MACON, Ga. (BP)–J.R. Moreno and his wife Cathy were on their honeymoon 30 years ago when they saw the artistic work of a college student airbrushing T-shirts in Biloxi, Miss. Moreno was so impressed that he purchased two of the shirts and commented to his new bride, “I can do that.”
Cathy responded with a skeptical look, but six months later J.R. bought a single-action airbrush, was given a small compressor and launched his journey as an airbrush artist.
“In those days other airbrush artists refused to tell you anything about the craft, and the Internet was not available for any ‘how-to’ information, so I learned through trial and error,” Moreno said.
“After several years of practice with airbrushing and screen printing, we opened up a small business in our hometown of DeRidder, La. We stayed in business for a couple of years, but finally closed it due to the lack of income,” Moreno recounted. “That was a discouraging time and came close to wrecking our marriage, but God had another plan for us.
“We soon realized God was orchestrating things in our lives to propel us into a full-time ministry. It was a tremendous time of spiritual awakening for both of us and it was a great time of training for later experiences that God was soon to unfold.”
During those days of uncertainty, Moreno saw a young man do a “chalk talk” and concluded he could do that too. He began to work on the chalk talks, but during that time, at age 29, God led him to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Once he was asked to present one of his chalk talks to a large group of children and youth at a meeting of the local Baptist association in New Orleans. While he was teaching the youth, famed Southern Baptist pastor and statesman Herschel Hobbs was speaking to the adults.
“My picture was on the same promotional flyer with Herschel Hobbs,” Moreno said. “The fact is that I never really got to meet him, but I got equal billing with him — my 15 minutes of fame. I still have some of the flyers if anyone cares to see them.”
Over time the chalk talks developed into 6×8-foot airbrush drawings. Moreno said it is an evolving discipline as new techniques and upgrades are implemented to improve the artistry of his ministry.
Moreno has exhibited his prowess as an artist by doing paintings and drawings in a half-dozen states. But when he moved to Macon, Ga., to pastor Immanuel Baptist Church 14 years ago, he put down his airbrush and chalk in order to devote every waking moment to fulfilling his role as pastor.
After several years at Immanuel, a lady saw Moreno in a store and invited him to come to her church to paint with his airbrush. “I am not doing those drawings anymore,” he replied.
“How can you quit doing something God has gifted you to do?” the lady responded.
The woman’s words haunted Moreno for months. After much soul-searching, he began to put in motion several things to revive his airbrush ministry.
“The first step was to determine how to get enough cash to buy all the equipment needed to airbrush on a level I had never achieved before,” he said.
“I also knew that if I was going to airbrush successfully, I needed to do it often. It takes a lot of hours to keep your abilities flowing. Two years ago we opened an airbrush business on the side. This began to give us the money we needed to pour back into the ministry.
“It also gave me the opportunity to airbrush constantly to hone my artistic ability,” Moreno said. “The Apostle Paul made tents. I guess God is allowing me to paint, which is something I love to do anyway.”
Getting the support of his church also was a necessity, Moreno said.
“The people of Immanuel were gracious to give their support. Without their backing this venture would have been doomed from the beginning,” he said. “How many churches would allow their senior pastor to take a part-time job? I try to use vacation time and off days to be away for this ministry….
“Finally, I knew I would need opportunities to paint in churches. I am expecting Him to open new doors in the future. I love to go to churches and share His wonderful message of hope and redemption.”
Moreno has a repertoire of presentations including “The Lion, The Lamb and the Lord,” “The Prince of Peace,” “The Well that Never Runs Dry,” “I’m Proud to be an American,” “Noah’s Ark,” “The Cross,” “The Resurrection” and “What a Strange Way to Save the World.”
Typically, there are four parts to his presentations, Moreno said. “The first consists of the actual drawing. While I am drawing, music is played through the church’s sound system. This part is about 18 to 25 minutes, depending on the drawing. When the drawing is finished, a short sermon is preached for 10 to 20 minutes. When the sermon is complete, the black lights, lighting system and fog machine are turned on and one song is played. This brings the message and drawing all together.
“Amazing things happen to the picture as you watch. Finally, if the setting allows, an invitation is given,” Moreno said. “I have watched as God has saved souls,” he said, “mended broken hearts, revived churches and given pastors and families hope for the future.”
J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J.R. Moreno can be contacted at [email protected].