Greater Grace is less than five minutes away from Route 895, a major highway. On the church grounds it feels as if it is carefully tucked away in a deeply rooted, off-the-beaten-path community. Greater Grace has two identities that are held together in the spirit of a family. It is both a local Baltimore, Maryland school and church, and a network of missionaries worldwide. During the annual Greater Grace World Outreach missions conference, stateside church members and international missionaries spend one week in fellowship. Despite the fact that they are so far apart for most of the year, the atmosphere feels as if these people gather on a weekly basis. Matti Sirvio has spent nearly forty years in missions in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, but here people speak of him as a close friend.
In Muscat, Oman, Sirvio is gallerist, prolific artist, and church planter. In his book Samarkand (Grace Publications) he recounts his journey in powerful vignettes, a memoir of many memories that feel like a large, sweeping work of art – color blocks, energetic lines, shadows, and light. Samarkandis an epic account of international missions, of moving through cultures and political movements and building spiritual communities. It is this life, rich with experience, that Sirvio first glimpsed when he visited the Bible Speaks church in Helsinki, Finland in the 1970s.
Sirvio’s own history with Greater Grace began over forty years ago. The native Finnish artist had studied art therapy, but was wrestling with questions of faith. He went to church but felt that something was missing. He recalls that “there was no teaching of grace” in the traditional Confirmation Camp in his hometown to Sotkamo where they taught guidelines for behavior. When Sirvio was invited by a friend to attend the Bible Speaks church, led by an American pastor from Maryland, he didn’t know that this would change the course of his life. Sirvio’s own artwork today is full of colors. It is a feast of movement, capturing the nuances of transcendence and emotion. At Bible Speaks the then anti-American spirit in Finland was not present. In his book, Sirvio recalls that music and joy “bounced against the walls” and that he found the “loving and free atmosphere was fascinating, but also intimidating.” Although overwhelmed, he would return to Bible Speaks and discover that his need to know and love God was a deep well. Overtime, he would feel the call to become a missionary in Russia. Sirvio diligently studied the language and went with the American pastor, Thomas Schaller, into the then Soviet territory to minister to the community in secret meetings – including one underground church where 600 people were in attendance. Sirvio, along with others from Greater Grace, would go to great lengths to blend into Russian society and build a covert church planting community. His journey would take him into the tourism industry, which allowed him to encounter diverse people and share the message of grace. Sirvio would live and travel throughout the Soviet Union, and eventually become elected as a full-time pastor at a church plant in Stockholm, Sweden. From there he would travel to many more countries with Greater Grace before being led to his home in Muscat, Oman.
Today, Sirvio continues to serve communities through missions in Muscat, as well as run Matti Sirvio Art Galleria. Sirvio sees art as a ministry tool. He says, “When you look at my art the gospel is written everywhere.” Conversations about faith topics often take place in the gallery. Sirvio is known for creating abstract works that celebrate movement, emotive shapes and colors. The abstract images foster conversation, bringing the focus back to the gospel.
Sirvio’s role at the 2019 Greater Grace World Outreach Conference was to facilitate discussion about the experience of being called to missions. Throughout the church campus his artwork is on display. In this community, every way that he serves his calling is recognized. To learn more about the artist, and the journey that brought him to where he is today, you can find a copy of Samarkand here.