Artist Annie Teng discovered that her art could be a channel of God’s healing and encouragement to others. All photos courtesy of Sound of Art.
September marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year or Feast of Trumpets.
“The Jewish High Holy Days are a reminder from the Lord that He has appointed seasons and times for us to remember Him in different ways,” says artist of faith-based art, Annie Teng.
In an ongoing collaboration with Sound of Art featuring stories and devotionals at the intersection of faith and art, this is Teng’s story of God’s gift to, and through, her.
In the course of Sound of Art’s work with artists, we have discovered a number of “hidden gems” and “rising stars”: Middle-aged artists who have returned to pursue their passion in art after successful careers in the marketplace.
For many, it is their expression of worship unto God, distilled through years of spiritual reflection and varied life experiences.
When dreams don’t square with reality
Annie Teng, 54, is one such artist who recently took up the paintbrush again, after a long hiatus of 20 years.
As a child growing up in Malaysia, Teng was gifted in art. Her mother noted her artistic flair, and arranged for her to study art in school.
She excelled and scored an ‘A’ for art in her GCE ‘A’ Level examinations. Her artistic gifts extended beyond the visual arts to include a talent for music and the piano. Teng also earned her diploma in piano shortly after her ‘A’ Level examinations.
Unfortunately, her artistic journey would be prematurely cut short at the conclusion of her studies.
As she had to earn a livelihood, she put her artistic pursuits aside, left her hometown and found work in Singapore. The stereotype of the “starving artist” was real; she did not think that pursuing art professionally would provide her with an adequate income.
For over 20 years, Teng worked in a variety of corporate jobs as well as in the social services sector, where she served the elderly, worked in pre-school education and also in Christian missions.
In all of these jobs, Teng never found the opportunity to use her gift in the arts. She had long since left her paint brushes and piano scores behind in Malaysia, never thinking that they would be of any use to her again.
Finding streams in the desert
Fast forward to May 2017, when Teng was in what she describes as a spiritually dry season. She had drifted away and felt far away from God. After working for over 20 years, she still felt empty and dissatisfied with life.
In her spiritual hunger, she recommitted herself to God at her church – 3:16 Church. That would be the turning point in her life.
She noticed that when her pastors came back from Israel in 2015, their countenance changed.
In June 2017, 3:16 Church organised a trip to Israel. She could not afford to travel, but Pastor Ian Toh sponsored 60% of her trip and she was deeply moved with gratitude that God had blessed her with such a loving Pastor.
She had previously noticed that when her pastors came back from Israel in 2015, their countenance changed. Little did she know that she, too, would return with a spiritual awakening.
When she was in Israel, she felt very lost when the tour guide described significant places in Israel and realised how little she knew her Bible. In the midst of her inadequacy, God spoke clearly to her and assured her: “Don’t worry about it, I will meet you where you are.”
In her moments of repentance, she confessed to God: “Lord Jesus, you were Jewish, but I know nothing about Your culture. I want to know more about You.”
That same trip, she got baptised in the Jordan River. From then on, she would dig deep into her Bible, attend Bible study and appreciate the Jewish culture.
As she stepped into her new found passion for God’s Word, God moved in her life again. This time God would revive her long forgotten artistic talents.
Adding colour to her canvas
One day, when Teng was teaching in kindergarten, she taught the children “Art Math”. The concept was simple: Use art to teach children how to count. She had taught it before, but it had never left much of an impression on her.
Annie knew she had the gift of using art to speak life and healing to people.
But this time, as she picked up the paint brush, she felt a strange familiarity and connection. With each stroke she applied on the paper, she felt more immersed in the creative flow of the experience. She wanted more.
Teng bought some paint, and every day she would conduct her own art therapy at home. She would paint and explore different artistic techniques, just as she used to do when she was young. As her creativity flowed, her paintings started to pile up. Initially, they seemed to sit idle on her desk, nothing more than a private preoccupation.
She started posting photos of her paintings on Facebook, and one day to her surprise, she got over 40 likes for a painting. Her friend, who is not a Christian, shared with her that the painting spoke deeply to her. That was when Teng knew that her artistic skill was meant for something more. But she still could not crystallise and articulate that purpose.
In the later part of 2017, Teng attended the X1 Creative Conference, which gathered Christian creatives and artisans from all around Singapore. It was a time of immense spiritual refreshing.
With each successive panel discussion and talk, Teng was filled with greater revelation from God and she knew she had the gift of prophetic art: Using art to speak life and healing to people.
She had rediscovered her vocational calling as God’s artist.
The touch of God
Teng’s pastor, Pastor Ian Toh, also came up to her and asked her to start a prophetic art ministry in the church. Gladly, she agreed. Neither she nor her pastor knew how to get started. They only walked in the Spirit.
So Teng began by bringing her stack of paintings to church every Sunday, and displaying them at a table at the back of the sanctuary. She brought all she had, and God did the rest.
Whenever there was a new visitor at church, Teng would chat with them and help them feel at home. Her prophetic art became conversation starters. Sometimes, the visitor would say: “I like this piece, it speaks to me.”
Once, a church visitor walked past her booth, saw her painting and broke down in tears. Little did Teng know that God would use her art to reveal pains that were too deep for words.
That precious moment became a starting point for healing. And it all happened through a painting she had originally made for her own therapy.
There were times when God would prompt Teng to gift a painting to someone in church, and that person would get a divine prompting at the same time to look for her. Other times, someone would walk up to her booth after service and burst into tears upon seeing a painting that reflected the condition of his or her heart.
From there, conversations would start and Teng was given the opportunity to be a channel of God’s healing and encouragement to others.
Teng never knew what to expect, but she knew that God was working through her. She only needed to follow his lead.
One night on September 7, 2018, Teng was attending a cell group at Pastor Ian Toh’s house when she had a spiritual encounter with God. She felt the Hand of God upon her shoulder. The next night, on September 8, she experienced the same thing.
She realised that this encounter with God was on the eve of Rosh Hashanah on September 9, 2018, which is the new year in the Hebrew calendar. On Rosh Hashanah, God led her to read Leviticus 23:23, which was incidentally the Feast of the Trumpets, the introduction of Rosh Hashanah!
God led her to fast and repent for 10 days until Yom Kippur on September 18. This incident sparked her interest in studying the Hebrew calendar and Holy days. Out of her love for the Jewish culture, she painted “613” and “Sivan Basket”.
Back to where it all began
At the start of 2020, Teng felt God’s prompting to return to Malaysia. When she heard that the border was going to be shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she scurried to pack her bags and return.
Her loved ones heard about her sudden return to Malaysia and connected her with a potential employer, a music school. Very quickly after the interview, she was offered a job as a piano teacher, using another long-forgotten gift – that of music.
She also began selling her paintings through Sound of Art, a Christian art gallery. It all came full circle for her. God nurtured Teng as an artist and musician as a young girl, and now God brought her back to where she first discovered her gifting.
God led her to fully realise heavenly possibilities even though she had meandered away with earthly practicalities.
And God uses our gift, no matter how small we think it may be. Who knows where God will lead us? If we set sail on a mission with God, He will bring us to fulfil the very dream He destined us to live.