Behind the seaside village of Schoenies to the south of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) people walking on “Retha’s Trail” may find themselves wending through a giant face.
There is no sign – not even a Scripture verse – to tell such wanderers that they have strolled into the face of Jesus.
Evie Burger, one of a group of local Christian artists who created the face explained that “we had a very united sense that this was not where we were going to put up signs or explain or describe. But that this is a place where God Himself will allow people to encounter Him as He knows best. And it makes it much more inclusive.”
Wessel Kotzee, an artist and landscaper, said their assignment to create the artwork goes back to a Zoom meeting of a national prophetic artists’ group in July 2021 where a woman on the group, Karin Tereblanch, from Parys in the Free State, said she could see the face of Jesus planted in the soil of PE.
Later, Retha Taylor, a Schoenies resident who carved a unique, short walking trail through indigenous bush behind the village, showed Wessel and fellow artists a spot on the eastern end of the trail which she felt they could use to install the face of Jesus.
In December last year the artists decided that the place Retha suggested was ideal.
It ticked the right boxes according to their prophetic brief. It was near an airport and in an open space that people could casually stroll through. And later the southern aspect of the location received further support when Karin Tereblanch said she sensed there must be four faces — on the north, south, east and west of PE. Then somebody sent them a picture showing that the symbols on the standards of the tribes of Israel encamped around the tabernacle were the face of a man, an eagle, an ox and a lion. The symbol for the southern group was the face of a man.
But before they could start work, the artists had to resolve a tricky question. What would the face of Jesus look like? People asked them on Facebook: How do you know what He looks like? What about a black face?
Wessel said the Holy Spirit prompted him to look behind some bush overhanging a derelict wall next to Valley Road near the harbour. He found a small graffiti image of the face of Jesus that had been spray painted on the wall. The artists agreed that the Lord had answered their question by providing a design for the face that none of them could claim as their work.
Wessel said that in a step of faith the five artists agreed to start their project on March 25. Each one of them committed to paying for the services of one of five laborers they estimated would be needed to complete the project. They decided to source the plants they needed from their own gardens and the site – hundreds of different-colored succulents were an integral part of their design. But as for the other material needs, including 1.25 tons of ready mix concrete, four truckloads of crusher and filler stones, 8 tons of compost, bricks, tiles and grout — they had no idea where these would come from.
A week before the start date they phoned friends and shared the material needs. And in less than a week everything was provided for by generous donors. One person even committed to paying all the labour costs.
And God provided perfect weather which was crucial for achieving their goal of completing the face within a week in order to cause minimal disturbance to village residents.
They plotted a scale drawing of their design for translating the small Jesus face graffiti into a large, 3-D, multi-medium, walk-through design that included an an area where people could sit and contemplate. The “cartoon” scale drawing happily worked out at 1cm to 1m which was a great help when it came to executing the design which spans 20m from crown to chin and 25m across .
Following their grid plan they planted succulents in blocks of colour and laid out lines of bricks.
“What was nice, on the second day someone went up with a drone and we saw photos of this face that was taking shape. And what struck us was that there was sensitivity to it,” said Wessel.
Thereafter they proceeded with moulding concrete to fashion facial features. None of them had worked with concrete before and they experienced God’s hand with them as they leaned on Him in this process. Early in the project they discovered that the site was over an old village refuse dumps. They used rubble they excavated during site preparation as fill and in scuplting features.
Along the way they sensed God revealing details to them. Reflecting Evie’s passion for recycling, they used many plastic bottles in the fill and allowed some of them to protrude above ground level to add visual interest in the design. They added further interest with strategic touches of colour. Amazingly, they met their target of completing the core design and construction in seven working days.
They are still busy with “lots of little details” like tiling and grouting, said Wessel. “But we are not worried about this. We are not in control. God is and so it is evolving along the way.”
The six Christian artists are excited about how God will encounter people who walk through and rest in their handiwork.
Wessel said he was alo thrilled that some members of the Schoenies communiy have volunteered to help with maintaining the artwork, for instance by keeping weeds at bay.
He said they are also waiting for invitations to plant the eagle, ox and lion faces in God-ordained locations at other cardinal points of the city. And, he said, they have a sense that what God prophetically began in PE will spread to other centres.
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