December 9, 2019

Ministry in a Can of Spray Paint

What some might see as graffiti, Milton Coronado sees as art, Christian art.

Wilona Karimabadi

Drawing was an escape and way of expression,” says Milton Coronado, street artist, pastor, and proud Chicagoan. Coronado’s talent, noticed and nurtured by teachers early on, led him to decide on a career in art in high school. Expressing himself through this form was also a balm for his troubled heart through a lifetime of hardship, which included the early deaths of his mother and father.

When he decided to pursue art as a high school junior, he was also drawn to graffiti and illegal street art. Only after his father passed away did he stop. Four years later, after dedicating his life to Christ, he picked up a spray can again. This time it was for ministry.

Coronado had a chance meeting with Pastors Manny Cruz and José Murrillo at the 2005 General Conference session in St. Louis, and learned more about their own street art ministry. He was encouraged to pursue his talent for street art for the glory of God. “I started painting messages that just gave the hope of Jesus Christ and shared His love toward the community,” says Coronado. “I was really,, motivated by that, especially because of young people coming up to me and saying, ‘I paint as well. My parents don’t know, and my pastor doesn’t know.’”

Coronado now uses this unique talent in workshops for youth in both Adventist and non-Adventist churches. He teaches about the origins of this art form, technique, and how it can be used for good—and lets his students get to work on their own masterpieces for the Lord. “Churches all have young people who are impacted one way or the other by hip-hop culture,” he says. “I say hip-hop culture because graffiti is a part of that culture, especially in the inner cities.” Sharing his testimony and way of using graffiti art positively helps these kids find common ground with the message he tries to convey.

When Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, a young pregnant woman, was senselessly murdered, the crime deeply affected the city. Coronado felt compelled to do something. “She passed away on a Thursday. The next Sunday I left my house at 6:00 a.m. and began painting by 11:00 a.m.,” Coronado remembers. “I finished around 4:00 p.m. I did this because first, I could relate. Second, there was so much evil about this, and the entire city was affected by it. I just wanted to give back something positive, something that pointed toward hope, that pointed toward Jesus Christ in the midst of this evil. That’s why I added a Bible text to the mural.”

Coronado believes his gift for street art has a place in the ministry of the gospel. His focus now is on helping other young people pick up their spray cans for the cause. “I want to mentor young artists who have a passion for Christ and others, and have an interest in street art, so that they too can lead this ministry years down the line.”

Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor at Adventist Review.