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Show Us Your World
A creative community in a culture of despair, FreeStyle Art Studio is a safe place where youth can express themselves without judgment.

FreeStyle Arts Studio is part of The Bridge, a drop-in centre run by Youth Unlimited (formerly known as Kawartha Youth for Christ). Melissa Bothwell is the current arts coordinator for Youth Unlimited. Melissa grew up going to Calvary Church in Peterborough and feels called to the mission field right at her doorstep. She shares with testimony readers her passion for using art to help kids connect with God.

FreeStyle Arts Studio located in Peterborough, Ontaio.

I believe art is always a dialogue. The artist communicates to the audience. The audience responds to the art. The chosen medium becomes part of the message as the artist reveals who they are through their work. Many youth today do not feel understood so they need ways to express themselves. The beautiful thing about creating an art studio for youth is that it allows them to come and explore both the arts and themselves. We've built a safe place. Youth can express themselves here without judgment, which is an amazing dynamic to be part of. Unique and challenging interactions happen as youth share their laughter, silliness, hurts and despair. We are the privileged ones. We get to listen and offer hope for their lives. A community is being built here — one of creativity, conversation and care.

In his book Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer wrote:

The arts and the sciences do have a place in the Christian life. They are not peripheral. For a Christian redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the Lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. And art work can be a doxology in itself.

Creating things of beauty to the glory of God that's what we do at FreeStyle.

This space is about much more than painting a picture. It's about coming alongside each youth to intentionally build a relationship with them. Inevitably, opportunities arise to effectively share our faith, hope and love with them. We serve a creative God. When we create art, we reflect His image and, I believe, bring Him pleasure. I love to share this truth with the youth whom I walk alongside.

We have a darkroom in our studio where youth learn to operate manual cameras and develop their own black and white pictures. Recently, we sent them out, cameras in hand, and asked them to "Show us your world." The resulting photos and ensuing conversations have been both heartbreaking and beautiful. One of these youth is "Anne."

Anne has been through more trials in her short life than I would wish on anyone. She has attended our youth centre on and off for many years. Two years ago her dad took his own life. Her pain from that tragedy became a wall that made connecting with her very difficult. She now lives with her mom, who is headed back to jail again. Drugs and alcohol keep most of the people in her life from being there when she needs them.

So who does she have? Well, she has a best friend and her friends here at the BridgeYouth Centre. In spite of her painful background, she is becoming a mature and responsible young woman. Our photography program has given her a way to express her insightful perspectives on life. Anne has excelled in this community, both creatively and emotionally. She teaches us again to look past first impressions and hear the true story beneath the surface. Please pray for her safety in an often dangerous home environment; for her relatives and friends to break free from their addictions; that Anne will truly discover who God is.

Melissa Bothwell is an urban missionary with Youth Unlimited in Peterborough, Ontario, where she cultivates Christ-centred creative connections with youth. For more information on Youth Unlimited and the FreeStyle Arts Studio go to: or contact Melissa directly at


'Schaeffer, Francis. Art and the Bible. InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Originally published in testimony, November 2007.




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