catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 16 :: 2004.10.08 — 2004.10.21


Collaborative creation

When I was a freshman at Sheboygan County Christian High, the school had a total of 92 students.  It has grown tremendously since that time, hiring new teachers and establishing new programs.  One example has been the art program, thanks in part to the work of Ron Van Der Pol.  Ron attended a smaller high school than I did (about 70 kids).  He never took an art class until he was in college.  He simply enjoyed drawing.

Ron attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa for one year before transferring to Central Washington University, a much larger public university.  Ron honed his art skills there, but found that the gifts he had recently developed seemed to have little practical connection to the continued cultivation of his spiritual life. 

Then, during Ron’s first year as an art teacher in central California, he met Elmer Yazzie, a Navajo Christian artist from New Mexico.  It was at this time that he learned what it meant to not only create, but to live in the Spirit as a co-creator.  Elmer became the first Christian artist Ron knew personally, and eventually became his mentor — something he hadn’t had before.  Elmer helped him understand that vision and response come from God, pointing to a quote by David Ring: “God does not ask for our abilities; all He asks for is our availability.”

Elmer Yazzie was responsible for broadening Ron’s artistic horizons, visual symbolism of his faith, and ultimately, he was the motivator for Ron’s sermon illustrations.

Elmer Yazzie
Elmer Yazzie

I arrive at church early.  I can’t remember if Ron mentioned quarter to nine or quarter past nine, but he isn’t here yet.  I walk around the church and wait, listening to his wife and a few others in the worship team practice that morning’s songs. 

Ron shows up at exactly 9:15 and I start to get a bit nervous.  I can tell that this is going to be a very different Sunday from what I am used to.  We walk to the back of church, find an empty classroom, sit in the little folding chairs, our knees nearly level with our chests and begin to pray.  Ron thanks God for his opportunity and calling and I muster the guts to ask God Elisha’s request — a double portion of the Spirit.

Ron and I finish our short prayer, pick up our stack of church cubby-hole literature and walk back to the fellowship hall to look for our families.   I see Amy, Alex, Sam and my in-laws sitting in the third row back and notice that Jessica (Ron’s wife) and their daughter Jocelyn are right behind my family.  I sneak into Jessica’s pew followed by Ron and, with a smile, give a “Welcome to First Church!  Are you a visitor?” greeting to my father-in-law in front of me.

The service begins like every other service.  We sing, greet each other, hear God’s will for our lives, pray and sing again.  Then Ron grabs his sketchbook. 


Ron usually starts by inviting the Holy Spirit’s leading during the prayer of preparation before the sermon.  Then, following along with the scripture, he jots down a few notes.  At this point, he usually has an idea of how he would like to start the drawing.  Using only pen, he adds to the drawing as the sermon progresses finding symbolism in the scripture itself and in how the pastor interprets the passage.  When the sermon is over, most of the drawing is complete.  He occasionally adds color and always documents the illustration with the date, title of the sermon, Bible passage from which the sermon was taken and the pastor who gave the sermon.

Originally, Ron began illustrating sermons a few months prior to moving to Wisconsin from California.  He admits initially feeling nervous about doing his illustrations during the sermon, but Jessica and Elmer both encouraged him to let the Spirit take over. 

Ron has found most congregations to be very supportive and receptive to his work as a sermon illustrator and as a Christian artist.  Several churches have requested larger illustrations, one of which was shown part way through a sermon at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Sheboygan to help the congregation visualize in a different way what the pastor, Rob Sizemore, was preaching. 

Although most people respond very positively to what Ron does, he hasn’t been completely free from trouble.  Two years into his illustrations Ron struggled drawing an evil spirit.  That experience helped him understand that “Satan is not happy that I’m doing Christian art.”  It also made him realize that he can’t illustrate sermons with a flippant attitude.  “I’ve had times when I slack in devotions and think that ‘I’m not in the
Word and I dare to do this?’  Comfortability is dangerous.”


We read from Amos 2:6-16.  While Ron writes the title of the message along with the passage source on a blank page on the right side of his book, I listen, watch, wait and pray.

Ron begins about three minutes into the sermon with some sweeping strokes of his ball point pen.  As Pastor Kuiper talks about Amos’ message of impending doom to the nations around Israel and eventually Israel itself, Ron sketches out the sea of Galilee and the Jordan River.  I grab my parent’s digital camera, and as indiscreetly as possible, attempt to hold it at arm’s length above the ink and push the shutter.  I don’t notice until later how much my hand, arm and entire body are shaking during this process.  I am too wrapped up in the word. 

The large strokes on the left hand side of the page turn into a hand, cupped on the bottom with a large index finger pointing at Israel.  Small figures stand in the way of the finger, some with hands outstretched and some prostrate on the ground.  Rev. Kuiper points us to verse 10: “I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites.  I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. …But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.”  Ron turns the rest of the sweeping strokes into the question “Why?”  We re-read verse 13: “I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” And Ron adds a cart wheel on the land of Israel trying to support the weight of the pointing hand. 

I’ve been affected by sermons before, but I never hang on every word of the pastor like I am today.  Scrambling to write and compelled to watch, I listen to the words of the pastor.  Would Israel be driven into the ground?  Would Amos leave them without hope?  

Ron uses the illustrations for a variety of purposes, but ultimately considers it a personal aid to his own spiritual life.  Exodus 31 speaks of Bezalel being called by God to create the temple.  But as Ron is quick to point out, Bezalel, along with other Christian artists, was more than just called; he was commissioned through the Holy Spirit to create visual reminders of God’s good creation.  This calling and commissioning requires a commitment on our part to fulfill our role in the kingdom.  This is a concept that Ron brings to his classroom as well.

Responding faithfully is not an easy or quick task.  In his illustrations and at school, Ron implements a three step method to identify the proper process of creating Christian art.  The process begins with perception and preparation.  I was lucky enough this past Sunday to pray with Ron during this stage.  The bulk of time is spent in the second stage, production.  Ron sees this as glorifying God with his hands, talents and time.  The third stage is a time for reflection and dedication of his work back to God.  “Finishing a book is special.  I pray over it and dedicate it.”

The pastor finishes the sermon the same way Ron finishes the first day of pottery in his ceramics class.  After his kids finally create what resembles a workable pot, Ron asks them to hold it up, offer it to God and then crush it in their hands.  The gasps from the students are eventually replaced by the sounds of angry palms smacking the proud pots back into irregular lumps of warm clay.  Then the students begin again. 

God does not destroy us completely.   His Son takes the brunt of God’s fury at our unfaithfulness.  We are left as works in process — pieces of moldable clay ready for the potter’s perfect hands.  Ron is discovering what his pot will look like.  All he must do is make himself available.

Amos 2

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