M.O.V.E. - An Interview with Shek Pui-Lan, MDiv 2003, founder of “Atelier of the WORD”
A word comes out from Shek Pui-Lan, repeatedly as much as 15 times during the interview. It is the word “move”. Along with this keyword is the adverb “naturally”.
Interviewed and written by
Having studied Chinese and Fine Arts at the Institute of Education, Shek became a teacher expectedly after graduation. She loved teaching as well as leading the drama club, and she enjoyed getting along with her colleagues and students. It would definitely be a pleasure if she spends her entire life in teaching. However, the passion and desire of her heart to serve the young people made her put aside her teaching duties in the year 2000. She then studied divinity at CGST and became a pastor. When serving at church, she took part in a Chinese literary competition and won the prize. She also painted bookmark illustrations for children worship hymns for a music organization. Moreover, she led college students and young adults to create a drama from Bible study material and participated in drama competitions twice. In 2015, she founded the “Atelier of the WORD”, which explores the integration of faith and art. In the following year, she decided to leave the church that she had served for 13 years and committed whole-heartedly into this new found ministry. It has been a long journey with twists and turns, though in Shek’s eyes, all these moves have come very naturally.
“Everything just happened. I felt like ‘seeing a bus coming, I just hop-on and go with it!’ I felt so relieved!” Just as she said, when looking at every incident, the calling into this ministry came from ordinary life. On a Sunday, she saw a kid who was usually restless and bored, concentrated on reading a story book. She marveled at the power of media when it was properly used. One day when she was wandering into the public library, she saw a poster of the Literary Competition, which evoked her desire of creating stories to illustrate the Words of God. Occasionally, she came across an alumnus of CGST, who needed help to draw pictures; that rekindled the joy and satisfaction she has in painting since childhood. When she received a leaflet about a drama competition on Bible stories, she invited young people in the Bible study group to join so that they might build up one another. Every time her heart was touched by whatever situation came to her, the opportunity followed. One after the other, she just responded and moved on naturally without any struggle. “I do not look for opportunities. They just come to me like milestones. ‘Oh, well, just give it a try!’”
It seemed easy for Shek, but for those people around her, they were often petrified. Her teaching colleagues could not anticipate that she would resign from the teaching position. Her mother could not understand why she would give up her career. Her old classmates could not fathom why she kept changing her jobs. Shek continued to clarify her move by using the “hop-on/hop-off” illustration. “If you ask me whether it is difficult to make a decision? I don’t think so. Life is a journey. At a certain stage, deep in your heart you want to go somewhere else, then you better get off! Think about nothing! Do your best and do it wholeheartedly.” She is in charge of everything in the small studio, from making appointments to arrangements for teaching, from art appreciation, the use of different material from scratch to performances at the theatres, from workshops to Sunday schools at church or evening classes. Her pastor and friends worry about whether she can make a living or work alone. “Actually, this is not a big business. As long as someone would invite me to teach drawing, or involve in the children outreach ministry during summer, I would be very happy and satisfied. Therefore, I can absolutely do it by myself. Just give me a call and I will check my calendar. If I am available, I will do it. If not, I will just say no.” Shek said playfully with a laugh. An artist is no ordinary people. It seems that they belong to the “upper class”. But Shek said seriously, “Even the scribbling of a child is a piece of artwork, you can see a lot from it. Art is nothing more than an individual expression and a reflection of mind. It is not that unreachable. In fact, you can do it. Do not think you can’t. What I want to say is, you don’t have to look up to the artists, and please don’t look down on yourself.”
This ministry gives Shek more opportunities to serve different churches. She thinks that even if churches are not familiar with art issues, they are very much interested. “One time I was teaching about ‘Loving the Lord from the art of all ages’ and I chose some very important works of art, the feedback was tremendous! The spiritual responses and faith derived from the art pieces are most touching. In fact, the Scriptures that complement with the images are very powerful!” Shek named the studio “Atelier of the WORD”, which vividly articulated the conviction deep in her heart: “God speaks of Himself through art. Man also declares the works of God through art.” Talking about her work, her eyes sparkled, with an uplifting voice, “I am teaching Christian arts currently. There were quite a few excellent Christian painters in the modern era. This is really exciting!” Among those painters, Shek is especially fond of Rembrandt van Rijn and Marc Chagall.
Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985)
“He was a Jew who experienced two world wars and his life was a microcosm of the 20th century. I think he was precious. Just think about the sufferings he went through, but his paintings were still full of the joy of innocence even when he was at the age of 90. It is a delight to look at his paintings. Pablo Picasso once described that ‘he must have an angel in his head’. He loved to draw little trapezes who were so happy that they flew in the sky. Jewish suf fer ing was the theme of his many paintings. I would cal l him a ‘cross-centered painter of sufferings’ because many of his works were about the crucifixion of Jesus.”
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 - 1669)
“In every class, I would talk about his last painting, ‘Simeon’s Song of Praise’ and every time I had such strong feelings that I could not finish my sharing. This painting was found in his home after his death. Some people called it an unfinished painting. Luke 2:28-32 recorded the prayer of Simeon, ‘ You may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.’ If this was his last painting which concluded his life, I wish I could do the same. He drew with his life and it was so touching!”
In addition to painting, Shek meditates with her students about faith and life through pottery. “A lot of friends said they don’t know what to do when they come across clay the first time. You try to be a creator in pottery making. You examine the work on your hand, and gradually you learn to accept your original self. You must want to do it well and discard the unsatisfactory things right away. In your eyes, it is so unique. Isn’t it the same way how the Heavenly Father see us? Actually, through this creative experience, we try to change roles and we will understand the heart of our Heavenly Father!”
However, among the numerous forms of artistic expression, Shek loves drama the most. The first drama that she loved at first sight dated back to “Crown Ourselves with Roses” directed by Dr. Joanna Chan in 1988. “I was like intoxicated. There was an echo deep in my heart and it was like a fire burning…Even today, I still remember that I was sitting at the theatre stunned.” Since then, Shek became madly in love with drama. “A good play is inseparable from human nature. Not only do you discover the human nature in every character, but you also discover your own human nature because you cast yourself into its world and encounter other characters in the play. Every time I watch a play, I go through a life that I did not have.” She was so thrilled that she used to go to theatre twice a week. Whenever there were courses on drama available for enrollment, no matter it is on stage or back stage, she was attracted to it and enrolled in such courses.
Two years ago, Shek took a screenwriting course offered by the Hong Kong Repertory Theater. “How can faith be expressed in a drama? This is what I want to do the most. It is not the type of ‘God loves you very much and I will pray for you.’ This is too superficial and cannot express the true meaning of faith. We do have struggles and we are struggling. Not only do I expect to find struggles in life, but we also find the responses from our faith.” Shek’s studio offers ‘Lord-directed Theatre’, which helps to organize ‘a play from Bible studies’ or an evangelistic drama. “Actually, I really want to have a drama club, but it is not like a troupe. People can get together and join if they like, even at the last week before performance. A theatre is for everyone to experience together.”
“Rev. Carver Yu often said, ‘It is worthwhile to organize drama, you can achieve various purposes.’ His words greatly encouraged me and assured me of the mission of drama.” During the interview, Shek repeatedly mentioned this impor tant person in her heart. “Yes, it is important! I have to say it thrice! Every time I talked to Rev. Yu, I felt exhilerated!”
In the end, she added, “I am not special. All these are clichés.” The calling might have come right at the most ordinary situation, with her experience through the years, she ‘moved’ on again and again. She painted her life with flying colors and acted out the script of her life beautifully.
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