Art Therapy - by Emily Nelson, 2017 Neema Trip Team Member

“What color is Jesus?” I asked.
[Silence] … “White.”
"Yeah, why’s that?”
“Because he wears white clothing.”

My face relaxed with a smile. Sixteen year-old Sharon looked back with all seriousness.

“Why do you paint "love" the color orange?”

She laughed at herself and turned around self consciously, “Because they are very sweet to eat.” Right, so she thinks of love as a food, as a treat. Coming from extreme poverty, it’s no wonder that she doesn’t see love as pink and purple hearts, kisses, and Valentine’s day like us m'zungu. 

“Why is anger black?”

“Because you became painful in your heart, it made you do bad things.” Her friend carried out her point, “When you have love you do not do things that are sinful, because Jesus was on the cross for me and his blood gave us life.”

I sat still, scribbling these quotes in my notebook, while Brooke gawked at this girl. No one had set these girls up for the ideal Sunday School answer. My only hope was that they would start processing and verbalizing their feelings to the group. We spent way too much time repeating ourselves in trying to explain the prompt of identifying and painting a color for five particular emotions. None of these girls had ever held a paintbrush before. I can’t imagine any of them having had craft time as children so I immediately realized that we were starting at square one. Creative expression and emotive reflection can be difficult for all of us but it’s nothing in comparison to these girls. They’ve just begun receiving counseling so identifying, engaging with, and verbalizing feelings of trauma was a very high standard for me to set. But they did it anyway, unconsciously. 

When told to portray, “home,” one girl painted a big Neema compound and a small childhood house. She was using a scale of hierarchy and had no idea. One of these “homes” is important to her while the other is not. Another girl painted joy as a bunch of yellow dots. They were the church, she said, believers spreading outward. 

I found it such an honor to be used for the Lord, for the all-around health of these girls. As I spend time with them, I forget their horrifying pasts. In small group, one girl said, “Maybe I was a drunkard. Maybe I was a prostitute. And he moved me into the light.” It was a couple hours later in painting class that I had happened to be reading Genesis 1:3 (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”). 

Before coming to Neema, these girls hadn't been valued. They hadn't been loved, prioritized, or provided for and it’s one step at a time toward reorienting their self-perceptions and belief systems. Using art was one method toward this and I was blessed to be a part of it. 

Emily Nelson
Neema Team 2017