I came to a narrow footbridge over a rushing river in Afghanistan.
It was made of sticks held together by mud. And, although the moss growing on top proved it had served its purpose for some time, the primitive design didn’t inspire much confidence.
I looked up to the sky, half expecting God to audibly answer the question going through my mind: “This is a teaching moment, right?” Despite all that was going on and all my fears and doubts, God knew I was grappling with an internal question, “What if something happens to me?”
How did I get in this spot? I’m a photographer. I travel the world capturing images that reveal what God is doing among the nations.
The work is exhilarating, challenging, exciting, adventurous and sometimes very difficult. Out in the field, I need to be Indiana Jones with a Nikon. Back home in Aurora, Indiana, I’m Cheyenne’s husband and father to Shiloh-Grace, nine; Huck, five; and Weslee, eight months.
Spin a globe, stop it randomly with a finger and check the spot. I've probably been there. Work has taken me to a medical clinic in Nepal, dark streets in Australia and to the home of a Muslim family in Tunisia. Wherever God leads, I go with my camera as the staff photographer for Horizons Magazine, published by a missions agency, TEAM, A Global Alliance of Churches and Missionaries. The first audiences for my photos are missionaries and the believers who support them.
My predicament at the bridge started shortly after landing in the heart of Indonesia. I was in a room, sinking into a deep sleep when back home—across the ocean—everything changed. I read an e-mail from my wife the next morning that told me that her dad had died, killed tragically in an accident.
Less than 24 hours after arriving, I was gone again, headed home. I barely remember the 26 hours of flying back to the United States. My family and I attended the funeral in California. We flew to Louisiana for the burial. Then, while experiencing the aftershock of what felt like a massive family storm, I made my way to Houston in order to catch a flight back to Afghanistan. My colleague, a videographer, was waiting for me.
Mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, I began walking through the Afghan mountains with a few local workers. They were taking me to micro-hydro water projects. I tried hard to focus. I have to admit, I was more than a little foggy and distracted. But somehow I needed to muster the strength to hear the stories and photograph these men at work.
Then we stopped at the footbridge.
Something really deep happened in my soul at that moment. It was the realization that, in the middle of all that was going on, the Lord truly was holding me. I knew I could walk across the bridge safely, both in reality and metaphorically. This was a critical lesson: No matter what I am going through—even with a flood rushing underneath me—I know I can trust in the Lord.
On the surface, I was chasing stories about how people living in poverty receive eye care and electricity. But in my heart I was more concerned about my own fears and the broken hearts back home. Then, standing at that bridge, my deeply held worry evaporated. I knew that the Lord was with me. I was safe.
My wife even told me later, “I knew I could let you go back. The Lord said He will only give us what we can bear—He knew I couldn’t take anything else.”
No matter where I am, I always pray for the Lord to give me fresh eyes and an open heart. Sometimes the life-transforming stories of my travels do get compartmentalized and tucked away somewhere deep inside. I have to focus on the moment, knowing there is a job that needs to be done. However, I can’t seem to walk away from my key experiences:
- Watching a kind community health worker unwrap the bandages from his patients with leprosy.
- Visiting a woman’s clinic just steps away from the largest dump in Guatemala.
- Riding into the dark of night on top of a truck in Afghanistan with men I hardly knew.
These and many similar moments have made a deep imprint on my heart. There are times I grab my gear, take off after a story and feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I know God is directing my camera. He has a story He wants told.
Then I experience a moment of panic: My wife doesn’t really know where I am and what I doing. I have a family at home and I want this adventure to turn out well. With the Lord's help, it does.
Some people ask me if photojournalism really is a ministry. It took me a while to figure that one out for myself—and now I know it is a ministry. Stories and photos open people’s eyes to the Gospel going forth around the world. It is a challenging role and I’m humbled God has called me to be part of His work.
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