“When I am drawing for Jesus my soul feels so alive,” says Heather Marx, an MAF missionary.
She and her husband Brian, an MAF pilot, are based in Nabire, in Papua, Indonesia. Heather’s role takes a variety of forms, from caring for their three young children to hosting visiting missionaries and pilots in their home, to creating a character training program for local MAF staff. But using her artistic abilities to build up the local church gives her a special joy.
“I believe anyone can (and should) use their talent for the Lord, whether it’s teaching, IT, flying, writing, art … We can all use our talents and training for the glory of God,” says Heather. “I think it’s exciting to think of all the different ways we can serve Him. The body of Christ and variety of talents He created is beautiful.”
Recently Heather gave a presentation to Sunday school teachers at a local church in Nabire. She displayed artwork from a book she illustrated and dispelled some of the myths surrounding Jesus’ birth.
“The book takes a closer look into the culture of the time surrounding Jesus’ birth,” says Heather.
She touches on how there are a lot of details missing in Scripture surrounding the nativity story. And while we tend to view the nativity story through western eyes, she says a Hebrew of that time would fill in the blanks quite differently in their mind.
“A Hebrew of that time would think, ‘Well, of course they put Him in a manger. That’s what we all do.’”
A close-up of the sketch reveals the lower part of the home where families kept their animals at night. The raised level is where the family lived. Divots were carved in the stone floor as feeding troughs. When a Hebrew baby was born, the parents would line the trough with sheep’s wool and that would be the baby’s bed.
The upstairs room you see in the illustration is the kataluma. It’s the word used for “inn” in Luke 2:7. A more accurate translation is “guest room.”
“It means ‘upper room,’ which is where people put guests in their home,” explains Heather. “It’s not a public place. A different word is used in the story of the Good Samaritan, which was indeed a public place of lodging.
The author, Jared Burkholder, fills in more blanks by placing Mary at no more than six months pregnant when the couple arrived in Bethlehem (based on travel back and forth to visit cousin Elizabeth, travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, etc).
“Dr. Burkholder writes his version of the Christmas narrative with Joseph and Mary staying with relatives in Bethlehem. This is a more culturally accurate assumption,” adds Heather. “With all of the family there for the census, now this statement makes sense, ‘There was no place for them in the guest room’ (Luke 2:7).
“Since they had time in Bethlehem before giving birth, it would have been cultural to arrange for a midwife to come. So Mary was likely in the living room, attended to by a midwife, and animals watching on from the lower portion of the home.”
This presents a different picture from the westernized nativity drama that most of us grew up with—and the idea of a mean innkeeper rejecting them. However, Heather is quick to emphasize that the main point remains the same: “The King of kings was born in an ordinary meager home among His people… not in a palace for kings.”
On Christmas Eve this year, Heather will be doing a live art presentation based around the book. She’s had special training with Eternity Arts in Michigan, where she learned how to become a gospel chalk artist.
“My drawings usually have a hidden picture that I have drawn ahead of time (Using blacklight chalk) that is revealed in the end with blacklight. This hidden picture at the end drives the message home for a lasting impact,” says Heather.
Heather has different versions of her chalk art presentations, for Christmas, for Easter, for missions conferences, etc.
“Art ministry is so effective because it breaks cultural and language barriers,” explains Heather. We usually only remember about 20% of what we hear, but 80% of what we see. Boy, put those two together and I’m etching a message on someone’s mind that they will never forget.”
“It has been amazing to see how God used art for His kingdom over my past 14 years of chalk art ministry.”