Dear painters, writers, and poets: This world needs you

Dear painters, writers, and poets: This world needs you

Written on 01/07/2021
Laura Heming Phillips

Written by Laura Heming Phillips

I stood in a puddle of broken, green-hued glass, stunned. I had been robbed.

The rear window of my car had been smashed and my laptop taken. As I recovered from the shock in the days following, I found myself unable to throw out the broken glass.

A reoccurring thought lingered in the back of my mind: I don’t want darkness to win.

To silence this nagging thought, I did what I do best: I got creative. I made a leaf-shaped collage from the broken window pieces. I needed a tangible reminder that the evils of this world don’t always come out on top.

As I stepped back to see the final product, I felt a weight lift. This was a mosaic that spoke of brokenness turned into beauty.

It’s a concept I’ve always been drawn to. We are created from dust, but God is constantly turning our brokenness into beauty.

Yet as I studied English and social work in university I felt tension within me. What did reading Shakespeare and learning creative writing techniques have to do with trauma counselling and systemic injustice?

I had two loves in my hands and I could not seem to reconcile them.

Fast forward two years, and I was living in the west end of Winnipeg with my husband, participating in a justice-focused Youth With A Mission program.

We spent four months in an impoverished neighbourhood known as one of Winnipeg’s worst. We learned about human trafficking, displaced peoples, racism, and poverty—topics that both broke my heart and begged for my attention.

One week, we volunteered at  Winnipeg’s largest homeless shelter. Our assignment was simple: to be present in the drop-in cafeteria, chatting with and getting to know the people who came in.

As an introvert, this completely terrified and overwhelmed me. I anxiously tried to make myself busy with cleaning tasks. Striking up conversations with complete strangers—who were mostly men 40 years my senior and were experiencing a range of complex challenges—left me frozen.

By the end of the week, I had made up my mind: I did not have the personality for this justice stuff.

As I watched my fellow YWAM students strike up conversations with ease, I concluded I was simply not strong enough for this work. I could write, play music, and paint, but how could that help the people sitting before me?

Nearing the end of the program, I met with my mentor. I felt I had failed at living in Winnipeg’s worst neighbourhood. The break-ins and overdoses I witnessed had sent me into deep anxiety.

I had failed at being Jesus to those who were without homes, without food, and needing community. I was not the right person for the job.

“Laura,” my mentor chimed in on my blubbering. “The work of justice needs all kinds of people. Not just the extroverts or the talkers. Biblical justice looks a million different ways.”

She was right. The body of Christ couldn’t all be one part. The body of Christ needed creators, go-getters, ralliers, and those who’d rather stay behind the scenes.

Brokenness could not possibly become beautiful without all the faces of God.

Without creators, where would the prophetic words come from? Without storytellers, how would the “least of these” be seen, known, and loved?

Without musicians, how could we sing songs of freedom over the oppressed? That day, God showed me that creatives weren’t just invited to be a part of the work of justice. They were a main ingredient.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon as I sit at my desk with an Earl Grey tea, writing this story. There are a few sticky notes on my wall, each with a story I plan to write for my job at Compassion Canada.

They describe the lives of children living in deep poverty, who, with the support of a local church, are becoming free from the chains that bind them—hunger, thirst, oppression. I get to share stories of redemption that otherwise would never be heard.

In The Prophetic Imagination the American theologian Walter Bruggeman writes, “The characteristic way of the prophet is that of poetry and lyric.”

God is turning brokenness into beauty every day, every moment, whether we see it or not. And it is up to us—the writers, creators, photographers, poets, and dreamers—to illuminate those moments to the world.

The world needs us to show up and proclaim, “Darkness will not win.”

Do you want to use your creative gifts and talents to make a difference? Compassion Canada has launched a new, online fundraising tool that allows you to use your unique giftings to fundraise for children and families in need during COVID-19.