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Every day all around the globe, artists on mission are creating, cultivating, and contributing in their communities. As they seek to see their art used in the work the Lord is doing, we want to share their stories to encourage and inspire.
This blog is a place to read those stories, giving you a glimpse into how the Lord is using the arts around the world.
Wednesday, 29 November 2023 15:05

Seeing Local Arts Redeemed: Short Term Project in Palawan

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Recently, a couple of our staff members traveled to the Philippines to teach Vibrant Communities Through the Arts to local tribal leaders. Read below about how the Lord worked in this short term project! 

 I found Beth, my Inspiro colleague, in the departure lounge at Manila Airport. We were both bound for Palawan, one of the larger islands of the Philippines, to train tribal church leaders in redeeming their traditional art forms for worship and sharing faith. Beth and I had last worked together years ago in the UK, on a project with North African refugees to record their own cultural worship songs. We were both eagerly anticipating what the Lord might do on this trip, and had been trying to prepare as best we could for whatever situations we might find. What if concepts were lost in translation, or were too heady and complex? What if they felt their local arts simply didn’t have anything worth redeeming?

Another flight and a long highway drive later, we found ourselves at Ethnos Training Centre, nestled deep in a valley on Palawan. Ethnos is a ministry of OM, equipping tribal church leaders with basic theological training for leading their communities faithfully, while also teaching sustainable farming practices to cultivate renewal in their tribes. How cool is it that the church can serve their communities in this way?!

The 25 participants came from three major tribal groups across Palawan island: the Palaw’an tribe in the far south, the Batak tribe in the far north, and the Tagbanua tribe in the centre. The participants from the furthest reaches travelled many hours to come - our northern Batak friends navigated 16 river crossings on their 250km motorbike trek to join us! Many of them were under the age of 30, and leading ministries while working typical tribal farming rhythms, so the timing of the training was critical in between farming seasons.

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Philip, one of the ministry leaders, emigrated with his family from Cebu to Palawan in 2016. Moved by the opportunity to connect tribal history and identity to the calling to follow Jesus, they uprooted their modern, comfortable Westernised lifestyle to start Ethnos Training Centre. He was saddened to hear how former missionaries had told Christian groups to reject their traditional arts and instruments, replacing them with guitars and translated hymns. He noted to us that for various reasons, some of the smaller tribes were assimilating into the dominant Filipino culture, abandoning their unique art forms and stories in the process.

“Back in Cebu, we had forgotten our cultural history and identity,” Philip told me. “We don’t want the communities on Palawan to make the same mistake we did.” 

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Beth was the training facilitator, and she skilfully walked the participants through Vibrant Communities Through The Arts (ViCTA), an online curriculum developed for training within OM fields across the world. It was first time these online materials have been adapted to an in-person context, so we had our work cut out for us! 

Beginning with a broad survey of worship in scripture, we immediately saw the cultural distinctiveness of their own relationships with the Lord: trust in His provision through harvest seasons, feeling His strength and protection in crossing fierce rivers, sheltering in Him in the midst of typhoons, feeling His affection as He adopts us as sons and daughters.

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As the week progressed, we dug further into their own “heart arts”, discovering what creative forms move them to their core. Some shared worship songs, instrumental pieces, nature sounds, even a punk rock song! This punk rock song prompted a lively discussion led by Philip: “Imagine you’re not a Christian, and a missionary came to your village and shared the gospel with you, but then said you must also sing punk rock songs. Do you think you would have followed Jesus?” The trainees answered with an emphatic no - of course not, that music doesn’t connect at all with tribal culture! “So why do we do this with Western worship songs?”

This was one of those wonderful “lightbulb” moments where we saw people realising the significant influence local arts can have in gospel comprehension. We went on to explore the kinds of arts their own communities love, and the blessedness of each person and tribe having a unique engagement with beauty. We showed examples of other cultures where local worship takes a distinctly local flavour, bringing unique dimensions to gospel comprehension when their cultural identity is anchored on the person and work of Jesus.

At the end of the week, the participants led the Sunday service at a nearby tribal church. The participants found ways to use their own recovered art forms to tell gospel stories: a toltol (an interactive storytelling form) and a war dance recounted David’s victory against Goliath, an oyman (improvised song of thanksgiving) was used as a corporate prayer, a kudyapi (a kind of two-string guitar) was used to perform a piece inspired by birdsong as we reflected on Jesus teaching how God cares for the sparrows. 

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One member of the church was so inspired, he ran home to pull out their own homemade ukulele that had been hidden away, and proudly showed it off to us. The buzz of activity around the church that day was enough for a number of locals to engage with the church community for the first time.

The trainees have since returned to the communities they minister amongst, inspired to recover traditional art forms for worship and ministry. Pray with us for the participants, that they might see deep comprehension of the gospel as Jesus is seen not as some foreign imported God, but as the Lord who redeems their history and culture as well.

We’re hoping to return in 2024 to follow up with the participants, see how the training has shaped their local ministries, and (hopefully) capture some of the creativity that has emerged, so they might have resources for further inspiring their communities in the future.

Last modified on Friday, 23 February 2024 16:07