Category Archives: travel

He Prepares A Table For Me…

I’ve had a number of things on my mind lately that I’d like to write about, but I decided tonight to go back to the basics and tell a story of my travels. Specifically I’m going back four years to my last journey to South Sudan. At the time, South Sudan was the second most dangerous country in the world, and was quickly devolving to number one, which is where it currently stands. I’d like to be able to give reasons for why this is the case, but that would take volumes to describe. This being a blog, I fully expect to lose almost everyone if I go over 1000 words. If you’d like to know more about the how and why of the situation in South Sudan, feel free to look back through the archives where I write about it at length.

Staying put in South Sudan is not so bad. And if you have the opportunity to take a small plane where you need to go, you can avoid most of the danger, minus that of actually flying in poorly maintained small Russian planes.

The problem is when you have to travel the roads, and this is what we had to do. There was a village we had neglected to visit the last time we were there, and it was necessary to go and visit this time, despite the fact that the situation had gotten worse in the last six months since we’d been in country. The problem was two-fold. The first issue was what are known as “black snakes”. These are not literal snakes, though those exist as well, but rather armed bandits that wait along the road with Kalashnikovs for an easy looking target or a vehicle that has gotten separated. They then stop the vehicle and in the best case they only rob you. This is an ever present danger of road travel in South Sudan.

The other, more pressing problem was that of the White Army. An army of mostly children and teenagers from the Nuer tribe, they rub ashes on their faces as an insect repellent, hence the “white” moniker. They had been emboldened by the renegade vice-president and occasional war-lord of South Sudan, Riek Machar, to attack and raid villages of their cattle. The village we were visiting was directly in their path, and the only road back was in their territory. So to say the least, we were concerned about our road travel, especially since it would be nearing darkness as we were returning.

Many seemingly daunting or hopeless situations are punctuated by the simple phrase, “but God.” This one was no different. Normally I avoid soldiers in developing nations as much as possible, especially in South Sudan, where loyalties change at the drop of a hat. As Sung Tzu so famously wrote in “The Art of War”, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

As we turned out of the village along the Nile onto the rutted dirt road, a cattle truck full of SPLA soldiers was passing. We hung back a bit, but drove within sight of the truck the entire way back. Their presence offered a deterrent to any would-be attackers for the whole journey. As I thought about it later, a couple of things came to mind. Part of Psalm 23 was one of them.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;”

The table prepared came in the form of a cattle truck full of soldiers, and I was thankful for it. I managed to snap this clandestine picture as we drove.

sudan-2943sm

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A Time For Renewal.

I’ve been back from Ethiopia now for a month and a half. It seems like a very long time ago. Normally by now, I’ve thought of all kinds of things to write about. Honestly though, my passion to write about the subjects I normally write about is at a nadir for the year. This is not because I’m losing interest or passion, but because sometimes you just need some downtime. This year I traveled to Ethiopia three times and spent about a month there in total. When I wasn’t actually traveling, I was either fundraising for those trips, helping other people fundraise for their trips and ministries, and working my photography job. I also helped start a 501 (3)c non-profit organization. I also have a wife and three kids. So to say the least, I’ve been busy this year. My passion for missions is because of gratitude to the God who saved me, and not out of a sense of obligation to look busy. As such, I don’t have a problem taking a vacation once in a while for some renewal.

That renewal came last week, when I traveled by ship to the Caribbean for eight days. I took the whole family with me, traveling to four different islands. We went to the islands of Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I had no phone and no internet for a full week, so there was no checking in with work. There was no Facebook (thank God), no email, and I couldn’t check phone messages. It was wonderful.

I of course took pictures and videos, but it was on my own terms. There were no shot lists, and no one was paying me. I could shoot whatever I wanted to. I could take pictures of beautiful things just because I wanted to. I also took my drone along and was able to get some great aerial shots of each place. I might write a blog on that sometime, but for now, please enjoy my trip of renewal through my eyes. And of course, please feel free to subscribe if you’d like to get emails when there’s an update to my blog.

Gazebo on the sea cliffs in the Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pristine beach on Grand Turk with our ship in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man painting his roof with a brush in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial shot of El Morro fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panorama of Basseterre, St Kitts at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea on St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial view of a ship at the edge of a drop-off to deep water in Grand Turk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial panorama of the old section of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brown booby looks at me as I take its picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful volcanic sea cliffs of St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children play cricket on the island of St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An iguana stares at me from the fortress walls of El Morro in San Juan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wreck of the Mega One Triton on the beach in Grand Turk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cannon points out over the ocean at Brimstone Fortress on St Kitts island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An old church stands over the sea on the North end of St Kitts.

Seven Years Since It All Started.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I boarded a flight into the Sudan. I had never been to Africa before, never been to a developing nation, never been involved in missions. I was incredibly green. I didn’t even know enough to know what questions to ask.  All I knew was that God had called me to go. I had a camera with me, and I knew that God had given me the skills to use it.

I look back now and question how effective my work was on those first few trips. I don’t know if much direct and lasting fruit came from my work there. However, in the bigger picture, I know that what I learned from those first difficult trips was incredibly fruitful. It has allowed me to be useful in ways that I never could have imagined. The path I’ve traveled was definitely God ordained, since he put people and organizations in my path that I never would have found without his help.

Having said that, I’d like to thank Linda and Ray at Petros Network for giving me the opportunities to work with them and to use my skills for Kingdom work, and not just for myself.

I’ve been back from Ethiopia now for a few weeks, and I’ve had a chance to go through a lot of the pictures. I’m not satisfied with my work unless I can look at the photos and know that I’ve conveyed the sense of where I’ve been, touched the heart of the people, and done both of those things in a way that I feel is respectful to the subject. I can honestly say this time that I think I was able to do that. As I promised, I’ll be bringing more stories of the things that happened on this most recent pair of back to back trips. For now though, here are a smattering of some of the shots that struck my eye as I went through the thousands of shots. All can be clicked on for a larger view.

Also, since I keep forgetting, here is a link to my ebook that I’ve had out for a while. It covers some of the things I’ve learned on my travels, as well as having lots of photos. Most of the proceeds goes to missions.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/704141

A child looks through the bars of the Tesfa Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the women at the Tesfa Center for special programs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This woman’s expressions caught my eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many people travel by horse in this region of Oromia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up some very last minute painting at the Tesfa Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in school while there are visitors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle working with one of my most photogenic widows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sifting green coffee in the market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, worship from the heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful hills of Oromia at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the orphans. His transformation has been incredible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coffee ceremony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In church the morning I found myself having to preach. (for another blog)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no North American or African church. There is only the Church.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The November 2017 Show And Tell.

Though I’m not quite home from Ethiopia, I am nevertheless sitting in a Canadian airport where there is good wifi. I had intended to blog while I was in Ethiopia, but I’ve been up in the mountains with very limited internet access, at least on my IPad. This trip has been many things; exhausting, thought-provoking, fullfilling, and hard. It put me way out of my comfort zone at times, which I would have previously said was a hard thing to do. I will be writing about these things in the future, but as is my tradition, my first blog when coming back into the country is one I don’t have to think about very hard. So you get pictures this time, which is what a lot of you are looking for anyway. Many of these I will write about in the future, but for now, you’ll just have to wonder and use your imagination.

Taking A Break Between Trips

Today I’m just writing a short post. In two weeks I head back to Ethiopia. In the meantime, Im spending time with my wife and kids, doing a little traveling, and shooting some pictures and video for no one but me. 

We had intended on camping, with the kids in a tent. However, the remnants of another hurricane are coming through with torrential rain. We’ve had so many hurricanes this season that I don’t even know the name of this one. However, it did change our plans slightly in that we rented a cabin instead of tenting.

One of the things we traveled to see is waterfalls in North Carolina. The bonus of the hurricane is that all the rivers, and consequently the waterfalls, are roaring. There’s a silver lining to every dark cloud. So here is the first of the shots that I took today. Until next time, when I’ll likely be on a plane over the Atlantic.

Eleven

I have now been back from Ethiopia for about twelve days. For anyone who has ever been concerned about getting sick in Africa, don’t be. If you’re going to get sick, it’s going to be on the plane either going or coming back. I managed to stay healthy for the entire trip despite lack of sleep, but two days after getting back, I came down with a persistent cough that I’m just now getting the better of. I have a very hard time sleeping on planes, so I often find myself awake for up to 48 hours. This tends to run me down, and it’s at that point that I get sick.

Nevertheless, I’ve been asked to go back to Ethiopia, and in only three and a half weeks. I have, some would say, foolishly agreed to do so. This will be my eleventh trip to Africa and the third in this calendar year. I believe though, in what’s going on over there. We are seeing the gospel spread, and we’re seeing tangible results in the quality of life in those we’re in relationship with. I will be going over there to document the opening of the Tesfa Center, a center for job development and training for destitute widows and their children. It will, God willing, be finished by the time I get there, and there will be a grand opening with the local community and dignitaries in attendance. So I will get over this cough, shoot a few weddings, and get right back on a plane in a few weeks. As Reinhardt Bonnke said, “God’s reward for good work is more work.”

Until I have more to write about, I’m going to leave you with some shots of the beauty of Ethiopia, all taken on this last trip that just ended.  Feel free to subscribe if you’d like to follow this blog.

Children celebrating the Ethiopian New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the special needs children we’re working with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ah, the wet season in the Ethiopian highlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking through the field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian horsemen drive pack animals in rural Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farms and houses in the mountains of Ethiopia

Back In Addis Ababa.

After a week up in the mountains of Ethiopia, I am back in Addis Ababa. Once again, I have seen new things and will have new stories to tell, but only after some thought. My team worked wonderfully together, and I’d take this group anywhere. There were a few minor illnesses, but with some prayer, everyone recovered quickly. I had the honor of bringing my son on his first missions trip this time, so I finally got to share in person what I’ve only been able to tell in stories and pictures. I wish all of you could see what we have seen, but as he has now experienced, no matter how good the pictures and stories, there is no substitute for the real thing.

Having said that, my function this time was not to collect media, but rather to lead a team. Nevertheless, my camera never stays put away for long, so here are the first of my pictures to escape from Ethiopia. Enjoy, and I’ll write more soon. 

Packing Efficiently For Shooting Photos in Developing Nations.

In six days I leave for Ethiopia. Each time I go to Africa, I have to reassess what I’m carrying with me. Did I use it last time? How much use was it to me? Is there something better I could be using next time?

This is my tenth trip to Africa in less than seven years. I’m a missionary, and on most trips (though not this one) my primary purpose is documentation. You may have other reasons for shooting, but the basic equipment list will be the same, except for the choice of lenses. Over the years, my equipment list has changed and I believe it has become more efficient. Efficiency is key, because most, if not all of my photographic and video equipment is carried on my person when I travel. Whether my gear is insured or not, there are certain airports I travel through where the baggage handlers seem to have particularly sticky fingers. The best prevention for theft is to never let your gear out of your sight. The bag I carry is small enough to fit in either the overhead compartment or under the seat on any plane I’ve ever boarded. With that, I’m going to go through my equipment list. Keep in mind, the type of shooting I’m doing is fairly unusual. I shoot mainly with prime lenses, so I tend to be heavier on lenses than most people will be. Nevertheless, everything going into my carry-on bag comes in at about 11 kilos, not including the tripod, which I carry as a personal item. By the way, I’m not endorsed or sponsored by any of the products I use, so if I mention it, it’s because it works well for me, and not because I’ve been bought.

My carry-on gear for traveling to Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. My backpack is a Clik Elite Escape. I’ve had it for a few years now, and it’s held up far better than any bag I’ve used before. The previous one I used was a brand I won’t mention, and if fell apart on the first trip.
  2. Yellow Fever Card. This is required to enter a number of developing nations.
  3. Passport.
  4. Memory cards and holder. Your memory needs will vary. I shoot a lot of 4k video, so I need large, fast cards.
  5. Canon G1X. This is my backup camera for when I’m trying to be discreet. It has roughly an APS-C size sensor, so I get far sharper pictures than most small cameras.
  6. Canon 5D Mk IV. Shoots 30 megapixel images as well as 4K video (or 5.5K video if you have the upgrade.) The quality is excellent, though it is a memory hog. Attached is a 70-200 mm f4 Canon L image stabilized lens. I choose the f4 lens because it weighs about half of what the 2.8 version does.
  7. Canon 135 mm f2 L lens. I shoot a lot of portraits and expressions, and this is the one for that.
  8. Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens. This is possibly my favorite lens.
  9. Sigma 20 mm f1.4 Art lens. Truly an astounding lens.
  10. 10 stop neutral density filter.
  11. velcro zip strips, for fastening things together on the go. Zip ties are useful also.
  12. Extra batteries for both cameras, as well as an extra set of AA batteries.
  13. Disposable lens cleaning cloths.
  14. Remote trigger for the 5D Mk IV.
  15. Oben carbon fiber tripod with Giottos fluid video head. It’s very light weight, and I’ve developed a technique for using it as a steadicam with the larger camera. With the video head, you can’t shoot vertical, but when’s the last time you shot a vertical on a tripod?
  16. Head lamp
  17. Shotgun microphone. (Don’t rely on your camera’s built in mic.)
  18. Rode wireless mic setup, for doing interviews or if I need to voiceover a video while I shoot.
  19. Zipper bag to hold most of the stuff on the right. Toiletries, bug spray, stomach medication, antibiotics, superglue (for stitching injuries, not other stuff), ace bandage, antibiotic ointment (incredibly hard to find overseas), wet wipes (a God send when you’re traveling), band-aids (plasters to you Brits), hand sanitizer, and a contact lens case to keep small quantities of loose medication (space saver).
  20. International electrical power inverter with adapters for different plugs.
  21. An extra set of clothes for either traveling or if they lose your luggage. You don’t want to get where you’re going in the tropics and have only the clothes on your back. They will eventually evolve a rudimentary intelligence and walk off on their own.
  22. (Not shown) iPad Air 2. This is lighter than a computer, and allows me to wirelessly sync photos from my camera. The hard drive is not large enough for backing up photos, but allows me to transfer the ones I need for my writing. I recommend loading up communication apps such as Facebook Messenger, Viber, or Skype for communication back home. You should also load up a virtual private network (VPN) both for security issues on public wi-fi, but also because it helps bypass censorship issues in certain nations.
  23. Headphones, both for listening to music but also for monitoring video.
  24. (Not shown) iPad Air 2. Lighter than a laptop. I use this for writing, blogging, and communication back home. Load up communication apps such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Viber. Also, it’s good to load up a Virtual Private Network (VPN), both for security on public wi-fi, but also to get around censorship issues in some countries. I can also sync the iPad with my camera. It doesn’t have a large enough hard drive to back up files, but I can move over the pictures I’d like to edit for blogging.
  25. (Not shown) iPhone 5. This has a removable sim-card, so you can buy a local one for communication in whatever country you are in.

So that’s all of it. There are of course variations you’ll have. For instance, many people will get away carrying a couple of zoom lenses rather than all the lenses I’m carrying, but again, that’s just my style. Also, sometimes I need to carry a second SLR camera body. This has served me well though. Hopefully this was helpful.

Comparative size of the bag next to my eight year old.

My Semi-Annual Test Blog

As is my tradition, before I take a trip overseas, I write a test blog from my iPad. The interface is a bit different on a mobile device than on a computer, so I like to write at least one blog from the iPad to work out any kinks while I have access to power and bandwidth. 

Saturday I leave for Ethiopia. This is also the time when a hurricane is predicted to be passing through, but we will pray against that. If Jesus commanded the wind and the waves, and we are acting in his authority, then so can we. 

We are traveling to Ethiopia to do the finishing work on the Tesfa Center, which is a center designed to give destitute widows in the rural countryside a place to work and sustainably support both themselves and their children. James 1:27 came to mind today. It says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unspotted by the world.” We have been given the awesome opportunity to do this. Notice that is not enough to be unspotted by the world? There are also things that must be done. Likewise we are not just called to be busy. Faith without works is dead, just as works without faith will not save us. By faith we show gratitude to the God that selflessly gave himself for us, that while we were yet sinners he died for us. We in turn should live as ransomed people. As God gave his life for us, we return it by giving ours back.

So long as I have internet I plan to give updates while I’m gone. Finally, I leave you with a picture of one of the widows we are going to minister to. 

Ten

Seven days from now, Lord willing, I’ll drive three hours to board a plane to Ethiopia. This will be my tenth trip to Africa since 2010, and the second this year. There’s a team of seven of us going. Four have never been to Africa before, and two have never left North America. I’m as excited for them as I am for myself. I remember the first time I got off a plane in Africa, in the dark of night in Nairobi as the smell of wood smoke and diesel fumes hit me. Back then, I had a day or so to acclimatize to the new surroundings before things really got started. That won’t be the case this time. Without realizing it, I scheduled our tickets so that we’ll be landing in the midst of the Ethiopian New Year. I don’t yet know what that means, but I understand it’s going to be interesting and a little crazy. It also makes it difficult for us to find transportation to where we’re going. The region we are going to is one of the poorest, but also one of the most beautiful regions of the world in which I’ve ever been.

On the subject of where we’re going. We have a four to five hour drive from the capital, with about a third of it on sketchy dirt roads. There’s been a lot of rain, which in Africa means that the roads will have a layer of slippery ooze that thwarts the idea of driving in a straight line. Some things have changed though. When I first went to this particular town three years ago, I tried doing a google search and found nothing; literally nothing. Now when I do an image search, I can find images. Mind you, I’ve taken almost all of them, but there are images now. Last time I went, the only communication out was by cell phone on Ethiopia telecom, and I could only get a signal after about 1 o’clock in the morning. As I understand it, they now have internet.

The first time I went to Ethiopia, I was (at least initially) traveling alone. This time I’ve got a team going with me, including my son. Passports are all in order, everybody has their shots, and we’re ready to go. I plan to do updates on the work we’re doing, so long as the rumor that there is internet is true. Feel free to subscribe to this blog if you’d like email updates when there is a new post. Thank you all for your prayers. A new adventure begins.

The region we are going to in Ethiopia