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Do others’ opinions of us define our worth? What really gives us value?
These questions hung in the air on an August evening in Peja, Kosovo. In the main square of the city, three dancers performed while an OM band played rock music, providing the soundtrack to the story.
The dancers’ hands and feet were tied like puppets on strings, and they pantomimed sticking grey dots and yellow stars all over each other. They enacted people’s bondage to the belief that their worth comes from others’ approval. Only through an encounter with their Maker’s Son could the dancers break free and drop their dots and stars to the ground. The heart of the message was simple: Every person is special in God’s eyes.
For 10 days, between 24 August - 3 September 2014, an OM Arts band travelled across Kosovo with three Brazilian dancers, visiting seven cities and performing the creative rendition of Max Lucado’s book You Are Special. For several years the OM team in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, has hosted a summer concert tour as part of their wider arts ministry and vision for Kosovo. This year the concert performance sought to address one of the heart needs of Kosovar society.
“I know that people in Kosovo have no hope,” says Mariana*, one of the Brazilian dancers, after the final performance in Peja. “I know that they feel like nobody cares for them.”
This year Mariana returned to Kosovo in 2014 for her second year of dancing in the concert tour. Before participating in the tour, Mariana had lived and ministered in Albania for almost two years. When asked why she wanted to come back to Kosovo, she says, “I know that Jesus is the hope. I thought that even though I could say in many ways that Jesus loves them, it would be even more understandable if I were here.”
Mariana explains that as a dancer, the story spoke first to her personally: “Many times God spoke to me during the concert, because we are telling the story of a girl who needs to have people understand her and like her. I felt sometimes like that girl, and that God just loves us. He doesn’t care about the stars and dots, he just cares for us.”
For Mariana, dance is a way to express her relationship with God. “When I don’t know how to say something, I can do it through dance. Dance has to have a meaning; it has to have a message. You will express what you are through dance. As a Christian, you will dance a Christian dance.”
At the end of the performance the dancers waved banners with the words “hope” and “freedom” written on them. The musicians and dancers hoped that the message would spark opportunities for more spiritual conversations after the performance. The OM Prishtina team believes that creatively connecting with their audience is the spring-board for sharing the source of their hope.
“It’s such a blessing that each night we get to talk to people and see God work in different people: young, old, children and grown-ups,” says Mariana. “Since I speak Albanian, it’s easier for me to get to know them and to share. Almost every night I get to pray for someone.”
One night, Mariana had a special encounter in a city that she had visited during the previous year’s tour. The year before, she had met a respected man who was the director of cultural events in the city, as well as his daughter, who was a teacher of traditional Albanian dance. After the concert the next year, the daughter came up to Mariana and wanted to talk to her, since she remembered her.
“I was praying for God to give me a strategy for how to share the good news with her,” Mariana says, “and so I just gave her a compliment about how beautiful she danced. Then she started to open up her life to me.”
As the woman shared with Mariana about the trials of her job, she almost started to cry. “She told me that since her father was no longer the director of cultural events, she was no longer provided a studio room to teach dance. So now she had to rent a room herself, which was very difficult for her,” Mariana says. “I asked the woman if she believed that God could give her a room, and she replied that yes, she did believe that God could do it.”
Mariana then offered to pray for the woman. “After we finished praying a kid said, ‘Oh, she prayed like a Christian!’ and the woman said, ‘That’s fine, it’s the same God,’” says Mariana. The woman accepted Mariana’s prayer. On the same evening an OMer playing in the band, as well as one of the other dancers, were able to share with the woman’s father and one of her brothers.
“All the family were reached by different people,” Mariana shares. “I believe that God has a plan for that family. It is a very difficult place; they say that there is only one Christian in that city. It was important for me to be back this year and share with that girl, just as the others were able to do with her family.”
While the concert and dance cast a wide net, the performers cannot follow-up with everyone. “When I look up at the audience, it seems like there are too many people, and that we get to talk to so few,” Mariana says, “but then I see that there is power in each song and each dance. We can touch more people than we can imagine through the arts.”
Please pray that Kosovar Albanians would understand that their worth comes from God, and that they can have a restored relationship with Him through Jesus. Pray that the creative message of God’s love would continue to work on the hearts of those who saw the tour performance.