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Missions Photos with a Purpose


Pictures Speak in Ways That We Cannot.
Several young men in South Africa waiting to have
their eyes checked at a free clinic with Blessman Ministries. 
The following situations may apply to you: You plan for months to leave on your first missions trip with the idea of changing the world. Or perhaps this has become an annual event and you can't get enough of it, or you have taken the steps to become a career missionary. What does photography have to do with reaching our world for Jesus? And how can you best utilize this tool? Some of you may be amateur photographers but desire to become better, others have an iphone and are not afraid to use it, and still others are wondering how to become a professional in this area?
    This is a summer blog series on the many aspects of Missions photography. Every Monday morning for the next several weeks, many more topics will be explored: from relationship-first photography to using your camera as a witnessing tool, what equipment to use, to cultural sensitivity and any questions you may ask in the process, but today, let's look at purpose. 
    First a little introduction. I have had the privilege of traveling in over 30 countries, doing ministry in at least 19 of those to date with the hope of doing much more. For me, photography has opened many doors of opportunity. Having a camera in my hand has emboldened me to step out of my comfort zone and talk to others I might not have otherwise. Telling stories through visuals has helped to inspire others to reach out. And most of all, it has allowed me to tell the stories of hope of those who cannot speak for themselves.
(Left) Dr. Blessman and his Des Moines, Iowa team greet local volunteers from Mokopane,
Limpopo, South Africa. (Right) Lisa works to get this young mans prescription just right.

Purpose One: Communication. 
If you are going on a traditional missions trip, then you are being sent-out by your donors: your church, friends, and family. You are their hands and feet extended. As part of the process, you will need to report back on the work that they have partnered with and what better way to do that than visually. It is a fact that images make any presentation, whether in print, web or multimedia much more impactful. Visuals of the people you meet and the places and cultures you visit give your audience a framework to build upon and a more memorable point of reference. 
     I know for a fact a few friends and family will never travel to the places I've been (they've told me so). Taking photos has been my way of taking these places to them. There have been a few times when I have been somewhere encouraging others and the faces of those back home flood my mind, and I have been overwhelmed with emotion knowing that my words and actions also represent theirs. It makes me realize that the love of God that is extended not only pours from me but everyone else back home so much so that I have to share the experience and blessings the best way that I know how --visually.
(Left) Ann counsels with this young girl about AIDS prevention and then gives her a
copy of the Book of Hope. A book that she can now read thanks to her new glasses. 

Purpose Two: I call this "pay it forward". 
Visually telling these stories helps future endeavors. This is two-fold. It helps you with your fundraising because people now have a visual reference of what God has done through you and the possibility of what can be. This makes the fundraising process flow a little easier. But the most important are the souls that will be reached. Showing photos of what God has done perpetuates giving to reach more people, both on an ongoing organizational level for those entrenched in various areas of the world and for those at the grassroots level. 
     Okay, the question can now be raised, is this emotional manipulation? This depends on your approach. I believe using photos should be purposeful but never take advantage or exploit another's misfortunes. I prefer the "stories of hope" approach. Yes, you will probably be presented with scenes of starving children, of misery and depressed conditions and abject poverty. I've seen my share of it first-hand. But to only show that is skewing the picture. A more balanced approach works best. Be real about the situation, but make it a point to show those who are making a difference, how they are doing it and what you can do to partner with them. This way people are part of a solution and not just a cause. Show how the proven methods are really making a difference. This is transformational story-telling at its best.
(Left) Most of these children have never had their eyes checked before. Many will leave with a new pair of glasses. They will not only have physical sight restored but spiritual sight as well. (Right) the rugged beauty of South Africa and a bit of hope for many many students who won't be left out due to eyesight issues.
Purpose Three: Story-telling images can bring the world closer to God.                  When Jesus was on this earth, he used word pictures when speaking to the crowds. If he had a camera and the ability to show visuals, I'm sure he would be using that as well. By capturing another person's story especially in a missions setting, you are bringing their transformational story to light for others and showing God's power and love at work. Now, I have also heard how images of starving children have caused people to doubt God's existence, but that is where "stories of hope" are different. I've seen the incredible changes of God at work in this world through obedient hearts and to not show that would be a travesty. All good story-telling shows the conflict, transformation and the solution not just the conflict.

My favorite example is a photo I took of a young boy of eight worshiping in the midst of chaos in a very difficult school in Cape Town, South Africa where drugs and rape are common even in ones so young. I could have easily shot the problems only, but it was his peace and serenity that caught my eye. Six months later while teaching a photography class in Russia, the photo wound up deeply impacting a 20 yr old girl who had to know why his hands were raised and why he looked so peacefully. Since then I have heard stories from other people how this one photo gives them hope. To see what God sees in desperate situations and to be able to capture redemption is a honorable calling, one that I hope many of you aspire to as well.

Next week I will go more into what types of images you should be making to be an effective story-teller.

PS. Wow, this is just the first post in this series and it has sparked so many more ideas. Please ask questions or comment. I'd love to have dialog, different opinions are welcome, just keep your comments civil. If you have tips feel free to share. 

This post first appeared on Kim Clark / Photography And Design, please read the originial post: here

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Missions Photos with a Purpose


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