A Combination of God, Missions and Art
By Edith Chenault, Journalist from Austin, TX and Missionary to Estonia
August 7, 2014
TARTU, Estonia – Art, artists, and Christianity combined to form imagiNATIONS, a unique cultural event that took place in late July in Tartu.
The event, organized by Bridge Builders International and Külli Hansen from Tartu Loomemajanduskeskus (Tartu Centre for Creative Industries), drew about 50 artists, both adults and children. imagiNATIONS included seminars, discussions about art, and of course, much artistic effort, including painting and photography.
imagiNATIONS was the brainchild of Meego Remmel, senior pastor of Salem Church-Tartu. Remmel and Charles Kelley, president of Bridge Builders International, met in the summer of 2013 at the Latvian Baptist festival, which included plein air painting—a French expression for open air painting—and an exhibition for participating artists. That track was organized by Bridge Builders International.
“It really caught Meego’s attention,” said Kelley, from Oregon and Latvia. “He then asked if we would ever consider doing this in Estonia. I was honored by his question, but I never really thought it would happen.”
A later meeting at a church conference led to a visit by Bridge Builders International representatives to Tartu and the creation of the event. Kelley offered the name of IMAGINE; Hansen suggested the name of imagiNATIONS. Kelley and his team immediately liked it.
“It gave us a three-fold purpose: for focusing on the nations, encouraging imagination as a way of life, and acknowledging the Lord God who created us all in His image, with the capacity to sense and create beauty,” Kelley said.
Hansen said about 10 adult artists each from Latvia and Estonia, as well as a handful of artists from the United States and Mexico, took part in imagiNATIONS at the Loomenmajanduskeskus in Tartu. During the second day of the event, children were tutored in painting at the park next door.
Pia Hanslep of Tartu said the weekend was a blessing. “First of all, it was an uplifting experience to paint side by side with so many talented and passionate artists,” she said. “Secondly the weather was magnificent and it would have been sinful to sit inside and miss all this sun.”
Even though she didn’t receive any direct tutoring, she said she received a lot indirectly, just by walking around, looking at other people’s paintings, and listening to their experiences and stories.
“Usually artists don’t have time and (the) will to come together like that, so it is enriching in many ways,” she said. “And the fact that most of the people who had come, live and paint for God–notwithstanding what they are painting—put the whole event onto quite another level.”
Trina Ross, a missionary from Alabama who is now living in Tartu, agreed. “I felt humbled just to be in the presence of all of these great artists,” she said. “And the most amazing part was meeting these artists who not only love to create but love the Creator. God is the greatest artist and I loved being around others who felt the same way. That weekend was a combination of some of the things I love most: God, missions and art.”
Lienite Bemera, Director of Partners, the Latvian branch of Bridge Builders, said that in previous years that organization hosted events within that country for artists to paint and pray together. She said she was excited about helping with the Estonian event.
The highlight was “meeting people where they are and having open heart-to-heart conversations,” Bemera said. “I see these kinds of projects as a great tool of evangelization and also stretching Christian people to start to express their creativity and open the doors of imagination,” she said.
Kelley said the Estonian hosts were wonderful “in every way.” “It was a joy to paint together, get to know one another, watch films together and discuss them, to worship and pray with them,” he said. “We celebrated each other’s art while praising the Ultimate Artist for the great things He has done and for the unique talents that creative people have, which are central to their callings.”
The Tartu event led to Bemera picking up her paint brush again when she returned home. “I was 11 when I painted (the) last time,” she said. “It is a great surprise for me. Even if it’s not (a) perfect piece of art, it is genuine because it is mine.”
The Estonians have invited their Latvian friends back for an event next year. The Latvian Baptist organization has also planned another festival in Cesis, and invited Bridge Builders to lead the art track. And Bridge Builders is already imagining inviting about 30 artists from Latvia, Estonia, and perhaps the United States for an event similar to the Tartu event.
The bottom line, Kelley said, is “we want to see artists transformed by the love and power of God. We want to see as many artists come to know, love, and follow the Lord Jesus with all of their hearts.”