Artist's images reflect God's word

By COLETTE M. JENKINSAkron Beacon Journal Published:

COPLEY TOWNSHIP, Ohio (MCT) -- Mara Bochart felt a warming sensation in her soul that changed the way she views her relationship with God.

"I had a good job in corporate America, doing graphic design, but something was missing," Bochart said. "There was a hole in my heart and I kept wondering and asking, 'What is my purpose?' I knew there had to be more.

"One day, I was out on the front porch, really crying out for an answer. I had gotten to the end of me, and I had the vision of Jesus in front of me. It was a spiritual experience that changed my heart."

That change of heart, about five years ago, put Bochart on a path that led to a new venture, called Shine Living: Gifts of Grace that Shine for His Glory -- an art ministry that combines biblical scripture and images to share the word of God.

Her art gallery and retail store, which she owns with her husband, Rich, is located in River City Gift Shoppes, in Copley Township, Ohio.

The name of the ministry was inspired by Matthew 5:16 -- "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

"Everything in the store has a personal story or testimony to go with it. This is Mara's calling. She is using her God-given talents to witness to others through these beautiful images," said Rich Bochart, who works in the printing supply business. "Sure, we would like to be able to make a living, but it truly is not about the money. It is about connecting people to God by bringing his word alive through images."

The couple recently sold their home in Wadsworth, Ohio, and moved to an apartment in Orrville, Ohio, with their three sons -- Ronan, 15; Braden, 13; and McLain, 6 -- to better manage the financial aspect of their lives. Their sons attend a Christian school in Orrville, and Rich Bochart travels to Warren, Ohio, for work.

"We have stepped out on faith, trusting that God will work out all of the details. We want to be where God wants us to be," Mara Bochart said. "This isn't about us; it's about glorifying God. He's already opened several doors for us."

The Bocharts started in a 50-square-foot space and now occupy an 1,100-square-foot area between Grandpa Joe's Candy Shoppe and Judy's Ice Cream & Coffee Shoppe at River City. Shine Living's retail space also includes products created from partner businesses and vendors who produce a variety of items, including jewelry, handbags and candles.

The couple said that they have been blessed by the number of people who walk into the shop and say that they feel a warmth or the spirit of God.

Rev. Gary Oliver, who pastored a local church in Wadsworth for 10 years, dedicated the space to God when the Bocharts moved in. He said the couple has a heart for spreading God's love.

"They are bringing the word of God to people through images that reinforce the personal nature of the Scriptures," Oliver said. "The artwork does more than give us an awe of God. It shows us that God really wants to connect with us on a personal level. (The Bocharts) really want their products to make a difference in people's lives and draw them to God."

Mara Bochart creates digital art designs, combining photographs with Scriptures. The images are placed on products, including note cards, purses, tote bags, Bible carrying cases, canvases, posters, journals and bookmarks.

"It's amazing how God works. A Scripture can come to mind, and I automatically think of the perfect photo to go with it. Sometimes it works the other way; I look at a photograph and know exactly what Scripture to put with it," Mara Bochart said. "Looking back over my life, I see that God was preparing me for this all along, equipping me with a love for art and graphic art skills."

Many of the elements of nature -- leaves, acorns, flowers, rocks, sticks -- in Bochart's designs are things she picked up years ago during walks down her driveway. She has collected quotes and Scriptures since high school, and many of her photographs were taken as a part of daily life, like visits to the zoo with her family and a trip to the Holy Land.

Bochart, who readily offers that "there are many artists that are much more qualified and talented than me," said she is thankful that God chose her to help communicate his word in images.

"He is guiding me and constantly showing me how I can give him the glory and spread his word," Mara Bochart said. "I believed in God and prayed to him before he gave me the vision for what (my husband) calls my art ministry. But at that moment when he spoke to my heart, I really knew that his spirit was within me. I became a new creation. I don't have the same heart. I'm just not the same."

Shine Living also offers fundraising opportunities for local ministries. Future plans include interior decorating, apparel, hanging tapestries and upholstery.

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