What We Do May Seem Tiny

by Shea Marshman |

What we do may seem tiny. But if God is in that tiny thing that he approves, it will be great.

~ Robert Kintu, artist Bethany Village

Robert Kintu’s art classes for the children at Bethany Village are filled with laughing children of all ages. They learn everything from sketching and painting the human form to designing and weaving beautiful jewelry and handbags.  The children enjoy expressing themselves creatively. Some who have not been able to do well in traditional schoolwork have found that they excel in art class.  However, this joyful environment is the result of many years of hard work during which Robert feels that God called him to give up his preconceptions of success and follow a different path.

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Before the Lord called Robert to Bethany Village, he was a professionally trained medical illustrator. Following university, Robert was a successful artist with a stable career. Then, “the Spirit told me, God took care of your education so you can take care of others”, and his comfortable life became less and less fulfilling over time. Robert says that each time he went to Bethany Village God gave him joy and peace, but each time he tried to go back to his old life in the city he felt empty. Robert felt like God was telling him, “maybe you think you are so smart and don’t want to be in that smelly place”, but the joy he felt at Bethany Village was undeniable.

Robert tried to find work so he could stay in Bethany, but there was no work. He tried to be a house father, but he had never raised children, so he was not eligible. It seemed that the only thing he could do was sit under a tree and draw.  It wasn’t long before the children came to see what he was doing and he started teaching them. Since they had no building to hold art classes in, Robert held art classes under the tree. When it was sunny and too hot, they had art class under the tree. When it was rainy and wet, they had art class under the tree. Even when the Bethany Village administrator told him there was no place for art classes there, they just moved to a different tree and had art classes anyway. The Spirit of the Lord kept telling him to stay and kept filling him with joy and peace.

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Robert started praying for art materials because he had no way to teach the children to develop their skills. One day when he was feeling particularly frustrated by the lack of materials, Robert felt that God told him to use the seeds on the bushes as beads to make jewelry. So he gathered seeds and seedpods from the surrounding bushes and trees, and drilled holes in them. One of the house mothers gave Robert and the children a small bag of beans, which they soaked and mixed with paint to making brightly colored beads. With these materials, Robert taught the children to make bracelets and necklaces. Then on the Day of the African Child, an annual celebration sponsored by the Organization of African Unity, a group of visitors came to Bethany Village and bought all the jewelry the children had made. This gave them money for materials and showed the administrator that the art classes could have value.

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Robert says, “God supported the art classes because I followed him in faith. He gave me the materials to use and he also gave me the customers to buy the things we made.” In addition, after three years, God sent Moses Okello, an administrator who believes in the value of the kind of skill building Robert’s art classes provide. At 18 years old, the children age out of the services Bethany Village can offer. With an 83% unemployment rate for young people in Uganda between the ages of 15-24, it is often very difficult for young people to become self-sufficient. As they move into their adult lives in university, marriage, or seeking other employment, Robert’s students depart with skills that can help them make things they can sell to make ends meet.

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Now there is a small building for art classes with a space for painting and jewelry making, and a store to sell the things they make to visitors to Bethany Village. There is interest in continuing the art classes because it is obvious that the children are gaining a valuable skill and are able to generate income to support it. Although Robert is a long way from his goal to be able to set aside funds for the children in his art classes to help them start their adult lives more comfortably and fund their higher education, Robert is confident that God will continue to bless the Bethany Village art classes as long as he continues to listen to the Spirit and be patient to wait on God’s plan.