Updated: May 8, 2020
"The Redemption of Islamic Extremists" is a name of a file folder on my computer. It's a sub folder in my photos for art references that is full of imagery about the Islamic State, the caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as Christian men, women and children who have been martyred by the hands of the Islamic State in Libya, Pakistan and Syria. It stands out as a bit strange among my other art reference folders--photos of flowers, figures, and landscapes.
I began gathering these images September of 2014. It was an obsession for a little while. The images were hard to look at, but something in my spirit was compelled to face them, and to pray. I prayed for the grieving families, and I prayed for the men of the Islamic State to repent. I began taking the images and working out sketches. They were ideas for a visual form of prayer called prophetic art. At first, I had intended to make a painting simply about al-Baghdadi and the atrocities against Christians at the hands of the Islamic State. I started making sketches and began a watercolor study set in the historic site of Palmyra in Syria.
But I was further compelled to make an oil painting about the Islamic State, shortly after the 2015 kidnapping and beheading of 21 Coptic Christian men in Libya by the Islamic State.
Since leaving my job in 2014, I have made my living mostly by selling paintings of flowers, portraits, and landscapes. So feeling a drive to make art about world events felt risky from a business standpoint. And from a spiritual standpoint, I also felt somewhat scared. What if the art really did have an impact in the spiritual realm? What kind of responsibility did I have then to complete these paintings?
When I was working on the painting in the spring of 2015, I was researching photos of Syria, and I came across an image that arrested me visually. Quite often when I am making art, I am drawn to things on a purely visual, intuitive level, a place of attraction that precedes words or analytical reasoning. So I found this image from Syria of a site called Palmyra. I knew that I had to make this the setting for my painting. It is an ancient ruin of columns and arches. Even though the 21 men who were beheaded were Coptic Christians from Libya, I felt compelled to place them in this ancient site of Palmyra in Syria.
Several months later, I was absolutely amazed and stunned when I found out that ISIS destroyed Palmyra. I began to feel the prophetic weight of this painting, and I started to become afraid of working on it.
I sat on the project for a while. I was afraid to finish it. I was afraid of both the impact on my finances, (from a business and marketing standpoint, it felt risky), and I was afraid of the impact on my soul. Looking at the images was not easy. And I admit to being daunted by the spiritual weight of them.
Then one day, I got an email from my client and friend, Julio. He invited me to a prayer event at his house with a woman named Lisa Schwarz, who would be teaching and ministering. My husband and I went. As this evening unfolded, I heard God say to me in my thoughts "Do not leave without having her pray for you." I didn't know what to ask for, and God wasn't giving me direction. But as I walked up to Lisa, all of a sudden, I found myself confessing to her my fear about making prophetic art that had to do with world events. Tears streamed down my face. She prayed for fear and perfectionism to leave me. I fell backward, and as I lay on the floor, in my mind's eye, I could see the hands of God removing what seemed like cobwebs from my brain.
Afterward, as I watched Lisa minister to others, I began getting images and words in my mind of what she was going to say right before she said it. I was amazed! She later told me that I was going to come to her ministry events and do prophetic drawings for people. I was skeptical about this, but the next day, I realized it was something I had to do. So I did, and God began to accelerate the images and words I would get for people in my mind. It still blows me a way when I give someone a drawing and they cry because it resonates with them. God's love is so big.
Since this event in 2016, God has increased prophetic hearing and seeing in me. The prophetic gift in my art was there for many years, but it was something that I didn't ever press into, or try to develop, or even seek God about. For decades, I had been making art that would be in some way foretelling about emotional events in my life; it was my normal, and so I never really pressed in to it too deeply. I just let it flow intuitively. But after Lisa prayed for me, I was different. I felt God's presence when I created art in a way that was more intimate. And I knew that I had to finish the painting I had started about the Christians who were martyred and my hope for the caliphate, al-Baghdadi to repent and experience redemption.
So as I completed the painting, I painted this image of al-Bagdadi in it, along with a grieving man and woman in the foreground and the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded in Libya in the background. All of the figures were placed in the setting of Palmyra.
Intuitively, I felt compelled to have the main big arch (known as the 'Triumphal Arch') overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, like the Glory of God would outshine the significance of this structure made by men. I didn't know anything about the site, and I admit, that I didn't research it either. I probably should have, but I didn't. Now, I've learned my lesson in this, and when I am attracted to something visually, I always press in to find out why so that I can see what God is trying to communicate to me.
In 1980, UNESCO declared Palmyra a world heritage site. After its destruction, UNESCO commissioned a replica of the main arch of Palmyra to made and toured around the world to London, New York and Dubai. Many American Christians were upset about this arch coming to New York and praying against it. I wasn't sure why Christians were against this, until I researched the history of Palmyra. Palmyra was a site of Baal worship, with rituals such as religious prostitution and child sacrifices to the Canaanite deity (devil) Molech.
The creepy part about when it was unveiled in London was the date that was chosen, April 19th. This particular date was a disturbingly uncanny choice for the arch to be unveiled in Trafalgar Square in London. April 19th is the first day of a thirteen day period known as the “blood sacrifice to the beast,” culminating on a high day in the occult calendar, the 1st of
May, known as Beltane – aka May Day. This could not have been an accident, given the history of what Palmyra was: a site of occult sacrifices and rituals.
For a while, it seemed that the arch's visit to New York would be postponed indefinitely. At one point, even Snopes indicated that it would be postponed indefinitely. (The end of the Snopes entry however, shows the update that the arch was eventually erected for a one week period in September of 2016.) I felt like this was a victory, and was grateful to God for inviting me to partner with Him in prayer in the creation of my painting. I stopped paying attention to any news about it and moved on to other things.
Late that summer, I was busy getting my house ready to rent out to a friend for a year so that I could go to school in Barcelona, Spain. I was in Europe from September of 2016 through the end of January of 2017, and didn't hear anything about the arch in the news while I was living abroad. So I checked it off as a victory and moved on with my life, thinking that the arch never actually made its way to New York. I was still under this impression until last Sunday, April 29th.
I was at the gym, and like I usually do, I got on youtube to listen to a teaching while I work out. The first video in my feed was a video by Jonathan Cahn. I don't usually listen to Jonathan Cahn, so this video had my attention because it was out of order with the algorithms of my search and watch history. While I was on the elliptical, at the 22 minute mark, I heard Jonathan Cahn talk about how he was there in New York when the replica of the arch of Palmyra was unveiled!
I was shocked! I had no idea. And I felt like the victory I had believed in had been dashed. I wrestled with feeling kind of like my prayers, and my painting had failed. But I also knew that I needed to keep my head clear this week and could not afford to spiral down into any stinkin' thinkin'. I was scheduled to pray prophetically for the staff of my church, Crossroads, that Wednesday for their annual retreat, and I needed to stay focused. That Tuesday beforehand, I sensed an invitation from God to fast and pray. So I did. Later, I found out why God had invited me to fast: it just so happened that Tuesday, May 1st was that occult pagan holiday, the Beltane. There are no coincidences.
Prayer for the church staff that Wednesday was great. God even gave me a vision of one of the people I ended up praying for the night before. Holy Spirit showed up in powerful ways that day. But the next day, Thursday, my thoughts returned to the Jonathan Cahn video where he talked about the Palmyra arch in New York, and the feelings of defeat kicked in big time. I talked to some other prophetic friends that day, and they too were struggling with similar feelings of defeat, like what they did prophetically didn't matter or wasn't worth the high cost. Whenever there is a pattern like that, it is obvious that the enemy is at work attacking our thoughts to get us to be ineffective as Christians. As carriers of God's light, hope and love, we are a big threat to the darkness.
This week, I was startled to find out why God had brought that Jonathan Cahn video into my youtube feed. The enemy sought to use it to discourage me. But God was using the video to bring to my attention that there was unfinished business to attend to. Monday, my husband was looking at the news and was shocked to find out that al-Baghdadi is no longer believed to be dead! I was shocked too! The timing was not coincidental. God brought this painting up to me with Palmyra, the Christians, ISIS, and al-Baghdadi last week through the Jonathan Cahn video to speak to me prophetically. It was an invitation to press in and ask Him what He was up to.
So when I read the article about al-Baghdadi hiding out somewhere within Al-Hajin, 18 miles from the border in Deir ez-Zor province in Syria, I asked God, what would you have me do? And I heard Him say, "stir up your faith and hope for al-Baghdadi to repent and share it with others so they can join you in prayer." I remember last summer a friend sent me a video of Jonathan Welton asking people to pray for Kim Jong Un to repent. Now look at what is happening with North and South Korea: a final peace and no nuclear arms! It's a miracle!
So I humbly ask all of you reading this: will you join me in prayer that al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State leaders and soldiers turn away from evil and repent? I am praying that they get hit hard by the Holy Spirit, like Paul did on the road to Damascus. And while we're talking about Damascus, let us also pray about Iran, Israel and the recent air strikes in Syria.