I ask for volunteers. They don’t know what they are in for and neither do I – I am taking a risk and trying an illustration that I’ve never done before. I did, after all, think of it the day earlier. In the spirit of learning to be brave and risking failure, I pass out pieces of paper and colored pencils to my four volunteers.
I give instructions: “With what I gave you, draw a nature scene. Maybe it’s a tree or a flower or the sun. Draw nature.” The man in the front row looks indignant, “You didn’t give me nature tones!” The man in the back row, “I have three different shades of green!” “I’ll trade you!” I quickly remind them, “Use what you have in your hands.” They draw.
What results is interesting and creative. One young woman draws a bare tree with her brown and a dark sun with her orange. I remark that she draws with a Tim Burton style. The man with no earth tones attempts to tell the redemption story with his burgundy and grey – a cross in the middle with an animal to the side that even he can’t identify.
Next part of the exercise: “Now you can trade colors with anyone else; you can pool what I’ve given you. Draw a nature scene.” The man in the front row gets up and walks around the room to survey his options. In the third row, my volunteer’s wife gives him drawing suggestions. Other members of the church offer insights to our brave illustrators.
I give them a minute. Then I ask them to display their artwork. Colorful flowers and trees and clouds result; the congregation is pleased.
“What felt different between the times you drew?” I ask the group. By now, I’m not only speaking to the four, but to all gathered. “The second time we had a choice,” one member says. The Tim-Burton-artist adds, “The second picture I drew is full of color and full of life.”
I ask another question: “What would you say this exercise says about working with different cultures?” I hold my breath. Now is the time to see if the illustration connects or if it’s all in my head. Silence.
“We need each other.”
I exhale. I nod. “What else?”
Back row, right side: “It involves all of us. By the end, it wasn’t only the volunteers who were drawing but we were all involved.” He nods toward the wife of the artist in the third row. She laughs.
I smile; I couldn’t have said it better myself. I move on as we discuss the necessity and challenges of working cross-culturally. This is, after all, what I’ve been asked to speak on.