The Power of Story

This post was written by team member Bethany Cok who currently resides in Guatemala 
I leaned against the concrete wall of the high-ceilinged room we’d decorated to the rafters with balloons, streamers, and chalk art, the explosion of color matching the explosion of chaos that descended on the room every afternoon at 1:50. I watched and couldn’t help but laugh, looking at over a hundred kids running in circles, chasing balloons and volunteers and each other, and I tried to savor the moments before we all sat down for our (hopefully) more orderly group activities.
One of the second-grade girls in the art group I was helping with, Artes Mixtas (Mixed Media), came up to me in the chaos, gave me a huge hug, and ran off to keep playing. And I couldn’t help but think, looking at this group of kids and volunteers, how incredibly different were the paths that brought each of us to this echoey, concrete room in Magdalena Milpas Altas, Guatemala. The kids lived there, growing up in homes so different from mine, in an area with high rates of poverty and alcoholism, some with loving families but others with absent or uninvolved parents. The rest of us were visitors to the neighborhood: young Guatemalan men and women there as patient, enthusiastic artists and translators, passionate art workshop leaders from the US visiting Guatemala for the first time, and a few others like me, in the middle, born and raised in the States but who moved to Guatemala and decided to stay for a while.

Hugs in the middle of chaos

Throughout the week, we talked about identity, community, conflict, resolution­—the arc of Jesus’s story of redemption in the world and in our lives. We encountered it through art projects, crafting this story with our hands, and we discussed it and tried to live it out. As we talked about God’s amazing story for us, a story of love and redemption and perseverance, I was struck by how each of our unique stories intersects with that great story, and how these stories matter profoundly in ways we can only begin to understand.

At the beginning of the week, I talked with some incredible young workshop leaders from the States who had come down to Guatemala with open hearts and suitcases full of art supplies, and I heard something that surprised me. These people whom I immediately saw as creative shared some of their insecurities, saying things like, “Oh, I don’t really see myself as an artist.” And I also saw this in some of the kids as they expressed doubts about their own abilities: “Oh, I don’t know how to do that. I can’t do that.”
One of the things I loved most about this week was seeing the change in the hearts of the workshop leaders and the kids, seeing them gain the confidence to step into their gifts and say, “Yes, I am an artist. I can do this.” To me, this is the essence of the phrase “Soy Arte.” When you dare to say “I am art” loudly and boldly, when you sing it in a packed church room with a bunch of boisterous kids, you can’t help but start to believe it. To say that we are art affirms that we are created by a Creator and that we are creative. It affirms that we are valued, that we have something to offer the world.
Something stuck in my heart from that week. I came away asking, What are the stories we tell and believe about ourselves? What are the stories we tell and believe about God? And how can that change everything we are? During Soy Arte, we didn’t just talk about stories—we created one and we lived it. And it’s my prayer that a piece of this great story stuck with those rowdy, wonderful first-graders I worked with, so that beyond everything else, they know they are loved and redeemed and part of the greatest story ever told.
Because when we accept God’s story, what He says about us, and step into the fullness and richness and deepness of that incredible story, we can then begin to help others step into that same story, and together we’ll paint the world around us to be just a little bit brighter.
Registration for the December I Am Art camp at Jungle School has been extended! We are in need of more team members to join us on this new adventure! Check out this amazing opportunity here, and if you can’t make it we’re also collecting donations to help support the camps with operational costs and art supplies.