VANCOUVER, Wash. – What has happened to Mary Thurston these past five years is only a part of what she describes as “God’s creative miracle.” The more significant part, says this wife of a local pastor, is how this unmistakable work of God in her own life is touching other lives for Jesus Christ in a stunning, fascinating way. “It’s just totally miraculous what happens,” said Thurston. “It’s just a total God thing.” In response to her sincere prayer several years ago for a new way to minister, Thurston says she has been given the ability to draw detailed faces of unknown people — even though she had previously shown no artistic ability whatsoever.”
It was soon after this began that she and others at Shiloh Fellowship in Vancouver began realizing — to their amazement —that these drawings are actually portraits of real people — even though Thurston has never met them — and often they are of people in special need spiritually.
To date, she has done less than 100 portraits, reflecting both genders, all ages, and all races. Several have been identified specifically as people living today. Some of these people have had direct contact with Shiloh Fellowship since they were drawn, some are from the wider Vancouver community and are known to some in the congregation, and some are even living in other parts of the nation. A special gallery has been set up in the church to display many of the faces and prompt prayer for them.
As these portraits are discovered — whether by the people themselves or by their friends or loved ones — needy hearts are overwhelmed to realize how very, very much God loves them and has His eye on them, says Thurston.
“The thing is, every one of these is a live person that Jesus loves, and He is going to do everything to bring people to Himself,” she said.
As a child, Thurston had watched others draw pretty pictures of animals, faces and landscapes. She tried to draw, but all she could come up with were stick figures. “Smiley faces were even hard for me,” she recalled.
Thurston, who is 67, has been involved in ministry since age 18. She has been married for almost 50 years to Jerry Thurston, pastor since 1984 of Shiloh Fellowship, a congregation affiliated with Open Bible Standard churches. In 2006, while in prayer, Thurston asked God for a fresh area of ministry. “My love for the Lord was so large that I just wanted to bless Him any way that I could.”
At the time Thurston was playing a puzzle game and began to grade her accomplishments with a simple smiley or frowning face. After praying that prayer, her smiley face began to change from a round circle into an actual face.
“It was such a surprise that I covered the margins with faces,” she said. “Then I went on to several pages, just filling in the margins with faces.”
About that same time, Thurston went on a cruise to Alaska with her mother. Each evening her mother would retire early, and Thurston would draw faces.
“A passion filled my soul with each picture. I just couldn’t stop drawing. I asked the Lord why I was drawing faces, and He said to me, ‘As you are drawing, I am drawing them to Myself.’ ’’
As Thurston draws, she feels a divine presence telling her how to shade, form and create each portrait.
“Notice the eyes,” she said. “We know that the eyes are the windows of the soul. That’s what I draw first …. Usually at the eyebrows, He tells me what it is.”
Out of respect for their privacy and because many of them are at a sensitive point in their spiritual growth, the church is not making public the names and faces of those portrait subjects who have been firmly identified.
But Thurston offers some general examples of how God is calling a wide range of people to the church’s prayer focus:
• A woman of Asian background who visited the church and saw her aunt pictured in one of the portraits.
• Another woman who at the church screamed in astonishment when she saw her son, who is Hispanic, and his wife pictured. The woman explained that her son had threatened to kill her at the same time that Thurston was drawing his picture. The woman said she was able to pray with him and he repented. The son was separated from his wife at the time, but she phoned that same evening, saying she wanted to come back home to be with her husband.
•A young boy Thurston had never met but who she envisioned and drew, and who eventually visited the church with her father. “The boy’s name was Chad,” said Thurston. “His father said ‘My little boy told me I needed to go to the church.’ We led Chad to the Lord and ministered to the father.”
•A portrait that Thurston felt led to send to an acquaintance in Florida, prompting that person to exclaim, “That’s our neighbor! We’re praying for her!”
•A person who a member of Shiloh Fellowship recognized while visiting the University of Washington in Seattle, having seen a portrait of that person at the church.
• A portrait subject who a person in the church identified as a neighbor in Washougal.
•A waitress in Spokane whose face had been seen earlier in one of the portraits.
Even though the majority of the people depicted in Thurston’s portraits are yet unidentified, they are looked upon as real people who need and deserve prayers on their behalf.
“One time I accidentally drew a picture of a young woman with a scar on her face,” said Thurston. “I tried to erase it, but I couldn’t take it off.” She is convinced that the woman — wherever she is — has a scar.
One of the portraits is of a man in a turban. He remains a mystery, but Thurston’s husband has some basic hunches about him. “I personally think he is overseas, and in God’s crosshairs right now,” he said.
He said his wife is “careful and prayerful” with her gift and that he expects it to continue. “I believe it’s like a first fruit,” he said.
The pastor added that his church has been very positively affected by his wife’s drawings. “People are anxious to pray (for others),” he said.
Mary Methven, a member of the church, said the portrait ministry has sparked a real compassion for reaching those who need the love of Jesus.
“What’s encouraging to me is, it shows let’s not be satisfied with what we’ve done. Let’s look for more,” Methven said.
Thurston herself says she considers the unusual ministry she has been given to be “so precious.”
“I can’t put it into words,” she said. “I have this opportunity to be a part of bringing people to Christ.”
For more information, contact Shiloh Fellowship at 360-892-6020 or [email protected].
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