God guides her paintbrush
While growing up in Lyndhurst, N.J., Lieutenant Emily Leslie recognized that she had a talent for painting.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting,” Emily says. “I was always encouraged, whether it be by my family or by teachers in school, to just keep at it.”
Emily took some art classes in high school to hone her craft, but for the most part, she is self-taught. “Over the years, my skills have grown. I firmly believe that God gave me that talent to bring glory to Him,” she says.
As a member of the 2019 “Messengers of the Gospel” session, Emily found some kindred spirits when she showed up at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Suffern, N.Y. She would often display her painting skills during chapel.
“I saw many other session–mates of mine who had also been into painting and had used their art to glorify God,” Emily recalls. “We got together one day, and I remember we just all kind of prayed over each other so that God would keep that passion alive for us.
“From that point on, it was like God lit a fire in my spirit and said, ‘This is what I have for you to glorify me. Use your skill in whatever way possible.’ From then on, I just continued to let Him lead me.”
Yielding to the Spirit
In fact, Emily said God is in complete control when she paints.
Today, as a Salvation Army officer in Greenfield, Mass., Emily says “There are times when I will sit down at my desk and I will have no idea what to paint and I’ll just pray. I’ll say, ‘OK, Lord. What do you want to use me for? What would you like me to do?’ Then it just kind of flows. I take the paintbrush and He does all the rest.
“In those times, I have no idea until I’m done with the painting what exactly it is, but I know that He knows, and He has a plan and a purpose for each painting and many people have been blessed because of them.”
Emily said sometimes she is unhappy with her finished product, but God uses it anyway.
“I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘That really blessed me’ and they tell me they’ve seen the gospel through one of my paintings,” she said.
Emily described her paintings as more illustrative and light in detail. Many of her paintings are Scripture-based and use such images as the lion and the lamb as well as angels from the book of Revelation. “I have a wide range of things I like to paint,” she said.
She also likes the “Paint and Worship” concept, which allows her to sometimes listen to a sermon while she paints.
“While I take it in, I try to express that in my art,” she said. “I try to exemplify His Word and His Scripture. Whether it’s a song or while someone is preaching, I have been able to paint to the message or to the worship and just kind of stick with the theme.
“I would love to show people how to do the same—or simply read Scripture or go through something like that with them while painting. I believe that God does the speaking in situations like that. When our words fail, He tends to speak louder than we can.”
Her quiet sanctuary
Emily and her husband, Lieutenant Paul Leslie, have three small daughters. Finding time to paint can be a challenge while parenting and being a busy officer. For her birthday, Emily’s husband built her a small painting desk in the basement of their home.
“Now that we’re past Christmas, I do find a little more time to go down there and spend time in the quietness and just paint and have that freedom,” she said.
“If [my husband] knows that I’m kind of itching to paint, he’ll say, ‘OK, I’ve got the girls, you just go do your thing.’ That’s helpful. Sometimes, I’ll wait until they’re asleep and then paint, but they also like to paint alongside me sometimes.”
Emily said she is yet to sell any of her paintings; most have gone to friends as gifts or on the walls of the Greenfield Corps, which is the first appointment for the Leslies.
As the daughter of Salvation Army officers James and Joy Labbe, Emily said she is in the process of starting a community arts ministry to get others involved.
“That is a passion of mine, to be able to do that,” she said. “I know that painting helps the mental wellbeing and health of people. This is another therapeutic way to help. For some people, it’s a good outlet for them to just have that time, whether it’s in silence or with music. I know it’s important for children as well. It’s definitely a ministry I would like to start.”
by Robert Mitchell