What I Learned on My Summer Mission Trip

I am writing from the ancient city of Ostia, Italy. Ironically, this is the very place that sparked the beginning of my love for visual journalism seven years ago. In a place where I didn’t speak their language, I began to learn how to hear with my eyes. Photography became the means by which I penned the stories that I saw.

All that to say, I am back in Ostia and I came with my husband and another couple from New Life Church to encourage our sister church here, play music and help connect the church with an on-campus university ministry.


My ministry role on this trip is by no means “photographer.” I have learned a few things that are helpful to consider as you go as a team member who also happens to be a photographer.

1. You Are “A Short Term Missionary”

Your primary role is to go as a team member who is ready to engage. Whether you are building a cinderblock church, working at an English camp, cleaning up a disaster area or playing music, you are there to love, engage, work, learn, feel, pray, smile, cry, rejoice, sweat and do life with the people around you.

Believe it or not, there are some incredible real-time opportunities and moments that are far more valuable if you are not doubling as a photographer.

2. You Are Not “A Photographer”

As a Christian, your identity ought never be in something that you do. It is amazingly easy to let “Photographer” become our identity rather than our gifting. When was the last time you asked yourself, “who am I?” The way you answer this question reveals a great deal of your heart. How you see yourself reveals your identity.

“What you do doesn’t determine who you are. Rather, who you are in Christ determines what you do.” – Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are?

I would encourage a heart check before you pack your camera for a missions trip. This sounds harsh, but I am serious. Ask the Spirit to convict you if there is any pride or self worth found in “being a photographer.”

“Pride is about me; humility is about Jesus and other people. Pride is about my glory; humility is about God’s glory.” – Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are?

This being said, there are four tips I’d like to share with you on taking pictures on your trip.

1. Content Supersedes Composition. Do the best you can do document beautifully, but remember, content is far more important than clean backgrounds, preferred lighting, etcetera.

For example, if I were commissioned to photograph a group portrait at this church retreat, I would never choose to shoot with the sun at my back and with a background this busy… But you know what? It doesn’t matter! What was important to them was that they were all in the picture and that the mountain peak was in the background. That’s what was most important to them!

IPS - Where photographers come to learn.

Sometimes you will find that your “shooting style” needs to be bagged in order to love and serve someone well! :)

2. A phone camera is less alienating and more appropriate than an SLR camera at times. It is discreet and fits in your pocket. Don’t be afraid to use it!

IPS - Where photographers come to learn.

3. Don’t feel guilty about not documenting every meaningful moment. Experience them. You are a lover of Jesus and a lover of people and this often moves you to leave your camera behind so you can fully engage.

IPS - Where photographers come to learn.

IPS - Where photographers come to learn.

4. All other tips aside, remember, as you prepare for your trip and ask God to humble and help you, that you were created to reflect God’s goodness and glory… So go and love Jesus well, love people well and glorify God well with the skills he has given to you! Grace to you,

Andie Reavely

Portland, Oregon


Check out the other posts in this series:

5 Reasons to Go on a Short Term Missions Trip

A Vision for Missions Photography

5 Lessons on Missions Photography from a Pro

Photography from a Missionary’s Perspective

An IPS Student in Africa

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