Visitors here don't expect to be challenged, diverted, distracted, and exhilarated when they walk into a missions building," says Jonathan Bonk. But when they enter the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), whose walls are lined with contemporary paintings, Bonk says, "The sheer beauty of the art causes people to light up. As visitors walk around, they are reminded of the gospel."
Bonk is the director of OMSC, which has an established reputation for studying and strategizing world missions. The 160 paintings highlight one of its newer roles: patron of the visual arts.
With funding from the Foundation for Theological Education in South East Asia and a special fund in honor of Paul T. Lauby, in 2001 OMSC began hosting foreign (usually Asian) Christian artists for a fully funded sabbatical year. In a nondescript, utilitarian building on OMSC's New Haven campus, seven artists have each spent a year creating a body of work in answer to the question, "What is the best missional art in a globalized world?"
"It is hot for the church to use arts now," says Hollywood art maven Barbara Nicolosi. The trend seems to be less ephemeral than the statement may suggest: besides OMSC, many other experienced missions organizations are seeing art as a way to convey the message of the gospel.
In 1990, New York City-based artist Makoto Fujimura became one of the first to start a program along those lines. He organized the International Arts Movement, which has sponsored artist missionary trips to China, Japan, and England.
Within a few years, the International Arts Movement was followed by church-sponsored arts festivals, such as the International Festival of the Arts. Schools began programs, such as Wheaton College's Community Art and Missions ...