Is it a theatre? Is it a coffee shop? Is it a church?
The brightly coloured ‘Artuo Teatro’ building in Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth keeps passers-by guessing.
For musician, worship leader, ‘not-a-dominee’, Nagel Myburgh Artuo is indeed a unique blend of theatre, coffee shop and church. It is a ministry that uses performing arts to make disciples. It is also the realisation of a dream that he has carried in his heart since he was a schoolboy in a small town in the Northern Cape.
Myburgh was attracted to music from a young age and began piano lessons in Standard 2. After a powerful encounter with Jesus at a church camp in Upington when he was in Standard 5 his life was changed forever.
“I always felt that I would be involved in ministry but that I would never be a pastor or dominee,” he said.
His life journey took him to study music and later psychology at the University of the Orange Free State. Then God opened doors for him to serve as a worship director in various churches and to attend a Bible school.
In 2001 he joined a team planting a new Doxa Deo campus in Pretoria. He loved the city and thought he would stay there. But after three years he received a word from God that he was preparing him for something big. His wife, Anzell had a dream about packing up and moving to the sea. And sure enough they were soon on their way to Port Elizabeth to establish Doxa Deo in the city.
For some years he led worship ministry as Doxa Deo established campuses in PE. During one frenetic 3-year season he and his worship team used to shuttle between three buildings in different parts of the city on Sundays. Things calmed down from 2007 as the church took steps to manage its growth and by 2009 Myburgh’s ministry was focused on the thriving Doxa Deo campus in Kabega.
He said he told his wife at the time that they were having an awesome time of worship in all of their services but something was missing for him personally.
At the end of 2009 (or the beginning of 2010) the leader of Doxa Deo in PE, Pastor Braam Botha, asked Myburgh to accompany him to look at an old church building that they owned in Richmond Hill, in an area that had been through a bad season of increased crime and social problems. Doxa Deo’s first campus in PE was in that building. It was vacant again because a church that had rented it had moved out.
“I always knew we were going to come back here [to the old church building in Richmond Hill]. I just did not know what we would do here. But I knew that God had something different in mind.”
Nagel said his experience of walking into the old, deserted church building was “one of the most amazing, Spirit-filled moments of my life”.
Presence of God
Braam was walking on one side of the building and I was walking on the other, and as we approached each other there was just a presence of God. I started crying. God said specifically to me that this will be a place for the arts and restoration: and the whole concept of shalom — people being made whole,” said Myburgh.
“I think Braam could see that something was happening to me. I asked him if we can’t use it [the building] for the arts and he said ‘yes’. So in that year  we had five productions here. And I began to understand what God put in my heart as a child — not wanting to be a typical pastor but wanting to make disciples.”
Botha appointed another worship leader at the Doxa Deo West Campus and gave Myburgh a free rein to run with the arts vision.
Myburgh named the project, Artuo, which is a Greek word for ‘order’, representing a philosophy of bringing God’s spiritual order through the arts.
His vision was to reach out to artists: to people who would never go to ‘normal church’ or who had fallen away from church.
“We are not against church. We have a passion for church which we believe is God’s plan for this world. But we want to reach those kinds of people in a different way.”
He recruited six ‘uninvolved’ couples from Doxa Deo to help him launch the project. One of the men in that group, who used to just ‘sit in church’ is now so actively involved he has to be held back. “There is revival around him,” said Myburgh.
Last year Artuo staged no less than 10 theatre productions including musicals and dramas. This year they are “slowing down a bit”.
“Our thing is not entertainment. Our thing is to disciple people and to be a prophetic voice,” said Myburgh.
About 70 per cent of the people who attend ‘street cafe ministry’ at Artuo on Sundays are people who attended shows and discovered that a church meets there on Sunday mornings.
About 70 to 80 adults meet in the coffee shop on Sundays and 30 to 35 children gather in the adjacent hall.
“We have plans to expand because we are already quite full on a Sunday morning,” said Myburgh.
“It is not programme that brings us together. It’s relationship with God, revelation of God, revelation between each other. And not the whole consumer thing where you come together for a nice hour of entertainment. So on Sundays it is very relaxed, people drink coffee – but then we have worship like a normal church — no compromise in anything. Were very expressive in our worship. Sometimes after we do our announcements and offering then we say ‘Lets take a 10 minutes coffee break’. Then we do the Word like a normal church.”
The emphasis on authentic relationships has helped people who would not normally go near other churches to experience God’s order. “We have had amazing stories of people experiencing victories in their lives. We’ve had marriages restored and others getting free.”
Journey with people
He said that in doing productions they “make a lot of space to journey with people”.
The journeying involves teaching moments during rehearsals and coffee meetings between Artuo arts department members and cast members who are drawn from the wider music and drama community of the city.
“Performers who are involved with other productions in the city will always say afterwards that this [production] was a different experience. They say they have never seen so much order — without knowing that that is our mission. They comment that with us there is no conflict or nastiness.”
The first productions at Artuo had evangelistic or Christian themes. But now they do secular productions as well.
“God doesn’t have a problem with that. Because we do it from a platform where everything we do comes from a relationship with God. So in that sense we succeed in getting people from the outside involved. Because if you say to a person who doesn’t have relationship with God, ‘Come and be part of this production and its a worship thing there immediately is resistance.”
Street cafe outreach
Once a term on a Wednesday Artuo hosts a street cafe evening. It is an outreach time where people come to enjoy coffee and live music.
Artuo is also building relationships with other artists and offering them a platform to perform or stage productions.
It also has plans to expand and improve its own quite spartan theatre facilities.
“We have had people tell us we are crazy doing what we do with what we have. We do have sound in there. But we don’t even have our own lights. But God has been so faithful and sent people to help us.”
He said: “I have realised that if you are going to wait for everything to come together before you do something your are going to wait forever.
“One of the things that I would like to change if I could go back in time is just step out in faith and do my thing.”