Tag Archives: travel in south sudan

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.
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On The Road To Bulletproof- The Next Generation.

A couple years ago, I wrote an article about my wife’s experience as she moved through fears, worry, and difficulty on her first journey to Africa. I wrote about how the first time the gravity of what she was doing hit her was when she went in for her immunizations before going to Kenya. Here is a link to that blog.

https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/tag/immunizations/

Now it’s my son’s turn. In less than a month, he will be going with me to Ethiopia. It will be his first time overseas (other than the Caribbean.) Certainly it will be his first time to a developing nation. Whereas my wife had fears of the unknown, I don’t think my son even knows yet what there is to fear. That is a good thing. Fear is usually of the unknown, and when whatever it is you are fearing eventually becomes known, it’s very rarely as bad as you thought it was going to be.

Quite the opposite, I’m excited for my son. He is going to experience new cultures and languages, new foods, new continents. He is probably going to see things that can only be understood through experience. He is still in high school, but this will give him a better education than anything possible in a classroom. He is going to learn about the real world through experience. Being taught in a classroom is one thing, but you never truly gain understanding through second hand knowledge.

I suspect he’ll have a similar experience that I did on my first trip to South Sudan. I remember being on the plane, and suddenly “What on earth am I doing?!” went through my head. He’ll be alright though. I know he’ll come back stronger and wiser. I know he’ll see things perhaps that test his faith, but also he’ll see things that make him realize that God is even bigger than he thought he was.

This is the first of my children to travel with me. I have two more that are younger. My eight year old has already been asking for a couple years if she can go to Africa with me. I always tell her the same thing. “When you’re 16.” I’m excited that the day has come that the first one is going.

Coming full circle, in similar fashion to three years ago, I was in a Passport Health office taking pictures of someone getting a shot who probably didn’t want their picture taken. Fortunately for him, my son only needed three immunizations, and one of them was oral. His road to becoming bulletproof didn’t take as many needles as my wife’s or mine did. Lucky him.

My son getting his hepatitis A shot.

From There To Here.

In October 2014 I was in the living room of an Ethiopian pastor in a very remote region of the Ethiopian highlands. He had three or four other pastors staying with him from out of town. We were having a prayer meeting, and I was kneeling at a chair. If you every get a chance to join Ethiopian Christians in prayer, do it. They will show you how to pray. A normally stoic people suddenly become animated and full of emotion as they come before the one on whom they can lay their burdens and thank for their triumphs. As we prayed, one of the pastors started speaking over me. Through another person who could speak English fairly well, he said that God would give me new skills that I would wear like ear rings, and that God would use me not only in Ethiopia and South Sudan and Kenya, but throughout the world.

What he didn’t know was that just months before, I was unsure I would even be involved in missions anymore. I had come out of an unhealthy relationship with another organization, and I could see no clear path ahead. It was one of the most discouraging times of my life. I felt as if the work I had done had been for nothing, especially since each time I went to South Sudan things continued to get worse. It’s one thing to not see results from your work, but it’s another thing entirely to see entropy overtake your efforts. Now my relationship with that organization was done. To top it off, civil war started back up almost as soon as I left South Sudan for the last time. The town I had been visiting had been burned to the ground, and one of our good friends there had been killed, and the rest of our friends had either fled or were suffering.

I began to praying regularly that I would see God move. Now I realize that God was under no obligation to answer this prayer. I can’t remember where it says it, but there’s something written in the Bible to the effect that many of the prophets never lived to see the results of their work. I’m part of a Kingdom that’s greater than myself and lasts longer than myself (eternity is always greater than finite time). Consequently, though I may see God move, He’s under no obligation to show me that movement.

Then I went to Ethiopia, and it was like I was standing in the book of acts. God was moving in such powerful ways. He was moving in miracles and healings, in events that I hesitate to even write about because the reader who hasn’t seen these things would likely dismiss them. But as a pastor I was interviewing recently said, “To us the healing and miracles are common. What is amazing to us is what God does in a man when he is saved from the life he was in.”  The long and the short of it is, I got to see God move. I got my prayer answered.

Now back to what the Ethiopian pastor spoke over me. When I first got involved in missions, I saw my only purpose as photography and documentation. Although I still do that, and I will likely have that as a large part of my ministry for a long time, those other skills have been developing. I have been getting better at writing. I have been getting better at teaching and being an advocate for what I’m passionate about. I know how to lead a missions team now. Some friends and I have started a non profit organization called Bright Wings for the purpose of spreading the gospel and allowing others to fulfill their callings. Next year I will likely go to a country to which I haven’t been, that unfortunately I probably will not be able to write about, at least not directly.

Sometimes it seems like life is standing still and that nothing is moving. But then when I look back, I see how much ground has been covered, and it’s truly staggering. My prayer to see God move was not answered in a one-time event, but in a lifestyle. That is how I got from there to here.

Packed and ready to go to new places and use new skills.

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

An uncomfortable situation.
An uncomfortable situation.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been born in America, or maybe the sum of my experiences has carried me in a different direction than most of my friends and acquaintances, but as time goes by, I find my world view changing and my values diverging from what many in this country find important. As the lyrics from a profound song by Downhere goes,

I was born depraved but created for the divine
With death in my bones, in my heart eternal life
I’d love for Eden, but I’d kill for Rome
I’m native in a land that is not my home.

One of these values that I no longer hold dear is for comfort. Comfort and the seeking thereof is everywhere around us in America. Comfort is seen by many as a right. Just look at all the ads, whether it is for clothing, or mattresses, or some prescription drugs that promise comfort in one way or another. Well I have to say, comfort is overrated. Comfort keeps us from doing the hard things, the noble things, the right things.

I’ll be teaching a class on missions soon at my church, and this is one of the concepts I want to try to convey. Too often, missions is pitched as “a golden opportunity for a life changing experience”. You get to go and help people and have a wonderful experience, and at the end of it, we’ll go snorkeling.

This is not the experience I’ve had. If missions is going to be a lifestyle and not just a chance to make you feel good, it’s going to be hard. I’ve been sick, brought sickness home to my wife, traveled on bone-jarring roads, slept with sweat dripping down my neck, woken to the sound of a woman wailing who had just discovered her dead child, seen starvation, malaria, leprosy, AIDS, and TB. I’ve been stopped at gunpoint and my driver pulled out of the car and beaten. I’ve woken to gunfire. Are we having fun yet?  If you go expecting a wonderful experience, what happens when the reality is so hard that it leaves you questioning your faith? Will it fail?

“Consider it PURE JOY by brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” This is how the book of James opens. I’m genuinely sorry if this is a hard blog to read today, because I know this concept at best lurks around the periphery of many people’s faith, but rarely does it look them straight in the eye. Let’s be honest, we have it extremely easy in the western world; many fail to realize just how easy we have it.

Do we want comfort, or do we want to be effective and walk in the Spirit of God? If there is a way to do both, I don’t know that path, and I haven’t seen it. The title of this blog today comes from an observation my wife made. She asked me, “you’re comfortable being uncomfortable, aren’t you?” I had never thought about it before, but I had to answer that I was. I wouldn’t have it any other way. So many times the Bible talks about the joy of the Lord, or says we will find rest in him, or that he binds our wounds. All of these verses though speak of that joy or rest or comfort that we find in God. This is why it’s possible to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The trials and “uncomfortableness” of the world, if you will, are temporary and finite. It’s an infinite God that we find comfort in even when the experiences of the world are harsh, painful, sorrowful, and hard. It’s why it’s possible to see and experience terrible things without losing our faith. It’s possible because it’s all in God’s hands, and the harder the word, the more glory is brought to His name. So go ahead and consider it pure joy when you face those trials, and when the opportunity comes to go to the truly hard places, take it.

Overcoming My Deathly Fear Of Accountants.

In a week I leave for Kenya. My role has changed in many ways. I’m now not only a gatherer of media, but one of several trail blazers with a new mission in Africa’s largest slum. It makes me think back now on the times when I have been completely out of my element, and especially to the times when an incident caused me to become aware of my own shortcomings.

It was February 2013, and I was in Bor, South Sudan. I was laying in my hammock in a tin building, sweating down my neck and just trying not to let any part of my body touch another. Even at night it was almost 40 degrees. Earlier we had been sitting outside under the stars, but trying to avoid the wind and the dust by sitting in the shelter of the wall. When you stood up, you could hear distant machine-gun fire. None of us knew what was going on, and the man we were staying with hoped we hadn’t noticed. When someone asked, he tried to play it down. This was apparently not out of the ordinary.

As I lay there trying to fall asleep, a gunshot rang out. It was close this time, very close.  A second shot rang out, and this time it ricocheted off the roof of the tin building. I quickly rolled out of my hammock and crouched in what little shelter there was behind the unmilled log that formed a support post for the building. It wasn’t much.

Fortunately, there was never a third shot, and I never really found out what happened, but that night taught me a lot about myself. I can honestly say I was not scared by that incident, but what went on in my head that night was far more telling. The thoughts that occupied my mind that night were not of gunfire or violence or whatever was hiding out there in the night. My thought were occupied with my finances when I got home. I have a very cyclical job, and there are times when I simply don’t have a lot, depending on the time of year. My thoughts were about how I was going to pay for my everyday expenses when I got home.

You might think this is very strange, and it probably is. But the fact was that I had given my life both figuratively and literally to God. Please see this previous blog on the subject. https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/im-twelve-years-old-and-im-going-to-die/

But giving my life to God did not mean I had given all areas to him, and frankly, my finances were one of those areas I had not given. I like to maintain control over certain things, especially my finances. Maybe it’s something to do with being self-employed. While it’s strange to not worry about your own life but worry about your finances, I suspect we all do something along this line, just not to this extreme.

The fact is that there is nothing that I can lose that Jesus has not already won. You can’t lose a life you’ve already given up. You also can’t be poor when God is with you, even if you have nothing. It’s only now that I’m learning this. Romans 8 sums it up very well.

 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We seek in vain to be free of trouble and danger and poverty, when all along we should be seeking to be within the heart of God. If we are there, then none of the other things matter. We are poured out as an offering before the throne of God, because that is the reason we were placed here. It is not for self-preservation, because there is no such thing. We are not here for self-glorification, because nothing temporal can achieve such a thing. We are here to do the will of God; that good and perfect will. To look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep ones’s self from being polluted by the world. This is a hard calling, but when everything is put in this perspective, suddenly my finances are not really a worry anymore. If God has called me to do what I’m doing, then the finances will take care of themselves. God does not send his workers without tools, whatever they may be. I just need to be reminded of that sometimes.

In one week I leave for Kenya. I am going with a little apprehension. But no matter what it is, God has it covered.

A South Sudanese man cleans his gun.
A South Sudanese man cleans his gun.

The Africa Everybody Has Seen And The Other Africa.

As I was thinking about all the posts I’ve done about Africa, photography, and missions. I’ve done posts on the people I’ve met and the broader concepts of all things related to Africa, but I’ve never published a post about the landscape of Africa. When people think of Africa, they usually think of herds of animals on the grasslands with the occasional Acacia tree breaking up the horizon. Sure, there’s that aspect of Africa, but there is so much more to it than that. There are jungles, scrublands, deserts, big cities, mountains, even glaciers. Today I decided to feature some of the landscapes I’ve seen on my travels in East Africa. These are all from South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, so you can imaging all there is to see in the other fifty or so counties. I’ve specifically tried to exclude people from these shots to focus on the landscapes, but there are some. Let these give you a sense of place, and please enjoy them. All can be clicked on for a larger view.

tea plantation on the slopes of Mt Kenya, Kenya
tea plantation on the slopes of Mt Kenya, Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

View of Juba, South Sudan from the top of Jebel Kujur
View of Juba, South Sudan from the top of Jebel Kujur

 

 

 

 

 

 

orange glow of sunrise over the Ethiopian highlands
orange glow of sunrise over the Ethiopian highlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

giraffe grazing with the skyline of Nairobi, Kenya in background
giraffe grazing with the skyline of Nairobi, Kenya in background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kibera, the largest slum in Africa and the third largest in the world.
Kibera, the largest slum in Africa and the third largest in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dry landscape and mountains of eastern Ethiopia near Somalia
dry landscape and mountains of eastern Ethiopia near Somalia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

180 degree panorama of Nairobi Kenya taken from rooftop.
180 degree panorama of Nairobi Kenya taken from rooftop.

 

 

 

 

 

aerial view of village in south sudan
aerial view of village in south sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

village and livestock along the white nile in South Sudan
village and livestock along the white nile in South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise and acacia tree in Africa, (the cliche Africa shot)
Sunrise and acacia tree in Africa, (the cliche Africa shot)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lush waterfall in the cloud forest on Mount Kenya, Africa
lush waterfall in the cloud forest on Mount Kenya, Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

street scene in Juba, capital of South Sudan
street scene in Juba, capital of South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

village with grassfire in background, South Sudan
village with grassfire in background, South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wide panorama of mount Kenya at dawn. Mt Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa at over 17,000 feet.
wide panorama of mount Kenya at dawn. Mt Kenya is the second highest mountain in Africa at over 17,000 feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

aerial view of Juba, South Sudan and the white nile river
aerial view of Juba, South Sudan and the white nile river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hyenas at dawn in Kenya
Hyenas at dawn in Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

low aerial panorama of Juba, South Sudan
low aerial panorama of Juba, South Sudan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

patchwork of farms in Ethiopian highlands
patchwork of farms in Ethiopian highlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bor, South Sudan at night with star trails
Bor, South Sudan at night with star trails

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial panorama of the downtown area of Nairobi, Kenya
Aerial panorama of the downtown area of Nairobi, Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

Roundabout in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with light streaks from time exposure
Roundabout in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with light streaks from time exposure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juba, capital of South Sudan at night
Juba, capital of South Sudan at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wild impala in forest in Kenya
wild impala in forest in Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethiopian Orthodox church backlit by morning sun rays in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox church backlit by morning sun rays in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aerial view of nile river and town in south sudan along the Juba-Bor road.
aerial view of nile river and town in south sudan along the Juba-Bor road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tank along the road between Torit and Juba, South Sudan
Tank along the road between Torit and Juba, South Sudan

 

 

 

 

The elephants at the Castle Forest Lodge in Kenya
The elephants at the Castle Forest Lodge in Kenya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sudd, where the Nile spill outside its banks to form one of the worlds largest wetlands in South Sudan.
The Sudd, where the Nile spill outside its banks to form one of the worlds largest wetlands in South Sudan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher.

When I was a small child, I remember my grandfather, who was born in 1910, telling me stories he’s heard over the course of his life. They were always riveting for me to listen to, because they were like nothing I heard elsewhere. I always assumed as a child that they were stories he’d made up, until as an adult I was able to find them on the internet. Many times they were old folk tales going back centuries. One of these was the story of the old woman and her little pig. This is how it goes.

ONCE there was an old woman found a sixpence while she was sweeping, and she took it to the village and bought a little pig with it. 

She got part way home, and she came to a stile, and the pig wouldn’t go over the stile. 

So she told her little dog to bite the pig, and he wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a stick that was lying by the side of the road. And she said, “Stick, stick, beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the stick wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a fire that was burning by the side of the road. And she said, “Fire, fire, burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the fire wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a puddle of water in the road. And she said, “Water, water, quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the water wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she saw an ox standing in a field. And she said, “Ox, ox, drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.”

But the ox wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she came to a butcher standing in the door of his shop. And she said, “Butcher, butcher, kill ox, ox won’t drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the butcher wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she saw a rope tied to the limb of a tree. And she said, “Rope, rope, hang butcher, butcher won’t kill ox, ox won’t drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

But the rope wouldn’t. 

Then she went along a little way, and she saw a rat. And she said, “Rat, rat, gnaw rope, rope won’t hang butcher, butcher won’t kill ox, ox won’t drink water, water won’t quench fire, fire won’t burn stick, stick won’t beat dog, dog won’t bite pig, piggy won’t jump over the stile; I see by the moonlight, ’tis half-past midnight, time pig and I were home an hour and a half ago.” 

The rat said, “I will if you give me a piece of cheese.” 

And the little old woman gave the rat a piece of cheese. 

So the rat began to gnaw the rope, and the rope began to hang the butcher, and the butcher began to kill the ox, and the ox began to drink the water, and the water began to quench the fire, and the fire began to burn the stick, and the stick began to beat the dog, and the dog began to bite the pig, and the pig began to jump over the stile, and the little old woman got home that night.

It’s a fun story, but what does it have to do with Africa or missions? Frankly, a lot. The preceding story is a lot like trying to get things done in Africa. You try to get something done, but there’s always someone waiting for someone else to do something first, who in turn is waiting for someone to do something else, and by the time you get to the end of the line, whatever it is you are trying to do never gets done. This finally gets to the rat, who had to be paid a bribe to do what rats normally do anyway, but that’s a subject for another blog post.

There are certain cultural things that need to be understood before we rush to judgement about why this is the way it is. Africans value family and time building relationships far more than cracking the whip and getting things done. There is nothing wrong with this, up to a point. We on the other hand, especially in New York where I’m from, value getting things done more than family or relationships, and many times are willing to sacrifice the latter for the former. This is not ok.

The other thing to understand is that many times the things we think are important to get done are not important to them. Just because westerners thought of it doesn’t make it better, and many times they see problems with what we’re trying to do that we don’t see. That’s why we go to Africa to learn as much as we go to teach. We help each other through our respective brokenness.

There are times, though, when we’re asked for help on a specific issue, and things just need to get done. Often there are volunteers who have donated their time and resources on this end of things who are waiting for something from the receiving end so they can do what they’ve been asked to do. Often these volunteers don’t understand the way things are done in the non-western world. Both those asking for help and the volunteer’s time needs to be valued. This way mutual respect can be shown to all parties, and the things that really need to get done can be finished.

The thing I’d like to see come out of the relationships we’ve built in Africa, and I say this with the utmost respect for all parties, is for many of the Africans to learn to be stewards with resources, and for the westerners to be better stewards with people and relationships. This way we can all grow.

She couldn't get that pig to jump over the stile.
She couldn’t get that pig to jump over the stile.

Crippling Unbelief

A few weeks ago, a major denomination lifted their ban on speaking in tongues for their missionaries. For those who read this blog who aren’t Christians, just bear with me for a minute. Speaking in tongues may be viewed as one of the weirder things with Christianity to many people, but it was a big part of the early church, and is still quite common in many areas of the world. It is one of the spiritual gifts the apostle Paul speaks of, along with words of knowledge, faith, healing, distinguishing between spirits, and a number of other gifts. I’m glad they finally lifted the ban for missionaries, but that’s not the  main focus of why I’m writing today.  Beside the fact that the bible specifically says, “do not forbid speaking in tongues”, (not sure how they missed that one), it speaks to a larger issue that is the real reason that I’m writing this blog today.

The issue I’m writing about today is unbelief. In the book of Mark, Jesus disciples came to him after they were unsuccessful driving a demon out of a boy. Jesus drives out the demon, but also rebukes the crowd and his disciples as an “unbelieving generation”. He actually comes across as a bit irritated with his disciples and the crowd.  He also goes on to say that with faith as small as a small seed, you can tell a mountain to go throw itself in the sea and it will do it. People often read this as one issue, but I believe it is two. One is the issue of faith, the other is the issue of unbelief. Both are quantifiable.

I grew up in a church where I think more was preached about what God can’t do than what he can do. As in my first paragraph, speaking in tongues, and virtually all the other gifts listed in the New Testament of the Bible were things that are “not for today”. They would tell you proudly that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, then immediately go on to tell you the parts that no longer apply. As I’ve gone out into the world, as I’ve become a missionary, as I’ve seen more and more things, I’ve learned that what I was taught was an absolute lie. So why would there be an entire doctrine, “cessation doctrine”, that teaches that what the early church did is no longer applicable today?

It’s all tied to unbelief. The church I grew up in would tell you that God no longer heals miraculously, that there are no longer words of knowledge, that there are no longer any miracles. If they were speaking of their own church, they would be absolutely right. But why? It’s a shifting of blame. If these things don’t happen in my church or God doesn’t do them through me, then it must be because God doesn’t do these things any more. It couldn’t possibly be because of my own unbelief. Your faith the size of a seed might be enough that you go through the motions and pray for someone, but what good does that do when you’ve at the same time pulled up a truck load of unbelief embedded in your doctrine that’s already told you that God doesn’t do these things anymore? You’re not disappointed when nothing happens, because in all honesty, you never expected it to anyway.  So you go through your spiritual walk living out a life of cowardly mediocrity because you lacked both the faith and the courage to let God do the great things he said he would do. This is why the American church is faltering. We live out an ineffectual, academic, irrelevant, inbred version of Christianity that looks nothing like it’s roots, while in the developing world there is revival because they have none of the baggage that comes with telling themselves what God can’t do. They just do it. This is what I’ve seen, and this is what I wish I could fully convey to the American church, and I want to see it happen again here, as it has at various times and places.

So I’m very glad that the denomination I mentioned is going the direction they are, and I hope it’s a precursor of things to come. Oh, and the church I grew up in? They died out, and the building is now occupied by a church that practices the things my church told us we couldn’t do. I write this not because I’m happy about it. They were people who loved God, and I learned a lot from them, but frankly they were trying to walk with God with one leg tied behind their backs. Without faith what do we have? If our faith is eclipsed by our unbelief, what do we have? Let’s stop telling ourselves what God can’t do, and let him do what he said he would, and to be who he said he is.

As a side note, I’ve included a picture of a child I met in South Sudan a few years ago. She had malaria and was starving and feverish. I thought she was going to die within days. I could have left it there, but I pushed past my unbelief that God could heal this child and prayed for her anyway; not that God would help her in her suffering or some such thing, but that God would heal her. I didn’t see her again for two more trips, but a year later I barely recognized her. The same sister was holding her, but this time she was healthy and fat. Let God do what he said he would do.

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A little girl holds her deathly ill sister in South Sudan.

 

How To Pack For A Photo Trip To Africa

Every once in a while I like to give some practical advice to people who might be taking a trip to Africa, particularly those who are going primarily to take pictures. Well, 108 blogs later, I’ve finally decided to do a comprehensive breakdown of how I pack my carry-on bag. I start with the attitude that if the airline loses my check-in bag, I could still continue on with my trip without much inconvenience. As such, I only pack in my check-in bag extra clothing, toiletries, and medication that I can live without should the airline lose them. In fact, I’ve traveled to Africa on a few occasions without actually checking a bag. Traveling light is the key, because the more you have to carry, the more difficulty you will have getting around, and the more you will miss. I travel with a minimal amount of clothing, but mostly stick with synthetic materials and bring a small bottle of detergent so that I can wash clothing by hand every two or three days. Synthetics also dry much faster. The following image shows the contents of my photo backpack laid out. The bag is a Clik Elite. I’ve used other bags in the past and found that for the hard use I give them, they tended to break down to the point that my heavy lenses were all sitting in the bottom of the bag after a long day of walking. (I am not endorsed by Clik Elite.) The Clik Elite bag gets dirty, but it holds up to a beating.

The contents of my photo bag when traveling to Ethiopia.
The contents of my photo bag when traveling to Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents:

1. Canon 5D Mk2 SLR camera. 21 megapixels which is plenty should I need to crop the picture later. It’s been beaten up, gotten wet, been in the dust, and still takes great pictures.

2. 4 lenses. My two primary lenses are a Canon 135 mm f2 for taking tight portraits, and a Sigma 35 mm f 1.4 for taking wider portraits and landscapes. These are my go-to lenses for taking those winning shots. The shallow depth of field I get and the low light capabilities make carrying these totally worth the extra weight of redundant focal length lenses.  My two other lenses for more general use are a Canon 24-70 f2.8 and a Canon 70-200 f4 image stabilized lens.

3. Canon G1X Point and shoot camera. It’s small and discreet for when I have to be less conspicuous, but has an APS-C sized sensor inside for much better quality pictures than a typical point and shoot camera. It also shoots 1080p video. The camera does have its limitations though, just due to what it is.

4. Extra batteries for both cameras, as well as chargers.

5. 300 gigabytes of memory cards. At least some need to be fast enough to shoot video.

6. Oben carbon fiber tripod with ball head. This is a must if you’re going to shoot video or time exposures.

7. Camelbak All Clear bottle. This has an ultra-violet lamp built in so I can purify water should I need to. It purifies unsafe water in one minute. I drank water out of the Nile for five days without getting sick using this. I also stuff the bottle with an extra pair of clean socks and undies for traveling. (Use your space to the fullest).

8. Extra pair of pants and a fleece shirt. (It can be quite cold in the parts of Ethiopia I go to.) I also pack extra clothing into any empty spaces in the bag.

9. Ipad 64 gig (not shown). This has reading material, allows my to load pictures and write my blog while away, and has VOIP software for making phone calls when I have wi-fi overseas.

10. Adapters for linking my camera to the iPad.

11. Unlocked GSM world phone. This is a multi-band phone that I can buy a sim-card for when I get to Africa so I can make local calls. I can also call home with it when there’s no internet available but cell phone service is.

12. Passport and yellow fever card. Many countries in Africa require proof you’ve had your yellow fever immunization.

13. Power converter and adapters. Lets you plug in your US based electronics into foreign outlets.

14. Case of photo filters with polarizing filters and Neutral Density filters.

15. Disposable eyeglass wipes for cleaning lenses. Travel is too dirty to reuse a normal lens cleaning cloth.

16. Hand sanitizer.

17. Wet wipes for cleanup when there is no water available or for on the plane. (These are your best friend in Africa.)

18. Remote trigger for camera. Needed for taking long time-exposures or for discreetly triggering your camera.

19. Pain reliever. (I have plantar fasciitis which can hurt after standing all day.)

20. Bug spray. This is a necessity if you are going to areas where malaria is common.

21. Head lamp. Africa is frequently very dark.

22. Cash and credit cards. (Not shown)

What I didn’t bring but could have

1. Anti-malarial drugs. You have to weigh your risks. I’ll only be in an area with malaria for a couple days, so is it worth being on drugs with potential side effects for two days of protection? I decided not to. That’s why I have bug spray. Also, use the mosquito nets at night if you’re in an area with malaria and don’t be outside in the evening.

2. A flash. I’ve brought a flash before, but found that for my style of shooting, out of a couple thousand pictures taken, I used the flash for about 10.

So you might have a hard time believing that all that goes into the bag. I can assure you that it does. It does fit under a the seat in front of you even on a small plane, though I usually have to take the tripod off and place it beside. Weight is almost certainly over the limit, but fortunately most airlines don’t weight your carry-on bag. So here is the bag as it’s packed and ready to go. As a side note, my check-in bag is also a backpack, so that if I have to travel over distances cross country I can put one over each shoulder. Total weight for both bags is somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds.

My packed carry-on bag for traveling to Ethiopia.
My packed carry-on bag for traveling to Ethiopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Friends And New Friends

In just two weeks I leave for Ethiopia. I remember the first time I traveled to Africa; the excitement, but also the sense of fear. The feeling of “oh dear God, what am I doing?” Things are different now. This is my seventh trip to Africa since 2010, and my third in the last eight months. There is no longer any fear involved. It’s only my second trip to Ethiopia, but I feel as if I’m going to visit an old friend. That old friend is Africa. I love the people. I love the places. I love the friends I’ve made along the road. There are people in South Sudan and Kenya in particular that I talk to on almost a daily basis, and they’ve become good friends to me.

My first trip to a country is normally where I get the lay of the land. My second and subsequent trips are when I make friends. I don’t know why that is, but that seems to be the way it plays out. Perhaps I am only able to understand the people after I’ve been there once already. Each culture is different, and it’s often hard to understand the way people think until you understand at least to a point the environment they’re coming from. Friendship only comes after understanding.  So even though I made friends on my last trip to Ethiopia, it is this time that I feel I will cement those bonds. So this blog is written for my old friend Africa, for the old friends I’ve made in South Sudan and Kenya, and to the new ones I’ll make in Ethiopia.

I will be posting update blogs as I travel whenever I can, and as a photographer I will have photographs whenever bandwidth will permit. Feel free to follow this blog for email updates. I’ll be traveling into new territory, so I’ll try to be as honest with first impressions as possible. I’m not saying where I’m going yet, but will post once I’m there. Here’s a few of my friends from over the years.

James in Nairobi
James in Nairobi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter and Joseph in South Sudan.
Peter and Joseph in South Sudan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dejene and Ketsela in Ethiopia, among others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My new friend Bekela in Ethiopia, who was gracious enough to let me stay in his home and give me two cups of espresso and a pepsi every night before bed.
My new friend Bekela in Ethiopia, who was gracious enough to let me stay in his home and give me two cups of espresso and a pepsi every night before bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jimmy and Njenga in Kenya. Great guys.