Dance speaks louder than words

Lauren O'Shea | Israel

Incarnate is a 16-week holistic discipleship programme for artists. The first twelve weeks are spent in residence in Italy, where the artists engage in artistic and spiritual mentorship and academic courses to learn more about who God is, what role they have in God’s story and lastly, how they as artists interact with the stories of others worldwide. The last four weeks are sent out to different countries for a practical placement.

This year, five dancers from Incarnate were sent to Israel for their placement. This is their story.

When dancers Kati, Dayi, Sara Y., Martha and Sarah B. arrived in Italy to participate in OM Arts International’s Incarnate programme, they had no idea that their journey would lead them to Israel. The girls were overwhelmed with shock and excitement when they found out they’d be using their gift of dance in the Holy Land. 

Once they arrived, the dancers jumped right into ministry.

“During our four weeks, we used various forms of dance in ministry,” Martha explained. “We had the opportunity to dance during a Passover dinner for a Messianic congregation, we performed in a hospital and several nursing homes, and used our dance as a form of intercessory prayer for the nation,” she continued.

Although the venues and styles of dance varied, one thing remained the same: dance always spoke louder than words.

Hope and light

As they travelled to different cities throughout the country, the group of dancers would find a high place in the cities and pray over the land and the people. When they were dancing, people would often approach them and ask them what they were doing.

“We used these opportunities to share the message of the gospel with them and bless them,” Martha said.

One day while they were dancing, a Muslim woman approached the girls and began asking what they were doing, where they were from and why they were in Israel. She told them that when she saw them dancing she felt such a light, hope and peace within her. The woman wanted to know what it all meant. She approached Kati, and invited her to go and drink a cup of coffee.

“While we were having coffee together this woman started to ask more questions,” Kati remembered. “She told me she had been dancing at home when nobody else was there watching. That really impacted me,” she said.

“I knew that this was the moment to talk to her about Jesus,” Kati continued.

She told the woman about Jesus and His love for her, and the woman listened but wasn’t ready to make a decision.

“She’s so close to finding Jesus!,” Kati said. “I’m praying that at least a seed was planted. It’s up to God to make the seed grow and produce faith.”

Testimonies touch hearts

While they were in Nazareth, the dancers visited a hospital and performed for some of the psychiatric patients. The hospital staff thought that the dance might lift the patients’ spirits.

The first time the team visited the hospital, Sara Y. felt God telling her to show the patients a specific dance she choreographed during her time at Incarnate.

“I really didn’t want to do that dance,” Sara Y. said. “They didn’t have enough space and it felt so awkward. This dance wasn’t a part of the plan our team had discussed before we came to the hospital, so I just said no and didn’t do the dance.”

The next day, the hospital staff asked the dancers to share their life’s stories with the patients. At that moment, Sara Y. felt convicted to share the dance that God had prompted her to share the day before.

“The dance is called ‘Chair Woman’ and it tells the story of my life,” Sara Y. explained. “The movements tell the story of how God helped me overcome darkness in my life.”

After Sara Y. performed her dance, the group of dancers asked the patients to tell them about their lives. In response, the dancers improvised choreography to tell the stories of the patients lives.

While they were presenting the improvised dances, Sara Y. saw one of the nurses crying. Later on, the nurse told her how special the time was for the patients and how she saw God working through their dancing to impact the lives of the patients.

“It was such a special time for me because I followed how God was leading me and I saw how the Holy Spirit was working in the hearts of the patients,” Sara Y. said fondly.

Teaching locals to use expressive movement

In Jerusalem the dancers were able to visit a centre that houses cardiac patients and families of children who are awaiting heart surgery. The people who reside in the centre come from many of the surrounding countries in the Middle East because Israel is known in the region for having better doctors.

Since these people are far away from home, they are separated from their communities, their friends, family and their routines. They don’t have much to do besides waiting to go into surgery, or waiting for loved ones to recover.

In an effort to bring joy to these often-distraught families, the dancers were asked to spend some time with them and teach them about dance.

“We got to teach them how movement can tell a story when words can’t express the emotions they’re feeling,” Martha said. “We also had the opportunity to perform some of our routines, dance around with the kids and pray over all of the people who came to join us.”

The girls shared their testimonies and told of the good works God has done in their lives. Despite the many different ethnic and religious backgrounds that were present in the group, the dancers were able to openly share the gospel and were received with open arms and open hearts. They were able to make connections with the women and children who attended, despite the language barrier.

“They couldn’t really speak English and I couldn’t speak their language, but, their smiles, hugs, and just the motions of ‘I’m praying for you,’ really spoke louder than words could have. Even though language could have been a barrier, movement and showing feelings through movement really translated. It really touched their hearts.” Martha said.

“Our team left that day feeling lighter and more inspired. It was such a blessing to spend time with them and encourage them,” she expressed.

Mockers in Tiberias

One day in Tiberias, the dancers were performing a piece that portrays the act of taking communion. The choreography included movements that symbolized eating the bread of life and drinking the wine, in remembrance of how Jesus sacrificed His body to save us. The dancers encouraged the onlookers to join them in the symbolic movements and experience partaking communion in a new way.

While they were dancing, a group of young men began to mock them. The girls simply ignored the mockers and felt God telling them to continue dancing.

Even though the boys had joined in the dance and were repeating the movements, they continued to ask the girls, “Why are you dancing? Why do you bother?”

As they continued to dance, the girls began to pray for those who didn’t understand. They prayed that the movements would convey the glory of God’s goodness.

“We kept dancing because we knew the power this choreography has,” Dayi said. “We were praying that God would speak to them through dreams so they would understand. We prayed that He would break their chains of bondage!”

After they were finished dancing, Sarah B. had an opportunity to talk with the guys who were mocking and discovered that they were not believers. She explained the meaning behind the movement, prayed that God would use the dance to minister to them and also for their salvation.

Releasing joy at the Jaffa Gate

On their last day of ministry, the group was dancing prayers of intercession at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. It was mid-morning, and they met up with a local group of Israeli dancers who do traditional dances to Messianic songs with the purpose of drawing people in and sharing the gospel through song and dance.

“They don’t preach the gospel in the traditional sense, but, they allow the joy of the gospel to speak through them and through the dance. All the songs spoke about Jesus being the Messiah,” Sarah B. explained. “As we danced with them, we invited the people passing by to join in the dances.”

While they were dancing, a young Jewish boy stopped to watch. Sarah B. recalls the mesmerized look on his face as he gazed upon the group of dancers. She stepped out of the circle to invite him to join in the dance, but he declined. So, she stayed and chatted with him.

Within 30 seconds, he started asking her about Jesus and she was able to share the full gospel with him. For more than an hour, the young boy spoke with Sarah B. and continued to ask her questions about feeling God’s presence, hearing God’s voice, the law, Jesus being the fulfillment of what the Passover represented, and why God had to become flesh.

“It was only because we were there dancing, interceding through our dance and releasing joy and the Holy Spirit through our movement,” Sarah B. said. “If it weren’t for the dancing, he never would have stopped and that conversation never would have happened.”

The work isn’t finished yet

Although the team of dancers has now returned home, they explained that the work they started in Israel isn’t finished yet. The team believes the work they did during their four weeks of outreach planted many seeds of faith in the hearts of Israelis. The full-time missionaries who live in Israel will be following up with the people the dancers connected with, and continuing to share the message of the gospel with them.

Please pray for the Holy Spirit to move through the nation of Israel for more locals to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Pray for the OM workers in Israel to speak openly about the gospel and have the opportunity to disciple new believers.

Lauren O'Shea is a journalist from the United States. She is a communications intern for OM Middle East North Africa and is dedicated to telling the world what God is doing through global missions and the arts.

Published: Tuesday, 09 August 2016
Credit: Lauren O'Shea
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