Celine Baker: Changing Lives with Acts of Faith, Works of Art
Guided by her strong faith and artistic talent, Celine Baker has created a second act that is changing the lives of people in need a world away. This journey has been nothing short of amazing…and this is what makes Celine a cool person. Boomers, you inspire us!
Many Boomers find new inspirations in a hobby or even a new calling during the second half of life. In Celine’s case, one led quite beautifully to the other.
Celine married later in life, after a long career in government contracting in the Washington DC area. She met her husband Jerry, a 27-year veteran of the Navy, when she was in her early 40s. Jerry has two children from a previous marriage—a son and daughter—who with their spouses have since blessed Jerry and Celine with four beautiful grandchildren. Soon after they married, she decided to change course and began working part-time at her church. She was doing a lot of soul-searching, wondering what else the Lord might have for her in this new season of life.
Celine decided to take up painting–never having taken a class or picked up a brush before. She grew up with a creative spirit that never really manifested itself. Her 7th-grade teacher told Celine she did not have artistic talent, so that spirit was discouraged early on and lay dormant for years—dormant but not quiet.
A New Talent Emerges
One day as she was passing a Michael’s craft store, Celine was moved to enter. The first thing she saw was a sign that advertised for art classes, and she decided to check it out. She had always wanted to learn how to paint. There she met Nancy Jung, who would become Celine’s long-term art teacher, and help her to blossom in this new craft. Nancy had been trained by a very prominent artist and passed her knowledge on to Celine, who soaked it up like a sponge.
Celine found she especially enjoyed the vibrancy of colors she found when working with oils. She had always taken to the Impressionist style, and loved artists such as Monet, Renoir and Degas. The French influence had especially spoken to her heart during a year abroad in Paris visiting museums and attending the Sorbonne. (Celine’s heritage is French. Her father was born in France and after he and her mother married, they settled in Quebec, where Celine was born.)
She describes her first attempt as “a bomb.” The second was a little better. Her teacher was a great inspiration, giving her instruction on working with light and dark, showing her how to mix colors. Celine was surprised to actually be able to paint something “half-decent” she wasn’t embarrassed to put on her own walls and share with family and friends. Turns out her 7th-grade teacher was wrong (as often happens)!
As she became more serious and more skilled, Celine began to show her work at local art shows and started to sell some pieces. Around 2010 she was participating in an intensive 4-week bible school course. She happened to pick up a book entitled: God Can Use Little Old Me. Included were stories about people who were guided to start ministries based on a passion or talent. A light started to dawn. Was there a way to turn her art into a higher calling?
The Mission: How It All Began
In 2011 Celine felt drawn to visit a friend who was on a mission project in Kenya. As she pondered about the trip, she unexpectedly got a check for $1,000. The price of the airline ticket was $1,100. That seemed to be confirmation that she should go. Things started to get exciting…the little light that was guiding her got a bit brighter.
On this trip, Celine had the opportunity and privilege of visiting St. Nicolas orphanage, a children’s home near Nairobi, Kenya. While there, she learned about the serious long-standing drought in Kenya and South Sudan, Kenya’s northern neighbor. Extreme conditions have resulted in a shortage of food and potable water, which led to the death of livestock and many people. The small amount of water that is still available from streams and rivers is heavily infested with various pathogens, parasites, and typhoid-carrying mosquitoes, all of which contribute significantly to the tragedy.
Celine’s heart was moved with sorrow and compassion. What could one person do? It became clear that fresh water from the drilling of wells was crucial to healing and progress in these areas. She clearly heard God tell her to sell her paintings to drill wells. The wheels were now in motion.
Celine called Jerry while she was still at the orphanage and told him about her epiphany: We are starting a ministry, honey! She asked Jerry to do research on how to set up a 501c3 and a website. Jerry had been supportive throughout Celine’s artistic journey and was nothing but supportive of this endeavor as well. I married the right man, she says. He has been a blessing and encouragement through it all. His administrative skills are invaluable.
This is How You Make a Change in the World
Celine advises that if something keeps speaking to your heart you have to listen and follow your passion: As it says in the scriptures: The Lord gives us the desire of our heart. He puts desires in our hearts to help lead and guide us. We need to have faith–faith in the process and faith in yourself because in the fullness of time God will bring it forth.
Back in the US, they put a web site together at Creative Reflections (CRI) and started a non-profit. Celine was clear that all revenues from the sale of any artwork on the site would be used to both finance wells, and to train indigenous African pastors who are waiting to bring spiritual counsel and guidance to those who are longing for it.
Things started to happen. Friends, family and those interested in helping bought her work. Donations started to come in as well. Celine knew the next logical step in the process was getting the word out, telling people about the mission—not only to gain financial support but to spread the word of God. This required public speaking, a big step outside Celine’s comfort zone, since she considered herself an introvert. Fear tried to grip her heart, but she had so much passion for what she was doing that she decided not to let it paralyze her. God would guide her words, as He had guided her steps. The fears soon left her.
There are times I have doubts, and second guess myself, and I try to convince myself that I am not good at this—that somebody else could do a better job and so on, laughs Celine. She advises all of us: If God put something in your heart to do… just go for it. Do NOT listen to the echoes of that 7th-grade teacher in your head.
In the process of investigating where to drill the first well, it became clear that launching the project in Africa would be challenging because of the climate and unrest there. Plus she had no real contacts. However, she did know of a ministry doing mission work in Brazil and felt God lead her there.
The situation in Brazil was dire as well. CRI partnered with Shores of Grace Ministries to drill a well in Brazil that provides clean water for 3 drought-ridden villages. In one drought-stricken village, there were families on the brink of starvation and young children were required to work. Boys worked in the fields trying to raise crops, and many young girls were sent further afield to a city about four hours away, ostensibly to work as nannies, gardeners and housekeepers—but many ended up in sex trafficking. Again, access to water and wells would help prevent such tragedy because it was the first step in the villages becoming self-sustaining.
With the Lord directing us, we used the $5,000 we had raised, and we drilled a well in Brazil. We soon had the satisfaction of knowing that many girls were rescued from traffickers. A water well was drilled there, and the agricultural situation did indeed improve quite drastically because they were able to irrigate their fields. It was very gratifying.
With progress in Brazil underway, Celine and Jerry then turned their attention back to the situation in Africa. Opportunities now presented themselves, and little by little they raised finances for a well and a training center in North Kenya, as well as a well in Uganda which served several villages and about 800 people. Then another interesting lead came, of all places, from the son of a classmate in Celine’s art class.
This young man was teaching in a university in Lilongwe, Malawi. He had been invited to visit a village in the African bush country and discovered another great need for a well. This contact led to helping them finance a well that now serves three area villages.
This well in Uganda provides clean water for homes and livestock in 10 villages.
100 percent has always been our motto—100 percent of proceeds from art sales and donations go to financing water wells and other humanitarian projects.
Next, proceeds from Celine’s artwork contributed to financing a small medical clinic in a slum in North Kenya, in an area that has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation. In addition to providing critical medical assistance, a library was built which assists children with their education. Transformation in this village has begun.
These efforts have touched so many, but there are clear dangers in this part of the world. Armed men stand guard around the compound as work continues for construction and expansion of land for a maternity ward. This mission has always been fraught with danger, but Celine says despite this, they feel so much peace and grace while they are there and they prayerfully go forward where God leads.
I love the challenge. I love adventure I am open to it, and even in dangerous and unsure circumstances, I have always felt God’s protection and guidance. Walking with the Lord is an adventure at every turn. Every step I asked for guidance and direction, every time I got an answer and doors were opened. He is our protector and provider. What an adventure it has been to walk with the Lord. And we know there’s more ahead for Jerry and me.
A Light at the End of a Dark Tunnel
Another challenge arose from a different source. A few years ago, in the midst of all the work and travel, Celine became chronically ill with adrenal fatigue, which led to serious bouts of exhaustion and depression. Used to firing on all cylinders and energized by her craft and the major accomplishments was inspiring…and now all she could do was rest. She went to doctor after doctor, but nothing helped and there seemed to be no cure. She felt like she was wasting precious time, debilitated both mentally and physically.
I felt no motivation or energy to do anything. I just felt so lost. I wondered if this was the end for me and my ministry.
But after about two years of this struggle, God made it clear to Celine that He had more plans for her. In 2018 things turned around and healing began. Now she feels she is back to being herself, fully engaged and hopeful for the future.
I am 63 and looking forward to the next 20+ years, and whatever the Lord has planned for us.
Hope for the Future, Directed by Faith
And so, what now? Celine explains that their next goal was to drill three more wells in needy areas…and those are now coming online near the Ethiopian and Somali borders and Rift Valley. Celine and her supporters continue to pray about next steps, but because these regions are so unsettled, progress is always uncertain. But no matter what happens from here, all agree it has been an amazing, gratifying journey.
Celine strongly believes that God has a plan for everyone. He wants to use us to do amazing things on Earth, be it in our community, nation, or even a foreign nation. One of the guiding scriptures that prompted her journey was Ephesians 3:20: God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all that we can ask or think, according to the power that works within us.
As she recounted miracle after miracle, and so many answered prayers along the way, it is apparent that God’s hand is indeed at work in Celine’s life and ministry. Celine has now been painting for 18 years…and it all started with a simple desire to produce artwork good enough to decorate her own walls and to give as gifts to friends and relatives. To date, she has painted approximately 70 canvases—art that has saved lives and changed the world for the better in a very tangible way.
Celine’s final message: God is good. Whatever you feel God calling you to do God will give you the strength to do it. He works his miracles in us and through us to accomplish His purposes. Despise not small beginnings…you never know where God will take you.
Celine Baker: What an inspiration.
Here are 3 of her paintings: