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Photo by Scott D. Weaver/Genesis

Art for community's sake

The arts | The Culture House, an arts organization in suburban Kansas City, brings a Christian ethos of excellence for the sake of others and cultural leadership for its students

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

OLATHE, Kan.-When Jeremiah Enna left his Christian home in Kansas City to study dance and theater at UCLA, footlights trumped faith in his priorities. But during his last year at the university, God took hold of him through an improbable chain of events.

Let Jeremiah tell it: "A friend of mine had graduated a year earlier and moved to Paris to volunteer for Youth With a Mission. While there he met the leaders from Eternia Dans Teater based in Sweden." The Christian dance company invited Jeremiah's friend to join them. "He declined, but told them about me as someone who might be interested. So, he gave them my name and number. The only problem was he gave them the wrong number.

"Months go by, and Vibeke Muasya, the director, finds the old crumpled-up phone number in her pocket. She feels that the Lord is telling her to call that person immediately. So, she calls the wrong number. But as God would have it, I showed up at the wrong phone number's house right about the time she called." Wrong number, right call. A few months later, in 1989, Jeremiah moved to Sweden.

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His next need was for spiritual mentoring, and here God provided again. In 1990, Ellis Potter of L'Abri conducted a seminar for the dance company. His creative way of relating the gospel to a relativistic, New Age culture profoundly affected Jeremiah's view of his own faith. He and Potter have remained close friends ever since.

What next? In 1991 Jeremiah participated in a dance conference held in Jerusalem, where one of the dancers who signed up for his workshop impressed him: "She should have been teaching me." Mona Störling (pronounced "Sterling"), a native of Finland, had grown up in a family of unbelievers but came to Christ through the influence of her local Lutheran pastor, Johan Candelin (now an outspoken advocate for the persecuted church). She and Jeremiah discovered they shared much in common. They got married the following year.

Mona joined her husband's dance company, but soon they were praying about relocating to a larger city-Helsinki perhaps, or even London-to establish their dream for a community-related arts center. During a Christmas family visit, Jeremiah noticed potential in his own hometown. The couple moved to Kansas City in 1994.

That's how stopping by the wrong house to take a providential phone call led to The Culture House in Olathe, Kan.

Culture can sound stuffy, especially when related to art, as a word that looks down its haute nose at the plebians. But to the Ennas, culture is not just about art: It's also about relationships and integration. The Culture House's lobby reflects that philosophy: Moms chat as they wait for their kids to finish dance class. Theater students practice dialogue for the next production. An impromptu prayer meeting gathers at the corner. Such camaraderie is unusual for a facility dedicated to the performing arts, where competition snarls behind smiles and thin skins flay easily. But The Culture House is unusual in lots of ways.

On the outside, The Culture House is another performing arts school, performance center, and professional dance company. Every large city holds similar institutions, but Melissa, the summer-camp coordinator doubling as receptionist, sees a difference: "With some schools, you get the sense that they're only interested in the performers that make them [the school] look good. We try to get to the real person, help them figure out who they are and build confidence in their abilities." And do Christian beliefs contribute to this goal? Melissa lights up: "Oh, yes! Jesus keeps us centered."

Kelly, a veteran of children's theater programs now teaching summer camp, sees the "way above average" performance level of the students as another key distinction. Now in the middle of a two-week program that will end with a fully staged production of The Jungle Book, her class of 7- to 13-year-olds pays close attention. The 10-minute opening number calls for them to creep and slither, hunch and sway, act and react. They don't miss a beat after one week of practice. Next week they'll add costumes, scenery, and polish.

Family support makes a difference, too. While leading a tour of the building, Jeremiah pauses at one end of the big rehearsal room, where scenery for an upcoming production of Cinderella awaits the stage. He points out a Tudor-style fireplace, beautifully painted in wood- and copper-tones: "One of our dads painted this." Besides painting and construction, families are also involved in fundraising, promotion, and transportation.

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