serious stuff · Southeast Asia

Calligraphy and Arrows

The Saturday before last, I was begrudgingly convicted that I should go to my church’s fundraiser for their big location move (from a bar to a mall, which could launch a fascinating conversation about urban spaces and the space we’re called to occupy as Christians, but we’ll save that rumination for a rainy day).

A local businesswoman and church attendee who runs her own calligraphy business (Calligraprints with Cielove) donated her time and expertise to hold an intro workshop. I knew little about it and assumed I’d just show up, doodle a bit, and be on my way.

Instead, I found myself in a four-hour intensive workshop for a skill I had never fully registered as a skill before.

I honestly thought calligraphy was just pretty cursive and discovered early into the session that nobody has even bothered to tell me I barely hold a pen the right way.

I struggled to get a hold of the formulaic style of thin up-strokes, thick down-strokes, and trying to stop my hand from moving too fast into my natural chicken scratch handwriting. Once I got used to it though, I found that I really enjoyed it.

At the end, our lovely instructor Cielo was talking about all the things one can use calligraphy for. It can be entrepreneurial (which is extremely common in the Philippines to have creative side-hustles) or a way to bless friends and neighbors. I thought “yeah, sure. There’s a lot one can do with this”, knowing full-well I’d only use it for my weird watercolor animal prints I make for my friends with antithetical captions like “bow down, ya besh” and “turn down for what”.

I left thinking I wouldn’t give calligraphy another thought.


Not even one week later, I was invited to lead an impromptu calligraphy workshop.


I got to attend the ALL-STAR (Standing Together Advocating Rights) Leadership Retreat where practical skills were taught to further empower survivors of traditional sex trafficking.

To give context, IJM‘s whole theory of sustainable change strongly contends that empowering survivors to lead their own advocacy is paramount. Our survivor-led movement against trafficking consists of restored clients from traditional sex trafficking to continue their advocacy and be examples of hope for our new, young clients of cyber-sex trafficking. These strong individuals have courageously fought for their futures in the courtroom and in their own lives through therapy, education, and economic opportunity. They are mothers, students, hard workers, and some of my dearest friends I’ve made here.

The retreat held breakout sessions on love languages, entrepreneurial skills, acting for youth outreach puppetry to educate children on sexual exploitation prevention, and creativity as opportunity. We made watercolor cards and I led a brief session on calligraphy.

It was so sweet that this skill that I had literally just picked up was so hungrily devoured by some of the girls. One girl asked where we had bought the pens so that she could save up and buy a set (which is no small feat). They were all encouraged by the fact that I was a beginner too, showing that practice really is more important than talent.

We laughed, made cards, and just enjoyed each other’s companies. And I got to be one of few IJM people there all because I had learned something on a whim.

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It made me realize that these things aren’t really whims.

They are arrows.

In 2 Kings 13, there’s a brief, almost perplexing story about a king and a prophet. The prophet is dying right as an invading army is approaching to ransack the kingdom. The king is panicking and feels like he’s lost hope, as the spiritual leader of the people will soon no longer be with them. He asks the prophet what to do and is instructed to strike the arrows from his quiver.

The king does so three times and the prophet tells him that he will have victory because he trusts the Lord BUT chides him for not using all of his arrows. By not using all that he had, he had forfeited an even greater victory.

And then the prophet dies.

It’s a weird story but the take-away is powerful.

Why aren’t we using all of our arrows? Why do we hold anything back if we’re already declaring victory? What are we losing out on by “saving strength”?

Calligraphy was an arrow, an opportunity, an invitation. If I hadn’t taken it, I would have missed out on getting to witness 70-some beautiful, powerful survivors raise up their movement against trafficking. I would have forfeited joy, inspiration, and humility.

You have to believe whatever small thing you have can be multiplied in ways you can’t fathom.

What are you saving them for?

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