For hundreds of years, henna, a natural dye made from the leaves of the henna plant, has been used to create temporary tattoos in many parts of the world, including the vast North and Central Asia Region—one of the last missions frontiers.
Women from this region love painting elaborate henna designs on their hands “for beauty and for fun,” says Beth*, an Alliance international worker. She serves with a small team in a European city, sharing with migrant women from this region the winsome truths of the gospel through outreaches that often include henna art.
When Beth first attempted gospel storytelling with henna imagery, “I wasn’t sure the women would want to hear a Bible story, let alone have the symbols evident on their skin for another couple of weeks, since people from north and central Asia follow the region’s majority religion. But they loved having a beautiful story on their hands and knowing what each symbol meant.”
Last month, Beth hosted a Beauty Day for 10 migrant women that featured henna art. “Most of these ladies have fled their home countries due to crippling economic conditions and spend most of their waking hours working,” Beth observes.
“Since they have little opportunity to feel pampered or beautiful, this outreach was a wonderful way to share Jesus’ love with them.”
Several ladies on a short-team trip from a U.S. Alliance church assisted with the event. Ana, one of the team members, learned henna art before the trip so she could help Beth with the drawings. Bev provided haircuts, and a third team member, Faith, did nail wraps.
On the day of the event, discussion centered on the theme “What is Beauty?” Everyone in attendance described how beauty is defined within her culture; they also watched a video clip of journalist Esther Honig’s Photoshop experiment revealing how different countries perceive beauty.
Ana told the story of the woman of “ill repute” who anointed Jesus’ feet (see Luke 7:36–50) as Beth translated. Both then drew henna images on the women’s hands to illustrate the story.
Jesus’ Stand for Women
Several women who are Jesus followers from north and central Asia shared with the unbelievers about the inner beauty resulting from Jesus’ forgiveness and acceptance. “The women really resonated with this story and the idea that ‘she who is forgiven much loves much,’” Beth says.
“Our guests also liked how Jesus stood up for the woman to the religious leaders in a way that was counter-cultural for His time.” It was a revolutionary idea to these ladies who have little status in their culture, much like females during Jesus’ time on earth.
“There was a lot of comradery as Ana and Beth told the Bible story,” Bev recalls. “Henna art, cutting hair, and doing nails—all are hands-on beauty techniques that create a sense of intimacy, which tends to draw people out.”
Beth agrees. “Interacting with each woman in such a close, personal way gives more opportunity to share with them further after telling a Bible story.”
“We were sad to part company with these women we connected with who aren’t so different from us,” Bev says. “But we hope we planted seeds in fertile soil, and we will keep all of them in our prayers.”
Beth says she’s learned a lot about henna art from an online source, hennastories.org. “I usually modify a design to create what I think will be beautiful for our ladies. I practice on paper and then on myself and on my daughter.”
“A Jesus People’s Orchestra” further explains how God is making a way for migrants from north and central Asia to meet those who know Jesus and can lead them to Him.