Monday Devotional for Photographers – Full-time Ministry

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/2500

Capturing moments like this one in Togo, West Africa is what I thought many years ago would be my full-time career today.

In high school during a youth retreat I responded to what I believed was a call to full-time christian ministry. My church licensed me into the ministry. This was the first step down a process which I thought would have me doing ministry/missions full-time. Full-time meaning I would pay all my bills from being on staff of a missions agency.

I received this call while a senior in high school. My father, a pastor/missionary, gave me counsel. My father mentored me and guided me to avoid some of the mistakes that he made. Together we determined that I needed an education path.

You will open more doors with a master of divinity degree. This is required for most pastor and missionary positions. Before you can get masters you need a bachelor’s degree. This is where my father gave me some of the wisdom from his experience. He said there is basically two areas that he worked in a great deal that a master of divinity don’t prepare you very well.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 64000, ƒ/5.6, 1/2500

Most ministers and missionaries are the leaders of an organization and having a business degree would really help you with the administrative responsibilities. The second area was that as a counselor.

I decided to major in social work and then the plan was to go to seminary.

Well while in college I discovered photography and more specifically photojournalism. My senior year while on spring break I was offered a job as a photojournalist for a newspaper. I really didn’t see this as a departure from ministry but rather a call to a specialist role in ministry.

I met Don Rutledge my senior year in college and he would become my mentor. Rather than telling that entire story here you can read more here. Basically Don was a photojournalist who worked for the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board as the main photographer for The Commission Magazine.

Just a year and half later I would get a phone call from Don Rutledge telling me about a photographer position on their staff.

I would spend five years working on the staff before they went through financial crisis and cut my position.

This was a great time it seemed to go ahead and attend seminary. This was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I thought I was going to study and learn all this theology that was going to help me and I did, but what I didn’t know was how much I would learn about education. I learned a lot about lesson planning and how people learned.

Upon graduating I thought I was now better equipped to help tell those missionary stories and I was a better communicator. However no positions opened up for me in the church. I did find a job at Georgia Tech.

The assignments here stretched me in other ways. I worked with Gary Meek and the two of us were helping to tell the stories that were shared through all kinds of media. We were published in many national magazines and newspapers as well as all the public relations materials for the school.

I thought my time at the school was God’s way of further preparing me for something in missions. Well it did help me in so many ways and I learned many new skills, which I use today.

For the past fifteen years I have been a full-time freelancer taking any job coming my way in photography and in communications to help pay the bills. I was helping NGO with web design. I had learned how to create my own webpage to help me with freelancing and then others heard and asked me to help them.

Every few years I would do a missions trip, but never did this turn into a full-time career. Last year I did four separate trips for missions and each one was for a week. The rest of my freelancing helped to pay the bills allowing me the ability to do those mission projects.

I am still longing for the opportunity to do full-time ministry work.

Nikon D3S, NIKKOR 14-24mm ƒ/2.8G, ISO 220, ƒ/2.8, 1/8000

Today I am asking myself did God really call me? If he did why am I not working full-time for an organization doing missions/ministry?

Most likely I am limiting God with all my questions. Maybe I am doing missions and ministry and my understanding of what defines ministry is more limiting than the way God sees it.

The one character in the bible I can relate to the most is Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob. He was given a dream that wouldn’t come true for most of his life. In telling of the story it wouldn’t be fulfilled until the very end of the story, which took most of his lifetime.

His older brothers knew Joseph as their father’s favorite. For this reason his 10 older brothers conspired against the boy and sold him to slave traders, while telling their father the boy had been mauled by an animal. Joseph had been given dreams of God’s plan for his life; so with confidence and strength, he endured in this amazing story in Genesis.

He would be falsely accused and thrown into jail. It would be his gift to interpret dreams that would have him later become a leader for the Pharaoh of Egypt and lead them through a time a famine and for the dream he had as a young boy to come true.

Are you too feeling depressed and beat down? Do you wonder if you were ever really called by God to pursue your profession?

Did you know that scripture most commonly associates those who minister for a paycheck as false ministers?

Matthew 6:24 – “No man can be the bondservant of two masters; for either he will dislike one and like the other, or he will attach himself to one and think slightingly of the other. You cannot be the bondservants both of God and of gold.”

The first missionary was Paul and he earned his living as a tentmaker. He said:

1 Corinthians 9:12 – If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? Yet we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than put an obstacle in the way of the Good News about Christ.

Paul also instructed people to work and earn a living:

2 Thessalonians 3:11 – Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people-no, we command them: Settle down and get to work. Earn your own living.

The biblical word “pastor” is the same word for “shepherd” (which is simply a caring servant of God’s people) and, as a matter of fact, Jesus Himself made this point clear when he said the following about such “ministers”:

John 10:12-13 (MSG) – “A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.”

Christians did support Paul’s travels financially and Paul encouraged the Saints to consider those that spend their lives ministering the Gospel, but the gifts were given freely, from love and in response to need (ACTUAL NEED – i.e. FOOD AND CLOTHING).

1 Timothy 6:6-11 (NKJV) – Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

I fully believe that IF God has ordained their service than He will also fully provide every legitimate need they have. But the minister should not have a high and mighty opinion that he is above the need to earn his own living and provide for his family and ministry.

That provision may be having another job to pay the bills.

Ephesians 2:8-9 

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

If you have the money and time to do missions full-time then God wouldn’t get any credit, but if you lack money and time then when you get to do missions you know it is because of God and not your abilities that made it happen.



Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/800

This is Keziah Khoo who I met a few years ago when I taught in the School of Photography 1 class of Youth With a Mission in Kona, Hawaii.

This was her second Storytellers Abroad Missions Multimedia Workshop. She went to Romania last year and this year went to Togo, West Africa.

She tells the story of Kondo who struggled to get an education. Listen to Kondo tell her story with the help of Keziah bringing that story to life.
While we were in a village one day a mother gave Keziah her child to hold.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/500
We still have openings for the Honduras Multimedia Workshop taking place this October 29th to November 5th. Deadline to apply is August 30, 2016. 

Click here to learn more. Get your money in now to hold your spot.

Come join us in Honduras and have some fun.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1800, ƒ/7.1, 1/200

Passing The Torch In Togo

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

Storytellers Abroad participant Brian Funderburke listens to instructor Pat Davison as he works with Brian and the team in advising how to handle the story.

Sharon Sedzro was born 3 months premature, and weighed less than 4lb (2kg). The doctors told her mother that she would only live if they relied on God. She lived and was later the catalyst that brought about a children’s camp ministry that missionaries from the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism had tried to start over ten years earlier. Storyteller Brian Funderburke shares the story of Madame Sedzro, Sharon Sedzro, and Judy Bowen, and how God worked in their lives to restart a children’s camp ministry that is impacting hundreds of Togolese children.

We still have openings for the Honduras Multimedia Workshop taking place this October 29th to November 5th. Deadline to apply is August 30, 2016. 

Click here to learn more. Get your money in now to hold your spot.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 5600, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

Brian was able to sit with all three instructors, Jeff Raymond, Pat Davison and myself to work through his plan for his story. 

Enjoying photographing the children of Nicaragua who are changing their family’s lives

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2200, ƒ/4.5, 1/100

Missionary Traci Warner reads to Dominga Psalms 23 who was in her last hours of living. Dominga would die later during the night.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Dominga’s story started not too long ago with her granddaughter age 14. She was seeking comfort and went to the local church of the missionaries.

In this culture of Nicaragua many people are hooked on alcohol and have major problems. Many of the young girls of age 13 and 14 are married off to middle aged men. They have no moral compass for their lives and so many of the adults are barely functioning due to the lifestyles that they are living.

It is the children who are often the most responsible and come to the churches.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 18000, ƒ/14, 1/100

In this photo the family has gathered around Dominga to provide as much comfort as possible. In the last couple weeks Dominga asked all her seven children to come and let her talk to them. This is when she told them how horrible of a life she had lived and said to them don’t be like me. Turn to God and live a better life.

She had discovered her savior Jesus in her last days here on earth and wanted them to have a better life than she had. She understood that having God was giving her a compass and ability to see her choices much clearer.

It was a privilege to be there and capture what the missionaries fulfilling their calling to leading people of Nicaragua to knowing Jesus Christ and then having some guidance for living their lives here on earth.

Due to not having a relationship with God many are choosing to leave their troubles through alcohol and a very promiscuous lifestyle.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 800, ƒ/1.8, 1/100

I would have never thought before this trip that it would be the children changing Nicaragua.

Matthew 18:2-4
Jesus called a little child to stand among them. “Truly I tell you, He said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.…

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 800, ƒ/1.8, 1/100

2nd Mile Service Project for Roswell Presbyterian Church

Poster designed to promote the display

Roswell Presbyterian Church is my home church.  A couple of years ago they started using a hall that we call “Main Street” for art shows of our members.

They asked me to coordinate a show on missions.  We photographed our mission partners around the world and this is the resulting show.

I am excited because we are putting up photos that met a few criteria.

Criteria for the show:
  1. Photo had to be a large enough file size to make a 20″x30″ print.
  2. Photos had to be well exposed.
  3. Photos had to be in focus.
  4. The photo had to be story telling.  We needed photos that help people understand what they are looking at and not just a photo of people all smiling and looking at the camera.
  5. The photos needed to be action oriented rather than just a picture of an object.  So often people just take pictures of the buildings or the well they dug.  We wanted to see the people these projects were all about.

Laying out the prints along the hall for the display

The show will hang for 6 weeks.  During this time the ministers sermons will revolve around the them of “Windows to the Soul” that will be about each person’s individual calling into missions.

Our goal for the project is that everyone will come to see that God can use their gifts, whatever they may be, for missions.  Everyone is called to be missionaries. 

Picked three photos for one wall in a major area of the building

I hope we dispel some of the myths around missions:

  1. All missionaries are preachers
  2. You must go to some other continent like Africa
  3. You must give up everything you own
  4. Missions isn’t fun

The show isn’t about photography. It is using photography as the medium for the message.  I hope the images call some into full time ministry.  But if all it does is change one person’s life and helps them discover their call in missions then it was a success.

Part 2: The exotic location might be your backyard

I am always looking for interesting visual elements.  While this won’t win a Pulitzer it is different and I think makes you take a second look.

On our local TV station Channel 11, an NBC affiliate, they are promoting doing random acts of kindness. I get goose bumps when I think of all the mission projects our church is involved in. A good number of the mission partners we work with were actually started by members of our church.

One that I go to often is the North Fulton Community Charities.  We donate clothing and things we are no longer using to the Thrift Shop. North Fulton Community Charities (NFCC) is a non-profit human service agency dedicated to preventing homelessness of individuals residing north of the Chattahoochee River in Fulton County (Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park and Roswell). NFCC assists families with basic needs such as food, rent and utilities, and clothing during short term emergencies.

The Roswell Presbyterian Youth group works on an older ladies home.  They scrapped the old paint off.  They have sanded the boards and also filled holes. 

If you are a professional communicator you can create your own blog and tell the stories of those in your community.  You can help educate those around you about the needs and opportunities for others to serve in their community.

You can see the places they sanded and see how the new fresh coat of paint will help the home last longer against the elements.

The age of service starts young in our church.  The vacation bible school had a competition last week. The kids all brought in pennies and see which class raised the most money to help with a charity.  They raised over $1,000.  This was children as small as the toddlers.

I am using a flash off camera to be sure you can see the youth as they work.  If i didn’t the faces would be primarily back-lit and the flash helps you see their faces.

The other cool thing about this project to me is you don’t have to have money to get involved.  You can give of your time.  Volunteer your elbow grease and make a difference.

Bill Silzle, chemical engineer and member of Roswell Presbyterian, donated his time to replace a garbage disposal on the same house they are painting.  I think he maybe over qualified.

I believe my gift in these project is creating compelling images that helps tell the story and inspires others to get involved.  This fall our church is going to have a display of photography up in what we call “Main Street.”  it is the major hall of our church that folks walk through where we will hang large prints (20″x30″) to help tell the story of our mission projects around the city, nation and world.

We will have captions to tell you where the photo was taken and what the church helped with the charity. After the exhibit runs for a couple months we will then take the prints down and put them in other locations through the church.

What are other ways you can use photography to help charities?  Leave your comments below.

Why are you here?

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

— Ephesians 2:10

Fellowship Of Christians United in Service, Hamilton, GA

“Stanley, why were you created?” is a question I remember being asked by my grandfather Rev. Knolan Benfield. 
My grandfather then quoted Ephesians 2:10 to me and let me know I was created to do good works. 
I believe one of the greatest movements in my lifetime has been volunteerism.  I saw this movement start in the late 60’s for me.
As a child I remember professional missionaries speaking to churches where they helped raise support. Most of the missionaries were all college graduates who often had masters and doctorate degrees in things like theology, law, agriculture and medicine.

Student marks the board to be cut as part of a roof repair for an elderly woman’s house in Hamilton, Ga.
These missionaries felt called to give of their lives in service around the world.  They prepared through education so they would be well qualified to do the work in a different culture.  They would go to language school and learn to speak a foreign language.
Students clean the landscaping of Fellowship Of Christians United in Service offices in Hamilton, Ga.
Loren Cunningham started Youth With A Mission in the 60s when the mainline church thought that unskilled youth should not be encouraged to do short term mission’s projects.  It took a while to grow the concept to today.  YWAM currently has over 16,049 full-time volunteer workers in nearly 1,100 operating locations in 171 nations and trains 25,000 short-term missions volunteers annually.  It is a movement still growing and thriving today.
Former U. S. President Jimmy Carter got involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1984.  Habitat for Humanity is devoted to building “simple, decent, and affordable” housing using primarily volunteers.

IMPACT 360 student cuts board for roof repair in Hamilton, Ga.
Pay it Forward is a movie produced in 2000 about a 11 ½ boy’s response to school assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better.  Most folks feel like they need to give back to those who help them, but this boy’s concept is to Pay it Forward and creates a movement.
This past weekend I photographed college students who are in a gap year program in Pine Mountain, GA doing a service project. One of the appealing things about this college program is the service component and students are seeking ways to Pay it Forward in their communities.
John and Trudy White founded the college gap year program called IMPACT 360.  Trudy is the daughter of Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A. One of the cornerstones of Chick-fil-A is based on biblical principle of service.
It’s the same way with the Son of Man. He didn’t come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people.

— Matthew 20:28

widow watches
Elderly woman watches as the IMPACT 360 students and alumni put in stairs to her home in Hamilton, Ga.
The students each year enjoy their time of service and after they graduate they come back for alumni weekends to work alongside the current students in service projects.
Are you living up to your purpose—doing good works?

What can I photograph?

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera. 
– Lewis Wickes Hine

Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.
Lewis Hine is a photographer I have studied and admired and I think of him when I struggle for something to photograph. Like Hine, I started my studies in the social sciences.  I studied social work and would quickly realize my calling was to be photojournalism. 

Lewis Hine studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University. He became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium. The classes traveled to Ellis Island in New York Harbor, photographing the thousands of immigrants who arrived each day. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 photographs, and eventually came to the realization that his vocation was photojournalism.

Hine went on to work for the Russell Sage Foundation, created to improvement of social and living conditions in the United States. After just a couple of years with the foundation, he went to work for the National Child Labor Committee. He did this for 10 years where his work helped to change the labor laws for children.

During WWII he worked for the American Red Cross covering the work in Europe. In 1930 he would photograph the workers building the Empire State building.  To get the photos of workers through the years he would take similar risks the workers were taking. To get that unique angle while working on the Empire State Building project he was in a special basket 1,000 feet out over 5th Avenue.

Raising the Mast, Empire State Building, 1932
The reason Lewis Hine’s work is so powerful is he knew what he was photographing and why he was doing it.  He was doing something useful with his photography.  Hine said, “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”

The fun in photography is when you take on a challenge and bring all your creativity to it to help communicate an idea or concept to your audience.  When you use a lot of routine cliché’s it quickly becomes boring.

Not knowing what to photograph is a good time to ask yourself what you stand for as a person.  You need to have an understanding of your relationship to the things around you and their meaning to you.  This is how you form thoughts and convictions about the world. It is not from formal education—it is from a sense of caring about people and the world in which you live.

Child laborers in glassworks. Indiana, 1908
When you have this gut check it will give you the inspiration to take on a subject and communicate how you feel about it and not just a documentation of its existence, but rather its significance to you.  You want people to respond and this is what motivates you.

Struggling to find subjects is often lack of personal convictions

The secret for me is to think about where the photos will be used when I am done. This gives me a goal in mind. I must really love the subject or hate it to get my emotions going and create a mood and feelings that I want to communicate beyond the obvious.
A moment’s glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Rhodes Mfg. Co. Lincolnton, North Carolina.
When you find yourself in a mental block there is a tendency to scapegoat your responsibilities.  This is where you often will look for a formula or even copy someone else’s concept.  I see this most often in sports photography.  You see the photographers all standing together.  One of my friends Scott Cunningham who photographs the NBA for Getty Images is rarely sitting next to other photographers.  He is in the stands and always looking for something different. 

Another scapegoat photographer’s use is they don’t have a piece of equipment or their equipment is limiting them. Remember we still haven’t exhausted all that is possible with the simple point and shoot. Be careful that you are not buying new equipment as a way to inspire you.  Take the time to think and feel about your world.

“What shall I photograph?” will not be an issue. Instead, the problem becomes “How can I say it clearly and with enough emotion that my audience is moved to action because of my photos?”

Tumaini Children’s Home, Nakuru, Kenya

Zablon Kuria, director of Rock Bridge Ministries, was commissioned by Roswell Presbyterian Church, Georgia to go back to Kenya as a missionary.
His main calling is to build a bridge between the USA churches and Kenyan churches, in order to reach out to the community with holistic gospel in areas such as medical, educations and orphans.
Zablon says, “This bridge will help the under privileged in the society like the orphans, poor and the sick whom I have a passion for. Also both countries will learn from one another and share the same God who wants us to share in His goodness, His promises and resources and at the end, eternal life in heaven. I do all these things not for prestigious purposes but because it gives me great joy and satisfaction. It also pleases the almighty God whom I glorify.”
Why sponsor a program/project

Tumaini projects cost $1.2 million. However, three years since their inception, they have operated only 47% of their targets. Sponsoring towards a project will be a step towards fulfilling the dream of creating the right environment that favors growth and sustainability for a targeted 400 orphans that they cannot take care of due to lack of adequate resources.

Every dollar you donate towards a project/program, Tumaini Children’s Home gets double. Early January 2009, they got a matching grant of $250,000. This means every dollar they get; they access another from the matching grant.

Here is the website for the ministry
Here is Zablon talking about that gift and opportunity at Roswell Presbyterian Church on May 3, 2009.