OM Arts School of Mission

by Pat Butler, International Arts Ministry Specialist, and Mat Carson, Director of Training, OM Arts International

Go anywhere in the world, talk to anyone committed to arts ministry, and you will hear the same thing over and over again: “God is moving in new ways through the arts.”

That is exactly how we feel about the upcoming OM Arts School of Mission. For years Operation Mobilisation (OM) has dreamed of pushing beyond short-term missions to place long-term artists as cross-cultural witnesses for Jesus. An obvious step in that direction would involve an intensive arts-in-mission training. But when?  Where?

As we researched existing training materials, we spoke with Jim and Anne Mills of Creative Arts Europe.  With three decades of service in Europe through the arts, the Mills are well-positioned when they say that to their knowledge, nothing comparable to the OM Arts School of Mission is currently available in Europe.  We continued to prepare materials, honed from our short-term outreaches, and pray.

Late last year, God began opening doors.  OM Italy offered its new facility, Forterocca in a beautiful Alpine valley.  An inquiry came from a couple desiring to use their leadership skills in training; did we have anything in Italy?  In December, two OM Arts staff members, with this couple, flew over to explore the possibilities.  We returned convinced that now was the time, and Forterocca was the place; a launch date of February 2012 was scheduled.

The Program

Christians from various artistic disciplines will gather for this three-month residential program.   Comprehensive instruction includes: Biblical Foundation of the Arts, Spiritual Formation of the Artist, and The Cross-cultural Artist.  With its interactive combination of seminars, workshops, local excursions, studio time, and immersion in the local community, the program promises to stretch each student.  Field trips are planned to explore historical context and spiritual climate.  Our goal is that each student learns to think biblically about the arts, grow in personal integrity, and learn how to contextualize their art.

While it is not a goal of this training to teach art-making skills, time will be given to improve craft and for the informal exchange of ideas and technique.

These artists will then be released into ministry, better equipped to participate in the global arts movement that God is orchestrating.

Historical Significance: Location, Location, Location

To arrive at Forterocca, one flies into Milan and drives up the Pellice Valley, past Turin, home of the 2006 Winter Olympics. The road winds past cows, sheep and the villages of Torre Pellice, Val Pellice, and finally Bobbio Pellice, where an imposing building, former army barracks for the border police, stands:  Forterocca—“Strong Rock”—named from Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”).

Forterocca sits at the foot of the Italian Alps, eight miles from the French border, in a valley rich with the history of Protestantism in Europe.  To understand the strategic importance the training center’s location, let’s take a look at history.

Directly behind the facility stands a cliff; a 90-min. climb is required to reach its summit.  Some centuries ago, the Waldensians were marched up this cliff, and pushed to their deaths—in such numbers, that the river below ran red.  Who were the Waldensians, and why were they executed?

Most sources consider Peter Waldo, a 13th C. wealthy merchant from Lyons, France, the founder of the movement.  Concerned about his wealth and the worldliness of his life, Peter sought spiritual direction and was told to sell all he had, give to the poor, and follow Christ. He did so without hesitation, gathering about him a small group of men.  They lived lives of poverty and dedication to God and began to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular.

“What is particularly interesting about the Waldensians is their views. I doubt whether any group of people in all Europe, prior to the Reformation, understood the truths of Scripture so clearly as these poor people. …It is almost impossible to imagine how these simple folk could have…such excellent knowledge of the truth in the times in which they lived. They were the lowly, the uneducated; …forerunners of the Reformation…when the Calvin Reformation dawned, most of them were quick to join it…as if the Reformation was exactly what they had been waiting for….Only the fact that God preserves His church can adequately explain their existence.” (http://www.prca.org/books/portraits/walden.htm)

At first, the Waldensians adhered to Roman Catholic teachings. They accepted the pope’s authority, the sacraments, and the church itself as the mother of believers.

But their main emphasis was on preaching, which eventually got them into trouble; they preached without the church’s permission, even under threat of ex-communication.

Eventually, the pope’s armies came for them, but despite deadly persecution, the Waldensians were fearless in training missionaries to preach the Word of God not in Latin, but in the common tongue of the day.

A number of significant Waldensian sites surround Forterocca, including their training center in the mountains: Il Colegio—a set of stone structures hanging on the side of a steep mountain.

On entering the ‘study’—a small room with a table in the middle—a row of narrow, crude benches line its perimeter.  Here, the Waldensians’ handpicked their best men and trained them in the Scriptures for two years.  They were then sent to bring the gospel into Europe; they were not expected to return, nor did many.

Next door is the kitchen, a tiny room with a rack of dishes and a small table.  Next a stable, and then a dormitory room—small, cramped, dank, low-ceilinged, and dark.  Here the men lived, ate, slept, and studied for two years.  They would have had to bring the stones from the mountains here to build these structures, and eke out a living from this mountainside, constantly on guard against the pope’s armies, in threat of cold and starvation.  The structures look somewhat Celtic; Thomas Cahill’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, reports that Columbanus, exiled from both Ireland and France, went to Italy’s plain of Lombardy, and built the first Italo-Irish monastery there at Bobbio, in about 612 A.D.  Five hundred years later, the Waldensians arrived.

For centuries, they lived in hiding, and became known as the “Inconquerables”—though thousands were martyred, they persevered, traveling from the valley to the cities of Italy and beyond, proclaiming the truths of God’s word.

A community of Waldensians continues worldwide to this day, with international headquarters in Torre Pellice.  The Waldensian quarter, in the town’s center, is its spiritual and cultural heart, with its New Temple, built in 1852, and Casa Valdese (Waldensian House).  Each year the Synod, the Waldensians’ church government, meets here.

Across the street is an athletic field, the Waldensian Cultural Center, and the Waldensian Museum; it houses fine art and archaeological collections, with a modern art section, and a library of 100,000 books.  The center also carries out cultural and publishing activities.

At the mouth of the Pellice Valley sits Turin, melting pot of cultures, religions and ethnic groups, home of the Shroud of Turin, and one of the largest satanic churches in the world. A prominent piazza is the scene of crucifixions, the guillotine during French occupation, and a sculpture, “The Gates of Hell”—entry point into an underground city where occult practitioners are left to do whatever they want, provided they stay underground.

Here in this historical, spiritual and cultural mix, OM Italy stands ready to host the first OM Arts School of Mission, to train the next army of disciples.  Students from all over the world will arrive at Forterocca to find their place in history.

The Waldensians picked their best and brightest to read, study and memorize the Scriptures, before going throughout Europe to bring the Gospel.  We are looking for artists with the same passion and commitment.

The Waldensians studied for two years, at great cost and personal sacrifice, in the face of death and at the risk of martyrdom; can we find students who will come at some financial cost, but negligible risk, to a lovely facility, for 11 weeks?

Can we replicate the Waldensians’ exploits, and bring the light of the gospel to postmodern Europe?

An Invitation

The OM Arts School of Mission exists to train artists to be missionaries of integrity, to communicate the Gospel narrative in culturally relevant ways, with artistic excellence.  Our desire is to find Christian dancers, musicians and visual artists willing to invest time in such a program, infusing their lives and creativity with God’s heart, beauty and power.

Would you or an artist you know consider joining us?

The OM Arts School of Mission has limited space for each of three disciplines; details and application info are linked here for dancers, musicians, visual artists.

The prevalent cultures of Europe and the art world remain alienated from God.  Imagine the reconciliation possible in countless lives and entire cultures, as a steady stream of artists is prepared and released to live out the truth and beauty of Christ before the world, through their lives and their art!

Questions? Click here.

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