The Messianic art movement is alive and well and growing in South Africa! Ray Stolz, elder at Beit Yeshua Messianic Congregation in Johannesburg, is a printmaker who weds traditional South African images with biblical narrative to bring praise to the Jewish Messiah Yeshua. Ray’s soft-spokenness is contrasted to and complemented by the bubbly personality of his wife Merle, a Jewish believer and mother of their two sons, Adham and Asher.
Ray was born in Luanshya, a small town near Zambia, the son of a copper miner. His family relocated to Johannesburg, where Ray studied bronze casting. The small sculptures he created at that time were cameos which reflected aspects of life in South Africa. One such sculpture, Moses in the House of Parliament,” depicted a black man dressed in military-style clothes with his mouth strapped closed, cleaning a table in Parliament. Unlike the biblical Moses, however, this figure was allowed no voice against human injustice.
Ray’s marriage to Merle caused her family a great deal of anguish, as they were fiercely proud of their Jewish heritage. In fact, he did not meet her family until a year after the couple was married.
Ray writes, “Although I knew Merle was Jewish, the extent of my knowledge of Judaism did not prepare me for the many heartaches and trials we were to endure. All the while that these tribulations were impacting our lives, both of us were living in a spiritual vacuum. I came from a home where Jesus was accepted but not as One with whom a personal relationship was cultivated. In fact, over the years as I grew up, Jesus faded from my life and the business of this world took over. Merle did not believe either, and in our early married days this was a situation which suited both of us.”
Ray’s artwork at that time was “secular, uninspiring and eclectic.” But it would become the vehicle through which God would reveal Himself to Ray, Merle and their entire family. “I had it on my heart to paint a picture of the crucifixion.…
I struggled to understand why I was painting anything with religious subject matter. In the end this painting didn’t look anything like a scene of the crucifixion. It was a huge painting—1.5 meters high—which forced its presence on the viewer. When I explained it to Merle, I very cautiously told her about Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. I wasn’t very convincing however, because of my own confusion over Him. We both ended up with more questions than answers.
“From this point on, things moved very quickly and before we knew what was happening, Merle and I and our two sons attended a Jews for Jesus Hanukkah celebration. Andrew Barron preached a message on the first chapter of John. Immediately, we understood that Yeshua is the Light of the World. Andrew’s wife Laura visited with us and we all accepted Yeshua as our personal Savior.”
Ray and Merle continued to visit the Jews for Jesus Bible study, which eventually grew into an independent Messianic congregation. The Stolz’s became actively involved there and Ray now co-leads the congregation with Malcolm Cohn and Eliyah Gould, present leader of the South African Jews for Jesus branch.
Ray’s artwork now reflects his growing understanding and appreciation for Jewish culture and life, nurtured by his involvement in the messianic movement and a visit to the land of Israel in recent years. “This exposure to the land of the Bible made an immense impact on me and became a source of inspiration for my art. From then onwards my subject matter became fiercely God-related. My desire is to express through my art, biblical narratives which proclaim the greatness of God.
“Printmaking is by its very character an expressive medium. It is also a very primitive and indigenous medium, which relates to my African upbringing. Through the use of biblical content and Jewish imagery I desire these prints to testify to the Jewishness of .the gospel message and God’s plan for man in the Scriptures. I want my artwork to be both a ministry and an expression of praise to the Lord.”