“Realizing the value of imperfection gives the students confidence that they are of value even though they are imperfect…”
– Ellen Manuel

Though famed for its old cathedrals, France today is less than 1% Christian. Rik and Ellen Manuel live and work in France, where 60 million of its 65 million people are largely atheist. The Manuels are missionaries with Avant Ministries, which plants churches in the unreached areas of the world. They serve at the year-round Camp of the Peaks—a haven for God to save the lost and strengthen the found.

“The French have a strong resistance to traditional ministry methods,” Ellen said. “But people who may not attend church often WILL participate in camps. Camp of the Peaks has a strong emphasis on creativity and the arts.” Each day during two-hour workshops, campers participate in sketching, watercolor, acting, baking, writing, cooking, dance, pottery, videography, woodworking, and music.

“We wondered why there was so much emphasis on creative activities,” Ellen said. “The camp director told us that ‘when campers are participating in creating something, it opens up their hearts to have spiritual discussions. It’s a tool for pointing them to God.’ We were surprised to find over and over that it was actually true!”

Ellen teaches a workshop, Art on the Go, using sketch pens, watercolor pencils, and a water-brush pen. Her art classes are in a beautiful courtyard next to a 300-year-old barn with cracked walls, old windows, and flowers. Using that wall as her example, Ellen asks the students, “What makes this wall so beautiful?” The students realize that it is the imperfections: the cracks, the crumbling stucco, the wild tangle of flowers under the windows. Ellen explained that the French culture is highly critical and expects perfection.

“Realizing the value of imperfection gives the students confidence that they are of value even though they are imperfect,” she said. “As they sketch, the campers go from being cold and skeptical to pouring out their hearts and asking for spiritual advice. I share what God has done in my life and why I trust Him, and they listen eagerly.”

Unsaved campers come to Camp of the Peaks to learn English and enjoy nature, and the staff at the camp build relationships and share the Gospel. Bible studies, discussion groups, and worship times are part of the daily routine, in addition to hiking, art classes, rock climbing, and sharing meals together. Continued contact and mentoring occur even after the campers depart.

“God is NOT a cookie-cutter God,” Ellen said. “He uses amazing ways to ‘draw’ people to Himself, including the creativity He made in our hearts!”