How cartooning figures into my larger ministry (an assignment)

I was speaking to the medical staff at our Southern Baptist International Mission Board at the request of one of their physicians.  She asked that I talk about how cartooning figures into the ministry to which God called me..

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them accordingly….” (Romans 12:6).

As  a young pastor I drew a sharp line to distinguish between natural talents and spiritual gifts.  The first you are born with; the second reborn with.  The first might involve talents for music, art, science, math, etc.  But spiritual gifts–those strengths in our heavenly DNA–would be more along the lines of preaching, teaching, service, prayer, witnessing, and such.

I’ve altered that a little….

It’s all His.  And whatever natural talents and gifts He gave us can be given back to Him and used for His glory.

I began drawing at the age of 5 when Mom put me and my 3-year-old sister at the table with pencil and paper and told us to draw.  I learned immediately that I loved to draw.  The next year, the first graders at Nauvoo (AL) Elementary School would gather around and watch as I sketched.

As a 16-year-old, I took a correspondence course in cartooning.  But mostly I was self-taught.

My mother started me drawing.  Dad encouraged it when I was in elementary school.  And my sister Patricia paid for that course in cartooning when I was a teen.  I am the product of a family that believed in me.

In seminary, I began drawing cartoons on the board about the previous day’s lectures in systematic theology.  Soon the student newspaper invited me to submit drawings for each issue. Soon I began sending religious cartoons to our weekly paper in St. Charles Parish, where I was pastoring Paradis Baptist Church.  I was 25 years old.

After seminary and pastoring in the Mississippi Delta, I found that cartooning (and sketching people) opened doors to make connections with people.  When invited to speak in churches, I would sketch worshipers before and after the service.  Then, the Alabama Baptist and the (Mississippi) Baptist Record, two weeklies of our denomination, began running my cartoons. I was 30.

A denominational magazine ran a cartoon article of mine on sharing one’s faith.  I made cartoon illustrations for one of our denominational leaders which he transferred to slides and projected onto a screen as he taught.  Our Home Mission Board exhibited my cartoons in their SBC exhibit.  I was in my early 30s.

Students from the local women’s college asked if I would help them raise money for a missions project.  “We want to put you in the student center and charge students one dollar for you to draw them in one minute.  We don’t care what it looks like–funny, crazy, whatever.”  That turned out to be the best art class imaginable.  One lovely young lady after another posed for me for 60 seconds as I tried to capture their likeness.  Eventually, I was able to do a reasonably good likeness in a minute and a half.  I was 35 years old.

The International Mission Board invited me to travel to Singapore and work with the missionaries laying out, writing, and then drawing an evangelistic comic book for their use with teenagers.  Returning home, I sketched it, the missionary had the drawings transferred to acetate cels, and we involved church members to help hand-paint each page of the comic.  It was a major project that took many weeks.  Eventually, some 10,000 copies were printed.  At first they were sold in the small stores throughout Singapore, and later were distributed free through the churches.   I was 37.

Visiting the editorial cartoonists at the Jackson, Mississippi newspapers, I happened to meet Art Toalston, religion editor.  He asked me to send him a cartoon each week for their religion page.  Soon, I was marketing these to other newspapers across the South.  Before long, Copley News Services out of San Diego bought the cartoons from me and resold them to newspapers across America.  I was 40.  (Art Toalston is the editor of Baptist Press these days, and remains a great friend and encourager.)

I’m unsure of the chronology, but at some point, the cartooning became the tail wagging the dog.  I began to wonder if congregations were inviting me for my preaching or was it the sketching they wanted.  My ego got involved.

So, I quit.  “Lord,” I said, “I’m tired of this.  If I never draw again, I’m satisfied.  But if you want me to draw, you’ll have to give this back to me.”

In time He did.  Soon, two other cartoonists and I combined to do eight volumes of “Instant Cartoons” (published by Baker Book House of Grand Rapids) which sold over 300,000 copies.  Missionary leader Ralph Neighbour invited me to illustrate his publications for cell group ministry throughout Asia.  (He told me once, “A year from now, your drawings will be in one million books.”)

I frequently sketch at the SBC’s annual conventions–previously at the Baptist Press exhibit and more recently at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s exhibition.  The Baptist Press has run one of my cartoons each weekday for nearly 15 years (which editors download and use; I never know who’s running them).

I sketch people everywhere, sometimes hundreds each week.  Yesterday, while waiting to see my doctor (followup for cataract surgery the day before), I sketched two little boys who were there with their grandmother and made friends for life.

This weekend, I’ll do a churchwide dinner on Saturday night at a church in Boaz, Alabama, and preach for them Sunday morning.  By the time I leave Sunday after church, I’ll probably have sketched from 50 to 75 or 100 people.  Monday night, speaking at a deacons/wives dinner in Heflin, Alabama, I’ll sketch as many attendees as possible.

It’s not unusual for me to drive two hours to a church event, sketch people before the dinner and then while everyone is eating, stop long enough to deliver my talk (a mixture of inspiration, entertainment, and challenge), then return to sketching again. In many cases, I’m the last person to leave the building.  It’s not unusual for me to stop at a Sonic on the way out of town for a little nourishment since I missed the dinner.  I arrive home completely exhausted.

But I love it.

People ask, “Doesn’t your hand get tired?”  I explain that I do exercises all the time so I can draw for many hours.  “The problem is the brain.  You concentrate on this person, they leave and you concentrate on the next person, and so forth.  After a couple of hours of this, the brain is crying for mercy.” When I draw nonstop for two or three days–for conventions and such–at the end, I’m a blob, on automatic pilot.

My late wife of 52 years, seeing how exhausting nonstop sketching can be, would ask why I do this.  I always had a difficult time answering it.  “I’m not really sure.  I enjoy doing it. It’s a wonderful little gift I can give to people.  It’s just using what I have to glorify the Lord.”

I’m not a cartoonist who preaches. I’m a preacher who sketches and draws cartoons.  The priority is always on God’s call to preach the Word.

“She has done what she could,” the Lord said of a woman who anointed Him.

That’s all He asks. Just do what you can, using what He has given you.

 

 

One thought on “How cartooning figures into my larger ministry (an assignment)

  1. I, too, love to draw – discovering my gift at age 8…that grew in many directions artistically. Right now I’m a member of our area’s cooperative art gallery, and the Lord has told me I’m there to lead the other 17 members to Him…there are new age, Hindu, socialist, liberal members – you name it…BUT God has used the gift He gave me long ago to open the door. I’m so excited about what is going to happen, but also prepared for unbelief, scorn and scoffing…and I’ll be 80 this spring!!

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