning their own melted pieces up to the sculpture to find where they would best fit.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7819″ img_size=”full”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]The finished piece was magnificent. At the art show on Saturday it spun in slow circles in the square between the church, municipal building, market, and school—right in the heart of Santiago. Rainbow colors shone and stretched as the sun’s rays pierced it through and Laura’s students stood guard around it, careful to make sure the other kids didn’t touch or bump it.

The other students’ pieces had been transformed as well. The cut-up prints now fluttered above our heads as giant paper stars and the once stripped bicycle passed in gay circles—bell tinkling, plastic dinosaur spinning, streamers flying—as kids and adults took turns peddling around the tables filled with art. Around the corner, a 140-foot mural stretched across the side of the soccer stadium, boasting symbols of pride and hope for Guatemala: the sun, the ceiba tree, the white nun orchid, Quetzales, giant kites, and even Santiago itself in miniature.

[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”The I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Mural.” caption_location=”outside-image”][vc_column_text]That day we celebrated all we had learned and created by singing, dancing, hugging, laughing, and even letting paper lanterns drift into the sky as a sign that we had given everything we are to Christ.

Best of all, when Laura asked her students a critical question, they responded differently than they had on Wednesday:

“Do you think this is trash now?” she asked.


“Do you think this is art?”


[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Laura’s class proudly displaying their art at I AM ART Se Luz 2016.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Adolfo proudly displaying the Chihuly art he made at I AM ART Se Luz 2016, after it was destroyed and repaired.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Chihuly Sculpture at I AM ART Se Luz 2016″ caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Singing Soy Arte at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]We all understand now, that no matter how you feel, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter how may pieces you’re in, the same can be said of you. Give yourself to God and watch with patient trust how He forms you into something you never imagined you could be. That’s what we did this week, and our hearts are still singing:

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

Una creación de Dios / A creation of God

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

Envuelto en amor / Enveloped in love

Es amor / He is love

Es amor / He is love

Dios es amor / God is love

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”The I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Artwork displayed at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Celebrating at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Artwork displayed at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Adolfo watching his sky lantern fly into the sky at I AM ART Se Luz 2016.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”A Sky Lantern released at I AM ART Se Luz 2016.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”” fullwidth=”true” bg_color=”#dd9933″ btn_hover_bg=”#000000″]Give a donation to I AM ART[/mk_button][vc_column_text]I AM ART needs you. Please consider giving a tax-deductible donation to help us continue this mission. THANKS![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Held in Pain

Children processing conflict at Athentikos I AM ART 2016 Se Luz

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Conflict day … On the Wednesday of each I AM ART camp week, the workshop leaders direct their students to destroy or drastically modify the pieces they’ve spent the last two days working on—pieces that represent the children themselves. Everyone knew this day would be difficult and many of us went to bed on Tuesday with knots in our stomachs.

The kids’ reactions were much as expected. Those in the recycled art class kicked angrily at the lights, flowers, and feather boas they had been instructed to rip from the bike they were transforming into recycled art. In the printmaking class, every face was downcast as the children cut into their prints and set them aside, for what purpose they knew not. And in Laura’s mixed media class, Adolfo stared in horror, shaking his head and mouthing the word “no,” as she held his meticulously colored plate over a pot of boiling water.

What we learned that day was, for me, completely unexpected.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7805″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Jenn, the printmaker, tried to explain to her students that even though today was painful, they would be using their now cut-up prints to make a new, more beautiful piece of art tomorrow. “You’ll just have to trust me,” she told them. “But what if we don’t?” one student replied.

Meanwhile Laura’s students gathered their melted plates, cups, and bowls in their arms and began walking out of class. “Where are you going?” she cried. “We’re going to throw it away,” they said. “It’s trash now.”

“It killed me inside,” Laura says, her voice breaking. “I know what’s going to happen and I wanted so badly to just hug them and tell them it’s going to be okay, but I couldn’t.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7806″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]The other artists echoed her sentiment and suddenly I understood a little bit better how hard it must be for God to allow us to experience pain and how much more it hurts us and Him when we don’t trust Him. Though God never positively wills our pain, He does at times allow us to experience it, with a clear vision of how He will use it to make us new, more beautiful creations.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7807″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]

We went to bed on Wednesday night aching for our students who we had left in pain, who couldn’t see our vision, who didn’t trust us to transform their pain into purpose. All we could do was trust that God had His own, larger vision, and was holding us in this pain, using this camp to transform us all.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7808″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Discovering Dignity

I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Day1MixedMedia-3

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today is Wednesday, the “peak” of art camp, and I am finally carving out time to sit and write. We spent last weekend in Antigua, resting and preparing ourselves for the week. On Sunday we made the 40-minute drive from Antigua to Santiago Sacatepéquez, the location for the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 camp. To put it simply, the transition was drastic.

Antigua, Guatemala’s capital when it was under Spanish colonial rule, bursts at the seams with color and enchantment. Volcanoes ring the city like sentinels, while tourists and natives alike bustle down cobbled streets, their shadows gliding across thick adobe walls painted orange, yellow, maroon, and teal. In Antigua, we ate, drank, and enjoyed ourselves to our hearts’ content. Coffee, wine, and chocolate were staples of our diet, and when we weren’t eating, shopping for gorgeously-crafted textiles, or touring nearby coffee plantations, we relaxed by the hotel pool, slept, and took long, hot showers.

“I wish we could just live here,” Laura remarked at one point. “Yeah, but”—MacLean shook his head and sighed—“gotta go help kids.”

[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” image_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Santiago Sacatepéquez. Here, many families live in houses made of corrugated steel and cook beans, rice, and tortillas over an open fire. Those who are better off build their houses out of concrete and cook meat on stovetops. Poverty and a national history of racism, war, and corruption combine to magnify the social evils of alcoholism, drug addiction, gang violence, and teenage pregnancy. Santiago was downgraded from a red zone, or town with an average of one murder per day, just a few years ago.

In addition, at times it seems that everything in Santiago is bleak and dirty. A walk up the hill behind town offers a sweeping vista of steel rooftops in various stages of rust, broken occasionally by concrete walls—a patchwork of gray, tan, and reddish-brown. On the streets stray dogs wander in circles looking for scraps of food and we can’t look ahead as we walk for fear of stepping in dog or horse feces. The dirt that covers buildings and streets soon covers hands and feet as well. At our hotel (it still surprises me that Santiago even HAS a hotel) we experience intermittent losses of electricity and water.[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”” image_size=”large”][vc_column_text]On Monday and Tuesday, though, we discovered that in spite of the struggles the children of Santiago face, they are as full of color as the streets in Antigua. The artists used their workshops to help the kids explore who they are and where they come from, with magnificent results. In the mixed media class, for example, the kids colored plates, bowls, and cups with hues that reflect their emotions. In the miming class, each child practiced trust as he closed his eyes and ran toward a wall of his peers, their arms open, waiting to catch him. In the paper-making class, children traced and decorated their own footprints, recalling that they walk in the light of the Lord, who is always watching over them.

As artists, we left feeling overjoyed at the way the children had used the tools we gave them to express the beauty of their individual selves. Their dignity is seldom celebrated, often violated, resulting in wounds that cannot be healed by anyone but God. At the end of day two we felt thankful that He had put us in this place and used us as His instruments—His artist’s brushes and tools—to help the kids recognize their infinite worth.[/vc_column_text][mk_gallery images=”7787,7788,7789,7790,7791,7792,7793,7794,7795,7796″ column=”5″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Giving Life Through Art

Courtney Smalley

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]I had an enchanted childhood. When I wasn’t coloring, playing dress-up, or playing with my stuffed animals, I would daydream for hours in my backyard, swinging on the jungle gym, singing softly to myself, and listening to God whisper through the leaves how much He loved me. In the age of innocence I walked in my own golden Garden of Eden. I think of it often now when I pray.

In addition, I am the only child of two wise, loving parents. Growing up my mother was my playmate by day and my favorite storyteller by night. She encouraged all of my wide-eyed wonder and creative efforts with the most sincere enthusiasm. My father, who came from a broken family, hugged me every day and often told me how my mother and I were the fulfillment of his lifelong dream to have a family that loved each other. Not for a moment did I doubt my infinite value or the infinite amount that I was loved.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”large” lightbox=”true”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]I am well aware that not everyone grows up this way. In 2014 I travelled to a small, rural town in Guatemala and met a group of kids who my Spanish professor, through her recently founded non-profit, was sending to school. There was one little girl—Elvia—who looked at me with such astonished, aching hope whenever I paid attention to her, that I sobbed at night thinking about it. Elvia barely has enough self-confidence to speak her own name, so I don’t know her story. Others’ stories I do know: Lluvia and Luis’ father was killed while walking home from work one day, by a man he may or may not have owed money. Irineo, an orphan, spent part of his childhood shining grown men’s shoes in the town square and sneaking into farmers’ sheds to sleep at night. Marvin, the gentlest, sweetest 12-year-old I have ever met, still says he wants to be a barber like his father, who died of alcoholism.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_size=”large” lightbox=”true”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]In less than a month I’m going back to Guatemala to see these kids, and this time I’m bringing a team of artists with me. Through Athentikos we’ll be putting on an art camp called I AM ART, designed to help Elvia, Lluvia, Luis, Irineo, Marvin and the other kids understand that they are works of art created by God, and therefore of infinite worth, infinitely loved.

God has asked me to share my time and talent as a writer and photographer to help with this camp, but as a recent graduate who works at another nonprofit, I am still a little lacking in the treasure department. If you would like to contribute to I AM ART, and send me there as the official Storyteller (i.e. person-who-gets-to-take-photos-and-write-about-what-God-does-in-the-hearts-of-the-kids-and-artists-during-the-camp), you can visit my fundraising page. THANK YOU for supporting Athentikos. Even when we don’t have enchanted childhoods, God never stops trying to reach us and communicate His love. I believe He’s using I AM ART to do just that.

Thank you![/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#dd9933″]Support Courtney in I AM ART[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]