Oppressed Christians in Middle East find healing through art

By Jeff M. Sellers |
Art and some text from Healing Art Prayer Guide.
Art and some text from Healing Art Prayer Guide. | (Christian Daily International Screenshot)

It may be hard to fully portray the oppression that darkens the daily life of girls in the Middle East, but the art they have learned to create as part of their healing can make their agony clear in an instant.

Their artwork appears in an annual prayer guide published by an international ministry called Take Heart to help Christians know how to pray for the persecuted, as religious persecution is a large part of the oppression that girls and young women face in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“The Christian young women Take Heart works with struggle inside a cultural system that does not empower girls and women because of long-term persecution and fear from the Muslim culture they are surrounded by,” said the executive director of Take Heart, whose name is withheld for security reasons.

Art from Healing Art Prayer Guide.
Art from Healing Art Prayer Guide. | (Christian Daily International screenshot)

Denied education and independence, many of the young women are illiterate, and most do not have basic job skills, she said.

“So, some of these young women have experienced deprivation of basic necessities due to poverty and denial of opportunities as part of persecution,” she said.

Such oppression leaves them vulnerable to attachments with those of the majority religion.

“Healing them from low self-esteem is protecting them from being deceived by Muslim young men to take them to Islam,” the director said.

Meeting as a group with an art teacher from the ministry, the girls and women learn techniques and methods that allow them to express the trauma and difficulties that otherwise have no outlet – cultural norms silence them from the outside, and internal pressures silence many from within.

Artwork from Healing Art Prayer Guide.
Artwork from Healing Art Prayer Guide. | (Christian Daily International)

“The girls have emerged from the consistent training as flourishing artists,” the director said. “These girls use a wide variety of methods to create artwork which includes acrylic paint, water color, dotting with pens/pencils, carving wood, drawing on papyrus, using leather or beads to create icons.”

One of the girls took what she had learned to serve others, channeling her passion to teach others in an afterschool program at church to many who weren’t consistently attending services.

“As a result of finding joy and relief in drawing and painting, many of the girls began to go more consistently to learn more difficult art techniques,” the director said.

The artwork shows the toll on girl and women of surviving in a culture that routinely disparages females.

“One young lady was told by her very own family members that she is ‘ugly’ and ‘not worth anything,’ and that she would be lucky if someone marries her,” she said. “As a result of the healing art, that same young lady now expresses how beautiful she believes she is because she is Christ’s daughter – that she is worth a lot because she’s talented and can go to school to learn.”

Art and text from artist in Healing Art Prayer Guide.
Art and text from artist in Healing Art Prayer Guide. | (Christian Daily International screenshot)

The young woman now has the confidence to stand on stage and sing praises to God in front of hundreds of people, she added.

“She is also the same young lady who can be seen in an art festival describing her artwork’s symbolism that she can now express her emotions; that her hardship has been turned into something beautiful, and she wants to teach others to draw and paint because it’s changed her life,” she said. 

Take Heart publishes an annual prayer guide for supporters to provide direction in praying for the persecuted.

“Praying for the persecuted may not come easily for many of us, especially in the West when we are not always aware of their greatest needs,” the director said. 

After attending an art exhibit last year featuring the work of the young women with whom Take Heart leaders had worked, ministry officials immediately knew they had to share it, she said.  

“We were so impressed by the sophistication of the artwork and the honesty of the stories behind each piece,” she said. “We were moved to pray for these young women, and we believed others would be, too.”

They compiled the work and stories of 12 artists into the “Healing Art Prayer Guide,” as the best way to elevate their work while bringing attention to their prayer needs.

“Readers may use the Prayer Guide in different ways or how the Holy Spirit guides them,” she said. “We feature 12 artists in the Prayer Guide. One idea is to commit to a year of prayer by focusing on one artist’s story and her artwork each month for the next year. Another idea is to pray weekly for the artists.”

The guide has more than 60 images of art pieces. The visual art speaks of the young women’s needs and can indicate how to pray for them. One suggestion, she said, would be to weekly “choose a different image and artist from the guide. Focus your prayers around one aspect of suffering that stands out to you.”