In 8 days, I'll be heading out on my first real leap into the world of humanitarian photography. It's also my first trip overseas. I'll be attending a workshop hosted by Benjamin Edwards in Rwanda, the land of 10,000 hills and a people marked by a deep history.
This comes after spending 5 years as a photographer, 3 years as a social work student, 2.5 years volunteering for a global nonprofit expertly telling stories of vulnerable people, 1 year as an Americorp member working with at-risk youth, and a summer interning as a missionary in inner-city Las Vegas. Like most things in our life and journey, this was not an overnight progress.
Growing up, I was enthralled by stories of missionaries. For many years, I said that I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up because that was what I thought was the best way to be a missionary. In junior high and even the beginning of college, that transitioned to pursuing counseling and social work as a skill to serve the nations. Recently, it's been clicking (ha. pun kinda intended.) that the most valuable skill I have is my camera.
I don't have much, but I have a camera, heart for storytelling, and I'm also pretty great at giving hugs.
This isn't about traveling or adventure or even about pursuing some sort of greatness with my life. It's about a world that's hurting. There are amazing people giving their whole lives to serve those who are vulnerable. There are communities being transformed by entrepreneurship, sustainable programs, and the gospel. There are children finding homes. There are women being rescued from the sex industry. There are stories worth telling.
This is the main reason why I love working with Unseen, where I will be completing a full-time internship for my social work degree this fall. They do media, marketing, and fundraising training for groups around the world fighting human trafficking and root causes. The biggest things I've learned from my years volunteering and being mentored by the staff is this: it's not about me and love really does win.
That's the mindset I've been trained to look at the world of storytelling and photography. The staff at Unseen are ones that boldly ask, "what is God doing here?" in the darkest places in the world. Everything comes back to how we can do the most good, not how we can look better or have a more dramatic resume. The heart is so pure - I've seen staff sacrifice their own glory for the sake of the mission on multiple occasions. Despite the playful, fun, and youthful vibe that Unseen radiates, they are professionals dedicated to excellence for the sake of the people they serve.
I want to continually grow that attitude in my own heart at a greater level. When you make a career out of helping people, the lines between selfless and. self-serving can become blurred. God has been challenging selfishness in my own life at such a great level this summer. I've been confronted with this concept that loving people is a great business tactic, yet I want to learn to love my clients just because they are worth loving, even if there is no reward. What does it look like to sacrifice for others? What does it look like to live poured out while taking self-care steps in order to be healthy enough to have longevity? How does one go beyond just kindness to actually love?
That's the goal. No matter if I'm at a wedding in the Midwest or a school for orphans in Rwanda. How do I take the gifts that God has given me and give it all away? I want insecurity and selfishness and pride to all flee, just to be replaced by joy and love and humility and whatever else it takes to make something of value in this world.
If I had to choose between loving and impacting the nations, but never leaving the Midwest or traveling the entire world, but having no impact - I hope that I would choose to stay home forever.
Thankfully, right now, I get to do both: love the nations from the Midwest AND up-close-and-personal. I'm excited to make besties with cute Rwandan kiddos and grow as an artist and hopefully be a blessing to Mama Naomi in her lifelong dedication to serving orphans and widows. I'm also excited to come back to Fargo to work in global anti-trafficking efforts from behind a desk in a downtown office. It's all important. It's all worthwhile.
Here's to the behind-the-scenes years of learning and the in-the-thick-of-it years to come of walking this whole thing out! I'm deeply thankful that you are along in the journey.