Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Children’s Art Project

The following article appeared today on iSeek, the Diocese of Missouri’s online newsletter. The editor introduces the article:

One of the projects of the next diocesan mission trip to Lui involves art and the children of the dioceses of Lui and Missouri, and is the brainchild of the Rev. Anne Kelsey, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Central West End, St. Louis. In this article she writes about her history with trips to Lui and how the idea for this project came about and developed.

Notes for the Journey
The Children’s Art Project
The Rev. Anne Kelsey, Rector, Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Louis

When I first met Bishop Bullen Dolli at the fall convention of the Diocese of Missouri in 2005 I told him, as much out of politeness as anything else, that I would like to go to Lui. His reaction wasn’t a conventional response; it was “When will you come?” I never really expected it to happen. I was the rector of Trinity, served on Diocesan Council, and had much to keep me more than busy as it was. Southern Sudan was a world away, literally, and I did not think that I had anything much to offer on any kind of mission trip. Then Bishop Smith called and asked if I would go to Lui with him, the Canon to the Ordinary the Rev. Dan Smith, and the President of Standing Committee, Ida Early, in April of 2006. We would be formally representing the Diocese of Missouri and signing the Covenant agreement between the two dioceses.

How do you say no to two bishops? You don’t. On the day after Easter I left for Sudan as part of our mission team, trying to stuff my fear of flying under the seat along with regret that I wouldn’t be traveling to California with my husband to see our first grandchild who had been born only a week earlier. It took so long to get to Lui on so many different airplanes that the trip itself was a kind of inoculation against my fear, and I actually sat in the co-pilot’s seat in the tiny plane that took us from Nairobi to Lui and back.

Being in Lui with the people of Southern Sudan was a conversion experience. The Anglicans in Lui have survived a terrible civil war, suffer from hunger and disease as constant companions, and have seen their cathedral bombed three times. Under those circumstances you might expect anger and bitterness and hostility towards those of us who have so much. Yet, as those who have been to Lui will attest, there is only gracious and generous hospitality and tremendous faith. Worship is fervent and joyful, thronging with children who learn to drum at an early age.

As part of my preparation I’d thrown in my suitcase some colored pencils and a sketch pad. I have an undergraduate degree in art and hadn’t done any drawing in years, but thought maybe there would be something of interest to inspire me. One afternoon when we were given some free time, I pulled out a plastic chair and sat at the edge of the cathedral compound with my sketch book and pencils and began to draw one of the houses called tukals. As I struggled with rusty drawing skills a man came up to me, knelt down and admired the half-finished picture. Then he turned to me and said, “Will you come and teach our children?”

It was a beautiful and overwhelming and impossible request and I didn’t want to lie, so I said that I would love to come and teach the children. Going to Lui once had seemed more than improbable; returning looked impossible.

The Lui Children’s Art Project grew out of that one simple question. The question remained in my heart until I developed it to present to the Companion Diocese Committee. The committee approved the project, which will be part of the next mission trip to Lui in November. This fall children ages six to twelve will be able to attend an art workshop at several parishes here in the diocese of Missouri. In November I will return to Lui to hold those same workshops in four or five villages. Following each workshop the children’s pictures will be displayed for their families and villagers, and I will bring some of them back to the United States with me. Each picture (both Lui and Missouri) will be accompanied by a photo of the child artist who created it, and next year the selected pictures will be displayed at a special art show here in St. Louis.

There is so much that is needed in Sudan, from clean water and medical supplies to irrigation plans and mosquito control. These fall under the category of development. However, our relationship with Lui is more than raising money, as much as that is needed. It is about spending time with people and discovering the commonalities that bring us together as Christians.

The language of art is universal, and speaks without words across the world. The opportunity for children to create art is an important experience, and one that we in Missouri perhaps take for granted. Our children have paper and crayons from an early age, and even when they are quite little they can express themselves vividly. Look at a piece of paper filled with black scribbles and slashes, and you might accurately guess that the child who made them was angry at the time. I am eager to give children in Lui an opportunity to exercise creativity, even in such a limited way as a single workshop. It will give them a chance to express what they cannot say in words, both happy things and sad ones as well.

As I prepare once more to go to Sudan I reflect on all of the ways God works and surprises us with grace. Out of a chance encounter and a simple question, mission is born. I am very grateful for the opportunity to develop and present this project, even as I am both eager and nervous. I am sure that God has more surprises in store.

[Ed. note: The photo at left depicts the Rev. Anne Kelsey with Mama Janifa, a priest in the Diocese of Lui, during Anne's April 2006 trip to Lui.]


The next trip to Lui will depart from St. Louis on Sunday, November 22, and return on December 5. Several initiatives will be included, most of them focused on information exchange and relationship-building; the initiatives will depend on the missioners selected for the trip. If you are a member of a parish in the Diocese of Missouri and want to join this mission, complete the application form here. Applications are due Monday, August 24.

If you want to make a financial contribution to this project, go to the diocesan site, select "Diocese of Lui" from the menu, navigate through the pages, then put "Lui Mission Trip" in the "purpose" field.