A Mission Reflection: South Asia

Editor's Note: We will occasionally publish reflections from our work across the world. In these articles, you'll see Servant Partners mission in action. The publications of Servant Partners Press reflect that mission.

When Sarah Hanks joined Servant Partners ten years ago, she certainly thought she was making the choice to leave her filmmaking pursuits in order to live among the urban poor in South Asia. The traditional missionary role doesn’t have much space for creative endeavors, but after directing a street theater performance with neighbors and creating a short film for a conference, Sarah felt like the world suddenly turned right side up. 

Viewing the acclaimed movie “Munyurangabo,” by Korean-American director Lee Issac Chung, opened Sarah’s eyes to the possibility of engaging the poor with art and making quality film.  A discussion with Servant Partners leaders led her to ask the question, “If I could do anything, what would it be?”

A few years later, Sarah is submitting her own movie, “Arun,” to film festivals and hoping it will be picked up for distribution. Sarah started the project by running a film and photography internship in Bangkok, in some of the communities where Servant Partners staff live. When it was time to make the movie, neighbors—not trained actors—filled the main roles. In this coming of age story, two teenage boys wrestle with the question of how to care for their female friend in a city where the sex industry has so much power.

Addressing the difficult topics of poverty and injustice in a personal, relatable way is one of Sarah’s hopes for this film specifically but also for her art in general.

In a movement focused on church-planting and community development, some may question the role art and artists play in our ministry.  Sarah says, “God uses creativity, imagination and artists to move his people. A lot of the prophets in the Old Testament are artists. David was a musician, a composer, a songwriter. The prophetic books--that’s a large part of the Old Testament--for the most part, are not written in prose. They are poetry.  Think about that for a second—when God wants to speak to his people he doesn’t write an essay or a sermon or a lecture (for the most part). He writes poetry.” She shares three ways she sees the importance of art in our movement:

  1. By bringing forth issues of poverty and injustice in creative ways, artists challenge the broader world—especially people of wealthy, developed communities—to engage issues that they don’t normally encounter.
  2. In our urban poor neighborhoods, creating art can bring healing and health to places of deep pain, and provides an opportunity for people to become prophetic voices for their own communities, bringing hope and vision for transformation.
  3. Creating and appreciating art can be part of the ministry of self-care for our staff, encouraging them to practice joy, beauty, and abundance, believing that God wants to give us good things and bring hope and healing in our own lives.

Sarah is not the only person being changed and challenged by this call to incorporate art into incarnational urban poor ministry. Similar experiences in the South Asia street theater participants and Thailand film students showed Sarah that there is power for art to transform communities as well.

There is something that turned, an awakening of their souls or personhood that needed to happen. They previously couldn’t voice their own thoughts or opinions, but through art they found something important, powerful, and hopeful inside themselves. After the projects, they stood up in front of their communities and presented photo essays. They now take initiative to engage with younger kids and are becoming leaders in their neighborhoods.

Sarah is now heading an initiative within Servant Partners to encourage other Servant Partners staff to develop themselves as artists, to engage the community with art, and to make art that embodies the values of Servant Partners.  “We’re all made to be creative. We’re all creators. We’re made in the image of God. I think we forget that sometimes about God, that He’s the creator. He’s compassionate, He’s just, He loves the poor, etc. etc. Yes. But isn’t He, first and foremost, fundamentally a creator? For all of us, exercising our creativity connects us to who we are and to God the creator. Beauty and enjoying beauty is part of the restoration of creation. It develops our spirituality and heals cracks in our soul.”

More information about Arun, including a trailer, can be found on the film's website.

Posted on October 11, 2015 and filed under reflections.