What were once bare white walls in a old Carthage church have come to life with murals depicting a variety of bible verses, thanks to the artist most famous in this area for painting the Hope Wall in Joplin in the wake of the May 22, 2011 tornado.
Jim Bilgere, formerly of Carthage, returned last month from a year in New York City, the Czech Republic and Texas to do a painting job and recover notes and sketches he left with friends before leaving Carthage.
For the past few weeks, he’s been painting murals on the walls of the Iglesia Cristiana Hispanoamericana, or Hispanic Christian Church, at Fifth and Fulton streets.
Bilgere and Neri Ramos, pastor of the church, said it was divine intervention that Bilgere is painting in the church at all, but it was also meant to be.
He originally returned to the area about six weeks ago to paint a truck for a gentleman, but that job fell through.
That’s when Bilgere and Ramos say God stepped in and brought them together.
Bilgere said he was getting ready to head back to Texas the next day and was spending some time thinking on the grounds of the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix.
“I always go to meditate at the Vietnamese Garden where the fish are,” Bilgere said. “I was there one day a few weeks ago, I said ‘okay God, what do you want me to do now.’ I went back to my car, and it was dead. It wouldn’t start. Then a van pulled up with a family in it, and I said well, I guess I have to ask them for a jump, I have jumper cables, I need to ask them if they could jump start my car. I start walking towards the man and it was Neri. He’s standing there and says ‘Hey, I’ve been looking for you.’ I said, ‘oh, really, well I need to talk to you too.’”
Ramos said he had met Bilgere two years before and thought about him often when he looked at the bare white walls of his church.
“I met him the first time two years ago,” Ramos said. “After one month I came to this church and I was watching that wall and I said ‘Man I wish I would meet him again.’ But at that time It didn’t happen.
“Then about two weeks ago I was with my family at the park when I saw Jim walking toward me. When I saw him walking, I said ‘Oh, there he is.’ So I walked toward him. He was looking for me and I was looking for him. It was divine intervention, that’s what I think because when I said ‘Hey, I want to talk to you,’ he said, ‘I want to talk to you too.’”
Page 2 of 2 - The project grew until Bilgere had repainted the church’s front sign, painted a large mural on the front wall behind the pulpit and painted six more murals in the spaces between the windows along the side walls of the sanctuary.
Each mural depicts Bilgere’s interpretation of a verse in the bible, with the title of each mural painted on the wall below it.
The mural on the front wall is a picture of a baptism and depicts the Bible verse in Mark 16-16, which says “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” according to the New International Version of the Bible.
Other verses depicted on the side walls include a scene from Noah’s Ark depicted in Genesis 7:1, a picture of a storm depicting Peace in the Storm from John 16:33 and others.
Bilgere said he slept in the church while painting the murals, although he does have a place to stay with an uncle.
“I would be like working all night long,” Bilgere said. “The light is better in the evening and I can see better. Then I’d fall asleep at about 6 o’clock in the morning and sleep on the floor. Neri would come in and find me on the floor.”
Bilgere said he was really impressed with the work the church does with struggling people in Carthage.
“We have a shelter downstairs and we help those without a job,” Bilgere said. “We help them find a job and we tell them you can stay here or you want to go find a place. We give them a chance to earn some money and when they get out of here they are more comfortable.”
“I had heard about this place and all the help he gives to other people and so I was ready to help,” Bilgere added.