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Volume 37 | Issue 4 | APRIL/MAY 2009
Divine Signs Sometimes tattoos can be worth more than 1,000 words
In 1936, Life magazine reported that approximately 6 percent of the American population had a tattoo, according to Associated Content. Seventy years later that number has risen to more than 36 percent of Americans between 18-40, according to a 2006 survey from the Pew Research Center.
Student uses tattoos, illustrations as an alternative form of evangelism by Lauren Rausch
Andrew Weatherford has 24 of them. However, he is anything but a statistic illustrating the growing popularity of body art in pop culture. His tattoos help him share his faith.
Photos by Keely Doering: Photo Editor
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fter being awake for seven days straight, Andrew Weatherford sat on the edge of his bed in his parents’ home in Arlington Heights, confusion and anxiety filling his head. His mother sat next to him grappling at anything she could to convince her son to get help. Broken Since he was 15, drugs had been a standard part of Weatherford’s daily life. Opening his eyes at noon, he stumbled out of bed to get his first fix. Ecstasy and cocaine were his morning cups of coffee. Fueled by depression, his addiction eventually caused him to be virtually homeless, floating from couch to couch of his equally addicted friends, sometimes even sleeping in an abandoned house. Weatherford, now 29 and a junior religion major, began attending Deliverance Bible Church in Hurst with his friend and drug dealer in September of 2004. The two stayed up all night popping pills and smoking speed before attending the service the next day. Weatherford told him he could no longer go on attending the service high. After 10 years of addiction and with the help of his parents, Weatherford started rehab on Thursday, March 17, 2005. His fourth day into rehab, he felt the mercy and grace of God. Growing up in a Christian home, Weatherford always believed in God, but hoped that promises he made to God during his childhood would secure him for life. At a 2 p.m. Sunday service Weatherford had begun regularly attending, Pastor Cleetus Adrian gave a sermon on repentance. Weatherford was moved. Emotions fell on him like a flood. At the end of the sermon, his convictions led Weatherford to the front of room. In his brokenness, Weatherford knelt down next to the stage with his eyes sealed shut, and spoke to God. “We go to the altar with who we are. There are no secrets from God,” Weatherford said. When his lids fluttered open and he wiped his tear-soaked face, Weatherford knew something had changed. The shadowy, misery-filled world Weatherford had lived in for so many years had been painted with luminous color. His heavy heart now felt light enough to float right out of his chest. For the next year, when he wasn’t at Harris Methodist Hospital for rehab, or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, Weatherford was at church. He became a dedicated Deliverance
Bible Church member, participating in 5 a.m. prayer meetings and evangelizing in the Deep Ellum area of downtown Dallas. Over these years and through Weatherford’s struggles, Adrian and Weatherford became friends. Weatherford was humble, teachable and committed to serving God, Adrian said. This allowed Adrian to make a simple decision when in 2008 Weatherford approached him, wanting to pastor a DBC branch in Fort Worth. “He is a person who moves on conviction and boldly fights for God,” Adrian said. “I would trust him with anything.”
Written on his face Despite his previous lifestyle, Weatherford did not get his first tattoo until 2006. “I always thought it would expose more of who I was by the tattoos I had,” Weatherford said. Now, he is not worried about being exposed. In fact, he uses the exposure to share his faith with others. After prayer, Weatherford decided to get a tattoo to remind him of the life he came so close to losing. A crown of thorns adorns his left elbow, a sign of his sins that Jesus died for. Weatherford would not stop there, however. Today, each of Weatherford’s 24 tattoos has a specific meaning. The one on his upper left bicep is a dark colored coffin ornamented with the date of his commitment to Christ, symbolizing the day he said he was born again without his past sins. Another says, “No turning back” from the hymn, “Though none go with me, I still will follow, no turning back.” His clean date, “3-17-05,” is also etched into his left arm. It is a date he hasn’t had to change, thanks to thanks to the grace of God, Weatherford said. Both of his arms are now sleeved in bright colors and intricate designs. While the body art
started off for Weatherford’s own benefit, he began to notice that strangers in the grocery store, on campus and on the street began to treat him differently than before. The attention was stunning. People struck up conversations with him about his tattoos. “I am set apart now,” Weatherford said. “Every single one of my tattoos is about my faith in Christ and is a part of my testimony and my ministry.” Weatherford knew this was something not to take for granted, something that could be useful. He began taking those opportunities to explain the meanings behind the tattoos and telling them about Jesus and the Bible. David Mills, assistant professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said though many Christians feel there is hostility toward evangelism, research shows the opposite to be true. The most difficult part of evangelizing for Christians, Mills said, is fear – mostly of how someone will respond.
“The difficulty never goes away,” Mills said. “But you pray through it.” Mills also said after 27 years of evangelizing, he can count his bad experiences on one hand. Jack Hill, professor of religion who has taught Weatherford, said independent, non-denominational churches are on the rise. “We are in a big time of change in the U.S. in terms of faith,” Hill said. “It is a lot more open-ended.” Weatherford’s tattoo ministry may not be conventional, but it is certainly broadening the spectrum of evangelism. During an afternoon visit to a local movie store, Weatherford stood at the checkout counter when a teenager approached him with a tough-guy persona. The teenager nodded his head and complemented Weatherford’s tattoos. Weatherford responded telling him that he was a Christian and the art represents his faith. Still in his hard attitude, the teenager scoffed and said he once saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you don’t believe in God, you better live your life like you don’t,” and he was going to do that. Weatherford looked into his naïve eyes and said, “Are you going to base your entire eternity on a bumper sticker?” The boy’s guise melted from his face and he headed for the door. While this may not have been a “come-to-Jesus moment” for the boy, it takes eight times of people hearing the Gospel for it to sink in, Weatherford said. However, Weatherford does not want to be known for tattoos, but for his love for God. “We have been called to minister to a generation,” Weatherford said of himself and his church. “A kind of people that in a lot of ways is unreachable, untouchable.”
Photos by Keely Doering: Photo Editor
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