SAN ANDREAS, CA (August 8, 2013)—When artist and retired Covenant pastor Randy Klassen painted a watercolor of a small child opening the towering doors of a church in 1981, he had no idea the impact it would have on hearts throughout the world.
He never anticipated hearing grieving parents in San Jose, California, tell a TV news crew how a print of the painting hanging in their home had comforted them in the loss of their child. He never imagined hearing communist officials in Guangzhou, China, secretly confide their faith in Christ to him when they saw the original on display as part of a cultural exchange, or that its image would appear on TV throughout that country.
The image has provided many opportunities to speak the gospel.
At one show where the painting, titled To Such Belongs the Kingdom of God, was on display Klassen recalls, “A brusque man came up to me and said, ‘It’s not a bad painting, but no kid that small could open a door that big.’ I didn’t hesitate to share with him that his observation was exactly right. We cannot open the door except by faith. If we come just as we are, like this child, we’ll be able to open the kingdom door and be bathed in the light of God’s grace.”
Through such encounters, Klassen says, “I think I preached as many sermons at art shows as I did in the pulpit. They were shorter, but they often were to persons I would never have seen in church.”
Now he is auctioning the award-winning original. He plans to donate 10 percent of the proceeds to Covenant World Relief and 10 percent to Covenant Kids Congo. The remainder will go into an estate trust of which the Covenant is beneficiary.
Images of the painting have appeared in multiple magazines and on the cover of an Advent calendar distributed nationally in 1999 by Mainstay Church Resources.
Klassen says that he knew he wanted to paint a spiritual-themed subject in 1981, but wasn’t sure what it would be. While searching files in the Covenant Companion, he discovered a black and white photograph of an unidentified child at a church door. The child’s back was to the camera so it was unclear whether the image was of a boy or a girl.
“That made it perfect,” says Klassen, adding that when Jesus placed a child in the disciples’ midst, gender was irrelevant.
Klassen used his son’s jeans for the detail and color. The door in the photograph didn’t fit his concept so he drove around the area until he found the massive doors at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, and sketched them from his car.
Klassen hadn’t thought much about having lithographs made until he took the painting to a framer in Skokie. When the clerk helping him saw the painting, she turned around without a word and went into the back room. She returned with several coworkers, telling them, “You’ve got to see this one.”
A Catholic priest from St. Mary’s Cathedral also happened to be in the shop. He told Klassen, “If you ever do a lithograph of that painting, I want one.”
Klassen’s wife, Joyce, sold her hair salon and used the money to pay for the cost of producing 750 lithographs. All were sold. A later run also sold out.
When the lithographs first began to circulate, one came to the attention of Arlene Mord, who wrote to tell Klassen that the child in the picture was her daughter, Marlene. Pastor Carl Strom, who was Marlene’s grandfather, had taken the photo in front of the Hilmar (California) Covenant Church.
The original painting is on a full sheet of 300 lb. acid-free rag paper using the most permanent type of watercolor, Klassen says. It is museum-framed with triple matting and is 34 ½ inches by 42 inches.
Klassen says it has been appraised at between $20,000 and $40,000. The minimum bid for the painting is $15,000, plus shipping and handling, as well as insurance. If the buyer lives in Washington, Oregon, or California, he will deliver it personally.
Bids may be mailed to Klassen at 1330 Calaveritas Rd. #104, San Andreas, CA 95249, or emailed to him. Bidding ends August 31.
Klassen’s art also appears in several Covenant church structures. He designed and built the windows for University Covenant Church in Davis, California, which he planted, and designed the windows of Hillcrest Covenant Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, where he also served. He designed and constructed the windows in the chapel at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago.