2017 / By Kurt J. Kolka
BOYNE CITY — At the recent A Higher Call Men’s Conference at Gaylord E-Free Church, artist and speaker Matt Bowman of Boyne City talked about how God has sustained his art ministry over the years.
Bowman has an international ministry which brings people from around the world to learn how to do chalk art as way of teaching others about the Gospel. He also travels around the country doing his own chalk art presentations to various groups and organizations.
What he didn’t talk about at that conference was his own ties to the Gaylord area and how people in the Alpine Village influenced him and his family in their spiritual walk.
“My dad was a teacher in Gaylord and my mom was a teacher in Elmira. My mom and dad became Christians in a small group Bible study at the E-Free Church in Gaylord. Dad hung out with this group of men which included Denny Freeman and Glen Catt.
“My dad had been quite a partier, quite a wild man. Reading the book of John with this group of men changed him. One day he pulled over to the side of the road on the way to work and he said, ‘Lord, I’ve made a mess of the first 36 years of my life. I’m just going to give all my life to you, no strings attached.’
“He went to school that day and something happened. He went to swear like he always had and all of a sudden he realized God was telling him, ‘The old man is dead; the new man doesn’t do that.’”
The change in his dad had a major impact on Bowman. A few years later, when the family was attending a church in Walloon Lake, Matt gave his own life over to God.
In 1988, Bowman took a class on chalk art from artist and evangelist Bill Gothard in Detroit. The next year, at the age of only 13, he decided he wanted to try his hand at chalk art with a Gospel message.
Then, in 1992, Bowman signed up take a series of classes on chalk art in Muskegon at the Maranatha Conference Center, spending $1,200 for it and promising a friend he would do chalk art for his upcoming Vacation Bible School. By day two of the class, Bowman decided it was a waste of time and asked for his money back. The instructor refused.
Discouraged, Bowman called his friend and said he had to cancel his appearance. To his surprise, his friend said it was too late. Flyers had already been passed out with his name on them.
For three weeks, Bowman practiced art in his basement to come up with ideas. Then, out of desperation, Bowman prayed, “It’s obvious I wasn’t born with any art talent. If you give it to me now, I’ll always use it for you and tell everyone you gave it to me.”
Eventually, Bowman came up with three “pathetic” pieces of chalk art, as he refers to them, to show the children. While drawing on the second day of Bible school, he heard one girl sitting down tell her friend say, “I was here Monday and he’s going to draw again. He’s a famous artist.”
After that, Bowman signed up for more Vacation Bible Schools and in time became part of Gothard’s evangelistic team, traveling and putting on presentations around the country and even overseas, including Russia, for 20 years.
When the Gothard ministry began to slow, Bowman came back to Boyne City and tried to set up a personal chalk ministry from Northern Michigan.
When the economy crashed in 2008, the number of presentations he was asked to do dropped radically. They went from hundreds down to about 25 a year.
Yet, says Bowman, God found ways to keep his ministry going. Bowman took over production of the chalk itself when its former maker discontinued it. When even that didn’t bring in enough money, he turned to doing yard work, not only as a way to bring in income but as a way to serve others. Now, he has come to view it all as part of the same ministry.
At the men’s conference last month in Gaylord, Bowman talked about God’s faithfulness during this transition in his life.
“I always felt like I wanted to do something for the Lord after all he’d done for me. I used to think that God is just going to show me everything he wants me to do with my life. And he never did.
“Instead, he put things in my path which he wanted me to deal with at the time. Now I look back and see that God led me all the way, but, at the time, I thought, it’s just this crazy list I can’t get through.
“God uses particular things of our talents that are strange. I took 12 years of guitar lessons. I can play guitar. But God didn’t choose to use that. When I go to a meeting its the chalk art people want to see.”
Interestingly, Bowman’s art has touched people around the world now, because a small group of Gaylord men chose to add a wild teacher to their Bible study back in the early ‘80s.