Alberta girl inspires Youth Quake mural without meeting the artist

Posted: March 4, 2010

By Amy Robertson

Front banner: Elita Grinde (left) inspired part of the Youth Quake mural (right). Photos by Josh Knowles and Amy Robertson.

Josh Knowles, the artist who painted the Youth Quake backdrop mural. Photo by Josh Knowles.

n Alberta girl named Elita Grinde inspired part of Youth Quake’s main stage mural.

Grinde, 16, met the artist, Josh Knowles (College ’07), when she came to Youth Quake 2010 last month.

That is, Grinde met him for the first time AFTER he’d painted the mural.

Knowles volunteered to paint the backdrops for Youth Quake months ago. But a month before the event began, he felt like he was in over his head.

He was maintaining a full seminary course load that included Greek, working a full-time job, carrying several responsibilities at home, and designing and painting the backdrop for Youth Quake’s main stage.

“I can’t do this again,” he thought wearily as he prepared for bed one Friday night after a long week of class. He needed to be up in the morning to paint.

But he’d keep his word and do the very best work he could for the weekend. As a custodian at Briercrest, he spent a lot of time talking to Caronport High School kids. He knew how important YQ would be for them and the 1,200 others who would arrive on campus in just a few short weeks.

As he’d talked with the Youth Quake team to determine what message to communicate through his artwork, he’d come up with four panels, each with a different theme, each designed to look like stained glass with angular lines and vibrant jewel tones.

The first panel depicted a king—Jesus— in a long, flowing robe holding a scepter. The second panel depicted his suffering on the cross.

The third panel, Knowles’ favourite, was the most complex. He’d been inspired by Pilgrim’s Progress: It depicted a girl stepping into a picture of a path that led to a great city in the mountains. It was important to him that the Gospel be explained as something that YQ retreaters had to go out and do—a journey they needed to begin for themselves.

The fourth panel depicted the same girl grasping someone’s hand—he wanted to show her serving another person for Jesus’ sake. He smiled as he sketched it. The image came directly from Schindler’s List. He’d always loved the line in the film that said, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire."

When his sketches came back from the YQ team with feedback, some wondered whether he should re-do the third sketch and replace the girl with a shadow on the path.

Knowles wanted the painting to show a real person stepping into the story—he also didn’t have the time to change it. So it would stay as it was. He began painting that weekend.

As he began transferring the sketch of the girl onto the background panel, he considered the details. The stitching on her jeans pocket should be less intricate, perhaps—a lot of detail might look strange from a distance.

Yellow for her sweater. It was his favourite colour, and there wasn’t much yellow in the other pictures.

White for her belt. He’d seen a lot of CHS students wear belts that stood out against the blue of their jeans.

As Knowles swept yellow paint over the primed plywood, he had a strange thought. “What if a girl in a yellow sweater shows up at Youth Quake? Would this story speak to her?”

He dismissed the thought as overly romantic—even silly. It was just a picture ... wasn’t it? Just in case, Knowles prayed silently as he painted. He knew (at least, he hoped) God would use his work somehow.

Elita Grinde stands in front of the mural she inspired. Photo by Josh Knowles.

“Brunette, actually,” Knowles thought to himself with a sparkle in his eye, giving the girl in the yellow sweater long, wispy strands of honey-brown hair.

The last part was the sky. Knowles stood back, surveying his work critically. Something didn’t look right—it wasn’t coming together the way he wanted it to. He frowned.

Knowles’ wife, Dochelle, stood beside him, looking at the same painting. “It needs more orange and pink,” she said simply.

He painted the sky soft hues of pink and orange, and then stood back. A smile covered his face.

“I like it,” he said.

Three weeks later, Grinde, 16, was traveling to Youth Quake from Beaumont with her youth group. She frowned, distracted. She’d been anxious and restless for nearly a month. She’d been to a conference in Edmonton just a few weeks before and sensed since then that God was pursuing her after a long, dark year. She couldn’t even find peace as she slept—she’d been plagued by nightmares in the week leading up to YQ. What did God want from her? And if she were to find out—could she give it?

Her group walked into the main session that night, the lights dim, and the room full. It was warm—too warm. She removed her bright yellow sweater, which she’d worn constantly since purchasing a few weeks previously, and put it beside her. As the program began at the front, her eyes focused on a picture in the background of a young girl.

The girl in the paining had tousled, honey-brown hair like Grinde's, jeans that looked identical to her favourite pair (right down to the stitching), a white belt just like the only belt she owned ... and a yellow sweater.

It wasn’t possible that a picture of her had ended up on the backdrop at Youth Quake. It was a coincidence, surely.

Yet she couldn’t get the image of the girl in the yellow sweater out of her head.

Throughout Saturday’s sessions, Grinde was inexplicably drawn to the picture—she could hardly pull her eyes away from the girl stepping toward the great city in the distance.

Kevin Fawcett, YQ’s spiritual director, began talking to the crowd about the girl stepping into the story, and something clicked for Grinde.

Could that be why God had been after her? To step into the story he’d written for her?

That night in the dorm, she was sharing her questions with a few friends. Her cousin looked up and said, “Yeah, why does that painting look exactly like you?”

Grinde was overwhelmed. The girl in the yellow sweater couldn’t be her hand-painted invitation from God, could it?

The next morning, Grinde decided she needed to find Fawcett and ask him about the painting—who had painted it? What did it mean? During the morning session, she continued to be fascinated by the painting. Even the pink highlights in the sky gave her chills—they reminded her of a recurring dream she’d had years previously in which God had pursued her. The most memorable part of the dream had been the vibrant, pink sky.

After the session, she and Fawcett located a tired-looking Knowles sitting with a group of CHS students toward the back of the chapel . Her story literally spilled from her mouth as she told the artist everything—from the pink sky in her dream to her jeans, her white belt, and the yellow sweater she’d barely taken off all weekend.

Knowles’ smile grew as he realized whom he was talking to—the girl he’d prayed for, but never thought he’d meet.

Grinde stopped to take a breath, and Knowles stepped in. “You’re the girl I prayed for,” he said in giddy disbelief.

Before Grinde left, he asked her if she’d like her photo taken with the backdrop. She did. As they moved toward the stage, one of the tech crew members looked at them and said, “So is this the model for your painting?”

“I guess so!”exclaimed Knowles with a laugh. “But I just met her five minutes ago!”

After Grinde left, he turned to Fawcett with a smile. “I’m definitely around to help again next year.”