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.
The widow was ready for our arrival. She smiled warmly as she greeted us with “Akum Nagoma”. Her simple mud walled house had been cleaned and was in order. She was dressed in her best. New magazine pages had been plastered to the walls, as is the custom to beautify homes in this part of Ethiopia. A television sat under a plastic cover in the main room. She seemed to be doing well…if you chose not to really look.
The rows of dots tattooed on her shrunken neck were too close together; in fact she looked skeletal. When we complimented her on the new wallpaper, she said, “oh, that’s old,” even though we could see that it had just been put up. The television sat there conspicuously, but what good is a television when you don’t have electricity?
We knew something was up. The house had been beautified for our arrival. The wallpaper was obviously new. The television and many of the items in the home were likely borrowed from friends or neighbors. Though she tried to look happy, she was obviously either sick or starving or both. As we asked her questions about how she was doing, her smile and warmness changed. She at first said that she wasn’t able to express how she is doing, and finally broke into tears. It was likely that she knew we were there to help, but the thing about poverty that most people who are not financially poor don’t understand is that Poverty and its ugly siblings Shame and Isolation usually walk hand in hand. Though she knew she needed help, she also didn’t want anyone to know that she needed help, particularly not these strange foreigners coming into her home. She didn’t want anyone judging her ability to take care of her children or herself. Being poor is bad, but everyone knowing you’re poor is so much worse.
This situation cuts to the core of why Christ calls us not only into relationship with Him, but also into relationship with those around us, who are made in Christ’s image. The scriptures are numerous in this area, but I’ll just highlight one. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” It is because of this principal that the enemy seeks so much to divide us. If we remain in relationship with each other, we are less likely to fall into sin, less likely to fall into not only financial poverty, but poverty of spirit. Studies show that married people live longer than single people. It’s nothing magical, it’s just that it’s not good for people to be alone. Its why the writer of the book of Hebrews thought it important enough to write, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” The enemy knows that we are stronger together, that is why one of the most worn out tools in his box is Shame. How many times has someone disappeared from church when trouble hits? “Iron sharpens iron” is the saying, but we can’t sharpen each other if we isolate ourselves.
There is no shame if we realize that we are all broken people. We are all broken in different ways, but when we gather together as one body in Christ, my strength helps you in your weakness, and your strength helps me in my weakness. But we have to go in with the humility of knowing that “while we were yet enemies of God, Christ died for us.”
The great thing about having indigenous staff in Ethiopia is that there are people who can check on this widow and see how she is doing. It’s also why short-term missions is so hard. It’s hard to build relationships from afar, but if you have people on the ground it’s that much easier. Hopefully this widow will realize that no one is there to judge her, only help. Starting is the hardest part, but if she goes the path of many of the other widows in this community, she will soon be sustainably feeding her own family and herself. In so doing, she will lift the community as a whole.
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.
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 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.
Yellow Fever Card. This is required to enter a number of developing nations.
Memory cards and holder. Your memory needs will vary. I shoot a lot of 4k video, so I need large, fast cards.
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.
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.
Canon 135 mm f2 L lens. I shoot a lot of portraits and expressions, and this is the one for that.
Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens. This is possibly my favorite lens.
Sigma 20 mm f1.4 Art lens. Truly an astounding lens.
10 stop neutral density filter.
velcro zip strips, for fastening things together on the go. Zip ties are useful also.
Extra batteries for both cameras, as well as an extra set of AA batteries.
Disposable lens cleaning cloths.
Remote trigger for the 5D Mk IV.
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?
Shotgun microphone. (Don’t rely on your camera’s built in mic.)
Rode wireless mic setup, for doing interviews or if I need to voiceover a video while I shoot.
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).
International electrical power inverter with adapters for different plugs.
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.
(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.
Headphones, both for listening to music but also for monitoring video.
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have to admit, my wife played a bit of a joke on my father-in-law this week. I need to give a little bit of a back story before it will make sense. I am currently planning a trip to Ethiopia in just about six weeks, and this time my son will be going with me. We will be taking a team to do the finishing work on a center to provide sustainable income for destitute widows and their children. Much of the work has been already done by locals, but we need to provide some support in some of the areas where they’re not familiar.
The other part of the story is that my 91 year old step-father is currently on his first missions trip…to the Philippines! Why he didn’t decide to do something like this fifty or sixty years ago when he was more physically able, I don’t know. Nevertheless, he’s been obedient to God, and he’s been an inspiration to a lot of people. I can’t wait to hear his stories when he comes back.
Now, onto my wife. She was talking to her father, my father-in-law, this week. She mentioned that I would be going to Ethiopia and that my son is going with me. He was surprised my son is going, but though it would be great. That was when my wife put out the hook. She said, “You know, there’s still room for one person on the team going to Ethiopia, and it would be right up your alley.” That brought on a lot of hem-hawing, and making nervous noises with his mouth, as is my father-in-law’s habit when he’s uncomfortable. He finally told her that he’s just too old for that kind of thing, being 88 years old. At that point, my wife pulled on the line and set the hook. She said, “Well, you know where Walter (my step-father) is right now? He’s in the Philippines on his first missions trip.”
She of course wasn’t completely serious, and let him off the hook at that point, but it made a couple of points clear to me. First of all, how many times do we make excuses when we’re called to go? Do we say, I am too old, or I don’t have the time, or I have other obligations, or any number of other excuses. My 91 year old dad going half way around the world really put a lot of excuses to shame.
The second point was made clear by what my wife did, tongue-in-cheek or not. That being that it’s good for us to surround ourselves with people who regularly remove us from our comfort zones; people who call us out on our excuses and make us better people by their presence. I’ve heard, and I think it’s at least partially true, that we are the average of the five people we surround ourselves with the most. If we surround ourselves with people who are unmotivated, have no goals, and make excuses, what does that do to us? Alternatively, if we surround ourselves with thinkers and doers, people who don’t accept excuses within themselves, and frankly, call us out on our B.S, will that not make us better and more effective people. Proverbs 27:17 says,
“As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
I would hope to be that kind of person as much as I would hope that the friends I choose would do that for me.
As a side, I have not done this before, but if you would like to contribute to the work we are doing in Ethiopia, I am providing a link both for information about the work we’re doing in Ethiopia as well as a link to the go fund me account where you can give towards that work. Thanks in advance to anyone willing to give.
Over the past seven years I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve covered about a dozen countries, several of them multiple times. I’ve been to Ethiopia three times, South Sudan four times, and Kenya about ten or so. I’ve stayed in cities, towns, villages, and some places so remote that when you try to enter it into Google earth, you get nothing. The great thing about being a missionary is that whenever possible, I’m either staying with the locals, or at least somewhere very nearby. I’ve seen all kinds of living conditions, from a family of six living in a 3 meter by 3 meter room, to relatively affluent people living in modern houses with soft furniture and satellite television. Having seen all that, what I’ve learned is that poverty and wealth have very little to do with income.
I learned this week that the average individual, non-mortgage debt in the United States right now is $37,000. That’s the average of every person, not every family. One in ten have non-mortgage debt over $100,000. That is a staggering figure. Now I realize that for some people this is medical debt, and there’s not much that can be done about that. But for a lot of people, it’s just lifestyle debt; the desire to attain some fictitious standard that we’ve either been told we need to achieve, or that we’ve decided we owe to ourselves. It’s the latter that’s the most insidious thing. As we tell ourselves and our children that we can be and have anything we want, we seek to self-glorify ourselves through things. It is the end product of the hyper-individualistic American mindset. In the land where the winner is the one who accumulates, and the king is the one who accumulates more than anyone else, is it any wonder that we see success as having the most stuff?
Here’s the cruel irony. The inevitable end-product to individualistic self-glorification is that we eventually become a slave to someone else. Don’t believe me? Which of the following two people is richer? An Ethiopian who makes enough money to put a simple roof over his head, feed his wife and children, and is content with his life, or an American making $75,000 a year with a mortgage that is going to take 30 years to pay off, student loans that don’t disappear even if he goes bankrupt, two car loans, and a year’s income worth of credit card debt? Who sleeps better? What good is having stuff if at any moment the bank can call in all my loans? Who has better security, if such a thing exists?
I write this today not as a condemning measure, but because for many of us, our paradigm is that this is the way it has to be. I’m here to tell you that it’s not, and in fact most of the world does not do it this way. Wealth is not just having a lot of things, it is also not having the things you don’t need. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
For those of us who have chosen to make missions our lifestyle, this is doubly important. Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” I can’t think of a bigger encumbrance than $37,000 of consumer debt. How can we be a servant of God, when we are already a slave to the bank? How can we give our time when our time is already spoken for to pay for our debts? Simple living is a virtue. I want to challenge us to learn from the African who lives simply, but enjoys his family and every blessing that God gives him. It’s not too late.
Normally I don’t put two photography-only blogs nearly back to back. However, there were simply too many pictures from the last trip to include in my April post, so here is another. Plus, my thoughts on other subjects are still ruminating. So rather than work on getting my disheveled thoughts into a proper order, I’ve decided to be lazy and put pictures up instead. Judging by the number of people that look at my blog when it’s only pictures, that seems to be what people want anyway. So here are more pictures from my trip to Ethiopia last month.