Photojournalism and Fruit

Summer Missions Trip Photography

Missions photojournalism is hard. It is joyful, amazing, exhilarating, and sometimes a bit like skydiving. But it is also hard. We see things more clearly, more vividly through a camera lens, and often what we see (particularly in third-world countries) is more disturbing than beautiful. Talk about intensified culture shock! To try to photograph something or someone in need, when we can’t speak their language and we can’t understand their situation? That can be really hard.

It’s also very different than “typical mission work.” It doesn’t meet immediate physical needs. Sometimes it feels like it invades privacy more than anything else. And the fruit looks different, is less immediate.

I knew that, in theory at least, before spending time overseas with a camera in my hands. But it wasn’t until I came home from one of those trips that I began to understand just how different it was to go somewhere to work with my hands, versus going somewhere with a camera in my hands.

Summer Missions Trip Photography

Three weeks in Kenya was a lot to process. Carol, her daughter, and I went to visit a school/orphanage run by local missionaries, primarily to see if this school was one that Carol could support on a long-term basis. I was there to do portraits for the roughly 400 children who lived and/or attended school there, as well as get bios on every one of them for a sponsorship program we hoped to start. Good work, right? Yes— very good work.

The children were beautiful. Their eyes expressive, their stories so unique. The school was interesting, and working there had rewards, mostly in getting to know the sweet, humble Christians who ran the operation. And the light!! There is nothing as visually delicious as golden hour in a third-world country… something about the dust and air pollution diffuses the light and spreads it out so that it seems to hang in the air like thick honey. I couldn’t get enough of it.

Summer Missions Trip Photography

We returned home after our trip, happy with a job well done. On our first Sunday back, I had a woman come up to me at Church and ask about my time there— “Was it wonderful? Did you just love those children? I bet your heart broke for them. Did you love playing with them every day? I bet it was soooo hard to leave them behind!”

I just stood there and stared at her, completely lost for words. But not for the reason one might think.

Did I love those children? Yes, absolutely. So much so that I spent every morning working with the classroom teachers to make sure that I could photograph all of those 400 children in a way that wouldn’t disrupt their studies and make them do worse on their exams, because their grade basically determines their occupational opportunities, and consequently, their entire future. And I loved them by not spending time with them when they should be studying.

Summer Missions Trip Photography

Did my heart break for them? Yes, it did. But more than that, it rejoiced to see how well God provided for them, which grew my understanding of He cares for me.

Did I love playing with them every day? Well, I played with them for about an hour and a half one afternoon. That is all. I spent my afternoons keywording and tagging photos taken that morning to make sure that I had the right names for all 400 kids, and then sitting down “interview style” with the school secretary to work on bios and histories for each of the kids we were attempting to sponsor. There wasn’t time to play with them… but that wasn’t the purpose for my time there. They had each other to play with, and other teachers. They needed me to photograph them, and to do it well.

Summer Missions Trip Photography

The biggest thing I learned from my time in Kenya was that missions photojournalism is hard, hard in ways different from a typical missions trip. I didn’t come away with stories of how I shared the Gospel to someone who didn’t know it, or how I loved on a child in need, or how I gave my Bible away, or conducted outreaches, or even how I served missionaries practically, by building something. I spent my time working on projects that wouldn’t bear fruit for months, or even years. Missions photojournalism, at least in my experience, is more like farming than fishing. There’s a whole lot of work that happens in the beginning, and then things are quiet for a long, long time. Eventually there are bits of green that pop up through the brown earth, and the green grows and matures and eventually produces harvest; but in that quiet waiting period, all I can do is wait and trust that God will make my faithfulness fruitful for His glory.

Summer Missions Trip Photography

Just like the sharing the Gospel. We are called to be faithful to speak the Gospel (literally, “good news”) of salvation to those who haven’t heard… and to those who have heard, and to those who already believe (you can never share it too often). God is the one who gives life, who wakens dead souls, who places His Spirit in us, who keeps us in the faith, and who brings His children home.

We can’t save anyone— it is God who gives fruit, in our missions work and in life. So we work faithfully, giving and investing wherever we can, and entrusting the rest to our very wise, capable, faithful God.

Sarah

 

Sarah Bradshaw is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Washington D.C. Please visit her blog at http://ampersandphotoblog.com/.

Check out our 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

What I Learned on My Summer Missions Trip

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