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A Relief Sculpture of Purpose

Abstract relief sculpture in polymer clay by Sara Joseph of footprints following a path to the cross of Jesus
Following, Polymer Clay, Sara Joseph

I collect stories of faith and art that inspire. The polymer clay relief sculpture titled, Following, (right) is my work and not the art of a story I want to tell. It was included because it's thematically pertinent.

My story is about an artwork of no repute and impossible to be viewed by the general public. Lengthy critiques or dissertations about its artistic merits have never been written. I read about it in a book, titled, Heavenly Man, by Brother Yun with Paul Hattaway.

It captivated me, because it has the attributes of a great work of art, despite, (or especially because of) its lack of worldly acclaim!


“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Matthew 16:25


The relief sculpture of my story is not perfect in form, line or color—and it probably breaks every design principle. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of it, so just picture it in your mind's eye.

Huang, whose story this is, would likely chuckle in amusement, if he ever read this. But the chances of that happening are non existent! I am designating him as the Artistic Director of this collaborative work.

Sometime in 1984, Huang shuffled in shackles into the cell of a bleak Chinese prison.

Raw flesh and white anklebones were visible beneath his chains from frequently jumping up and down in desperation! Despite these restraints, he had a formidable reputation that preceded his arrival.

Abstract footprint on polymer clay
Detail 1, Following, Sara Joseph

He was a violent and suicidal man, who had taken many lives—a man no one dared approach!

Although bound, it was deadly to venture too close to him, unless you wanted your nose bitten off—something he'd done before! Filthy and angry, he was more an animal than a man. He had been treated as such for most of his life.

But that was about to change.

Among the prisoners in this cell was a quiet, powerful Christian leader named Yun, guilty of the "crime" of planting innumerable underground churches in communist China.

Unlike the previous cells that Huang had been in, the prisoners in this cell were expecting him. They welcomed him, to his amazement, as if he were a celebrity!

Yun had convinced the other prisoners that Huang was beloved to Jesus. He was to be shown the dignity due any child of God.


“For as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me.” Matthew 25:40


The sole objective of the prisoners in this cell was to please Jesus, who had transformed their own lives. As a result, their loving service to Huang was genuine and heartfelt. His wounds were cleaned with their dirty bedding and they generously shared their meager rations of food and water. Their kindness penetrated the hardened heart of this brutal criminal.

Huang was then told about the love of Jesus. As the tangible demonstration of their love washed over him like a mighty torrent, it stripped him of his anger and hatred. Huang became Huang Enguang (Huang Grace and Light), filled with joy and purpose—a new man.

But what purpose could there yet be for a man destined to be executed?

Huang Enguang was eager to find out as Yun taught him all that he knew of the Bible.

How could he, Huang, make the most of his last days on this earth?

Abstract sculpture detail in polymer clay of a footprint.
Detail 2, Following, Sara Joseph


There burned in him a desire to somehow express his joy, launching a passionate collaborative artistic endeavor in that crowded prison cell.

At Huang’s instruction, the prisoners carved into the wall of the cell a relief sculpture that took days to accomplish. Heaven sent "tools"—odd shards of glass and rusty nails, discovered on their few trips outdoors became chisels of artistic expression.

Since Huang was unable to actually do the carving, the other prisoners painstakingly followed his instructions. They first carved a cross, the symbol of the beginning of his spiritual journey, followed by a drawing of the world. Then came a grave with a gravestone proclaiming Huang’s new name, some verses of scripture and odd bits of joyful declarations like "The Prodigal has Returned” and “In tribulation, trust the Lord” were also scraped onto the walls. And so it went—until all four walls were filled!

The creative energy and excitement in that cell must have been dynamic!


God gave us art to exult—as an explosion of unbridled praise and joy!

Carved in raw passion, this relief also faced the threat of discovery and destruction by a hostile, opposing force and ultimately oblivion, unless it was covered by the favor of God!


Foot print sculpture detail in polymer clay
Detail 3, Following, Sara Joseph

Every work created with humility and passion for His glory will be blessed. Not with the accolades of "experts", nor the fame and monetary profits by which most define success, but with influence that reaps eternal rewards!

This relief sculpture stood the test of time in an unusual way—long after Huang Enguang was executed. It even endured long after other prisoners with him were either discharged or killed for their faith!

Mutely speaking from the walls of that cell, it changed the lives of hundreds of inmates who followed them. Prisoners spent countless hours in that cell, drawing comfort.

The four walls that were so enthusiastically carved still speak today. Those who eventually escaped that cell recounted, with gratitude, their repentance prompted by those walls and their subsequent birth into new, free lives with Jesus!

While I would never wish for you to see this relief sculpture in person, I hope that the lessons found in this story will shape your creative decisions.

Art created in genuine, worshipful humility can be used by God for eternal impact, usually in ways that are completely unforeseen when created.

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