Monday, December 2, 2013


The holidays are a time for being with family. As with most aspects of my life this looks different than most would think. This past week, Thanksgiving, I was alone. Because of scheduling conflicts with travel and filming, I was unable to attend a Thanksgiving meal with the other American missionaries here in Uganda. Instead, I went out to sushi with a new friend.

The rest of the day, I enjoyed the quiet of a day by myself. This solitude allowed me to think over the things I was most thankful for and the blessings that God has brought into my life this past year. The answer was loud and clear. Family.

For many this is a cliché and typical answer. For me though it seemed a little odd seeing as I was alone on this family holiday. Even more odd considering that it has been over 6 months since I saw my family, and in the past 2 years I've been with them a total of less than 2 weeks. Add to that oddity the fact that I am in living in a cultural context that place great importance on family. Your family name always comes first. When greeting people after hello you ask, “How is your family?” even if they are complete strangers. Here for many family is their retirement plan. When you grow old it is assumed that your children will provide for and take care of you. Family are expected to be involved in all areas of your life from what you do each day, to major decisions like where to go to school or who you marry.

In the past year, I've visited a lot of people. I've been welcomed into home after home filled with loving families. And then I leave. After a few days, I say goodbye and move on to the next place. I am constantly meeting strangers, working with them for a while and then parting ways. Not exactly the typical picture of family for an American or African. So how can I thank God for family when to all appearances family is not part of my life? Who are the people integral to my life? Who is this family I am thankful for?

Jesus asked and answered this question for Himself in Mark 3:31-35. Surrounded by a crowd as he taught, Jesus' family arrives to take assert their responsibility of caring for Jesus. The things Jesus has been saying have shamed and dishonored the community leaders and teachers. So His family arrives on the scene to set Him straight and resolve the conflict. When they are announced, Jesus' response is surprising.

“'Who are my Mother and brothers?' He asked.
“Then He looked those seated around him and said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.'”

In these words, Jesus has redefined family. He has expanded the word. The title of mother and brother, His blood and kin, the ones he is united to socially and economically, the ones most dear to each other, is extended to include any all who follow the command of God. He has expanded 'family' from those we have spent decades building a unique bond with and invited in complete strangers to this sacred assembly.

I'm so glad He did. It is because of that extension that when I thank God for my family I think of people who don't share the same DNA, don't have the same skin color, don't speak the same language, don't sing the same songs, don't have the same traditions, play games as varied as the types of homes they live in, live around the entire globe, and most of whom have never met. I think of
Pierre – A pastoral student in Senegal, who writes his own blog to help other grow in their faith.
Yeo & Awa Yeneyalla – the family I lived with in Cote d'Ivoire.

Ravenswood Covenant Church – This family has supported and encouraged me in ways that words fail to capture.
Bruno and Chris – Ugandan brothers who I just saw again for the first time in 5 years.
The Kendal family – Missionaries in Guinea, who invited me to come out and start this video project.

Journey Corps – A group of the craziest people ever all committed to learning, stumbling, and growing in the love Jesus together.

JIM Club – I haven't been to JIM club in 3 years, but I still consider these boys and men my brothers and fathers. 

There are hundreds of others who I've met over the course of my travels. I've only spent a little time with each of them but they have been added to the weird, quirky, different, and wonderful people that I call 'family'.

My family really is the best and I can't wait to meet all the rest of them. When I do that will be a real Thanksgiving!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Asked the Lord...

I love Hymns. One that has recently caught my attention is "I Asked the Lord." The lyrics of this song beautifully relate one of the greatest truths and themes I have discovered in this adventure of travel, production, and missions. 

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And, by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.

Yea, more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“’Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.” 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sweet Chaos

      I was told before beginning this journey that it would be chaos. Not chaos in the sense of the world falling apart and the sky crashing down on my head. This chaos comes from a lack of normality. There is no normal in my life, one day looks different than the last, each week brings something new, and to try and figure out what I'll be doing a month from now ... well solving quantum physics is easier.
    I've been traveling since February, and in that time the longest, I've slept in the same bed is 2 weeks in a row. There is always a new trip, an un - scheduled shift in housing, or a need to get a different shot for a video. When I'm not working on productions, I spend what is left of my energy, just trying to figure out how to do "normal" life things. Where is the bathroom, how do I work this toilet, what can I eat, where will I sleep, where is the light switch, is there even a light switch, does up mean on or down. That is the chaos I was warned of. The constant tension of always answering those same questions and the answers always being different. It's the chaos of a million simple little questions constantly being asked.

    I was warned about this chaos and cautioned to guard myself against the fatigue it would bring. But no one told me about the other side of this chaos. Perhaps they didn't know or perhaps they had never seen it themselves. 
    In chaos there is peace.
    When I find myself overwhelmed by all those little annoying life questions and the tension building, the only thing I can do is simply say, "I don't know." In those words something changes, my grasp on control and understanding is released and the things I held onto to trying to balance and orient myself are let go. Empty handed I enter into each new situation.
     And in that emptiness, peace is found. I have to ask other people constantly for help, and in my dependence I discover the joy of finding people more concerned for me than I am. Empty handed, I can be delighted by the simple realization that the light bulb has to be screwed in for the light to work, or that by simply flipping the switch up, I can get hot water for my shower. More often than not in letting go of knowing the answers, I discover that the question wasn't really important any way.
     Chaos produces uncertainty. Uncertainty produces loss of expectations. Loss of expectation produces simplicity. Simplicity produces peace. 
     My life is chaos and it is sweet.

October Newsletter

This project started just over a year ago. On this anniversary, the things that have changed stand out. 

Travel: In the past year, I've traveled over 50,000 mile many of those by plane. So airports have become familiar haunts. You know that excited, familiar, and comforting feeling that you get when going "home for the holidays" I get that feeling going to the airport.

Language: A year ago, I couldn't speak French. Now, while my ability to express myself and understand others is limited, I regularly have broken, fumbling, humorous, and enjoyable conversations. When I meet someone, the first words that come to mind are, "Bonjour! Comment ca va?" 

Questions: When I first arrived in Africa last year, I was asking a lot of questions. Questions like: How do I do this? Is it possible? What is it going to look like? How do I capture these complex stories and present them in videos? Over the past year, many of those questions have been answered. My questions today are slightly different: How can I keep doing this? What are new ways to tell these stories? How do I manage the workload and get all these projects done? How do I keep from missing stories as I focus on production?

Production: Before this year, I had only made three videos on missions work, one being my senior project at University. Now there are over 20 films that have been completed as part of this project and new videos are coming out about every two weeks. These videos have been viewed online over 3000 times and those numbers continue to grow. If you haven't seen all of them you can check them out here: . As you keep sharing these videos, I hope that we may reach 10,000 views by the end of the year. 

To list all of the things that have changed would make this letter far too long. I have grown and learned and developed and been changed by the people, places, and things that I have met along the way. All this change makes those things which have not changed stand out in relief. 

One year in and I still love these stories. I see Gods work in changing people, in changing whole communities, in changing hearts and I get inspired. I go, "Wow I want to tell that story. I want others to hear this story that they can be challenged to change too." My passion, my drive, my desire is still the same today, perhaps even great than when I first began. 

Another thing that stands out, unchanged from the beginning of this project, is you. You have been part of this from the beginning. Your support continues to encourage and sustain me. When I read the comments you leave on the videos and see you sharing the videos with your friends and family, I smile knowing that because of your involvement this project is succeeding. I am excited for this next year. Excited to see what happens with this project and to see what happens as we continue to work together. Thank you for being part of this past year and continuing on with me into this next year. Thank you so very much. 

Your Fellow Servant,

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Excess is described in the English dictionary as "an amount that is more than necessary or permitted, lacking moderation." My mother warned me about excess, "Everything in moderation." Don't eat too much, don't work too hard, don't rest too much. The Apostle Paul advised against excess when he instructed, "take a little wine for your stomach." As I travel and work I am often warned against excessive amounts of work lest I "burn out." 

So the thought that God is excessive never crossed my mind. It feels foreign and wrong to say that God is excessive, but today I was struck by this truth. 

Today I went scuba diving off the north Kenyan coast near Malindi. The reef is protected from fishing and claims over 1000 different fish species as well as over 100 different corals. I was able to take two dives with a cumulative dive time of just under 2 hours, so I didn't even begin to see all of these varieties. Never the less, I saw hundreds of different types of fish and sea life.  From tiny fingernail size fish living in anemones to 15 foot wide coral displays the reef was alive with diversity. As we drifted along the reef watching iridescent snails, leaf fish, neon sea slugs, scorpion fish, angel fish, halo fish, puffer fish, parrot fish, moray eels, manta rays, and lobsters the only word to describe the scene is excessive. There is no need for so many different varieties of fish. Not only that but there is no need for the intricate and delicate designs in each one. This under water world is rarely seen and not until the last 50 years with the advent of modern diving technology was this world even viewable. The world of excessive and ornate beauty was hidden. If that's not excessive I don't know what is.

Once back on dry land, I started to think about the differing Ecosystems of our terra firma world. Not one of them is simple, but dependent on thousands of species of flora and fauna for it to be sustained. Again the beauty and intricacies are excessive. 

Then I looked sky ward. I remember watching a Sci-fi movie once were they were discussing the existence of the life on other planets. One of the characters said, "We'll, if there isn't life somewhere else in the universe; it's a massive waste of space." In other words all that emptiness, all those un-inhabitants worlds with their beauty and grandeur and unknown and un viewable wonders are excessive. 

I can only imagine that a world with so many excesses comes from a God who is just as excessive. He is not moderate. He is excessive. In all of His actions He does more than just enough. He didn't create just a small path across the Red Sea for Israel, that was just big enough. Through out the history of Israel, Gods excessive nature is shown again and again. His excess is not limited to beauty and blessing, but is also seen in His wrath and judgement. For what seem like small offenses to me, He wiped out thousands of His own chosen people. He does more than what is necessary and sometimes does more than what is permitted. 

It was not permitted, by His own laws and decrees, that anyone but the Highest of priest could come before Him, and that only once a year. And yet, His desire to have communion with the people of this world was so excessive, that He created a way, a sacrifice. But no little sacrifice would do, it had to be excessive. Nothing short of His own infinite blood would do for a God this excessive. S

So today, I sit and wonder at His excess. I wonder at His excess in creation, at the excessiveness of His actions in history, but more still I wonder at the ways that He has poured out His excessive, more than necessary and lacking moderation, love on me. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

August Newsletter

Summers are a time for vacations, road trips, ice cream, and being with friends. Mine didn't look exactly like that but it was filled with many adventures. For the past 5 years, I've worked with a company to produce souvenir/travel-log videos for 4 leadership camps in Europe. Each camp focuses on a different age group and gives them experiences and seminars on leadership. The goal being to help them to become leaders in their schools, homes, volunteer organizations, future jobs and lives. While working with these camps takes me out of Africa and away from producing the stories there, it always is a highlight to my year.
Besides the amazing scenery in locations like the Spanish coast, Swiss Alps, and Austrian lakes the summer offers me a chance to serve in a different capacity. While working with these camps to produce videos I am able to serve the students, counselors, and directing staff. To find out why that excites me you can read the whole story over on the blog. (

New Videos

Traveling in Europe has some great perks. One of the best is the easy access to fast internet. While here I've been able to finish up editing and upload some new stories from West Africa. You can check out the latest stories at or click the links below.

The Depths of Dominoes from Drew Hayes on Vimeo.

Baptist Hospital of Ferkessedougou from Drew Hayes on Vimeo.

Back to Cote d'Ivoire

The time in Europe has been great, but it is time to get back to Africa. The fall is shaping up to be a busy one. September 1st, I head back to Cote d'Ivoire where I will be working on editing videos and doing pre-production for the fall. While I'm there a new team of Journey Corps volunteers will be coming in. It's fun to think that one year ago, I was in their shoes and now I can help with their introduction to Ivorian life and culture. It will also be good to connect with the friends and relationships that I have made over the past year.
In October, I will be beginning a tour of East Africa. The plans are still being fleshed out but I'm excited to be able to visit Kenya and afterwards Uganda. I am especially excited about returning to Uganda, since it was there that the original idea for this grand adventure began. Now I get to go back and do the work of the telling the amazing stories that are happening there. I can't wait!

I say it all the time, but I am so thankful for you and your continued involvement in this project. Your support means so much and helps keep me moving. Thank you.

Your Fellow Servant,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Summer Sun and Service

Summers are a time for vacations, road trips, ice cream, and being with friends. Mine didn't look exactly like that but it was filled with many exciting adventures. For the past 5 years, I've worked with a company to produce souvenir/travel-log videos for 4 leadership camps in Europe. Each camp focuses on a different age group and gives them experiences and seminars on leadership. The goal being to help them to become leaders in their schools, homes, volunteer organizations, future jobs and lives. While working with these camps takes me out of Africa and away from producing the stories there, it is always a highlight to my year.

Besides the amazing scenery in locations like the Spanish coast, Swiss Alps, and Austrian lakes the summer offers me a chance to serve in a different capacity. While working with these camps to produce videos I am able to serve the students, counselors, and directing staff. I've taken to signing all my letters and correspondence, “Your Fellow Servant, Drew.” This reminds me and maybe others too that the goal of life is service. Service has an interesting paradox. Simply put: The more you give away what you have, the more you have.

My life is full. Full of activity. Full of great friends and people. Full of conversations that challenge me. Full of purpose. Full of responsibilities. Full of hope. I often don't think that I can handle anything more. This is were the service paradox come in. I could protect my already full time. I could see myself as too busy to serve anyone else. At these camps it would be easy. I'm not a resource teaching or a counselor keeping the students in line. I'm the video guy and my responsibilities compared to the others is pretty small. I hold a camera and edit a video. But if I want to be a servant that means giving away my time, my energy, what I have to others. So I sit with the counselors at lunch and talk them, help them laugh off the stress of work, come up with ideas to handle issues, and encourage them to pursue their own dreams. I sit with the resources and hear about their families, and offer to help them put together a video to help expand their businesses. I talk with the leadership and brainstorm ideas about future camps and how to improve for next year.

None of that is my job but it is me. I am a servant. As I work to serve the people I am with, I find the paradox true. I have more time to take care of responsibilities, or tasks take less time than expected. As I give away time, I find I have more. As I talk and share my hope, I find that I have more. As I encourage others I am encouraged. As I serve others, I am served.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In the Company of the Body

I've grown accustomed to not being able to understand what is happening during the church services I attend. Mostly, it is because I am a visitor and only there for one or two services. Also, the services aren't usually in English. So even if the liturgy is familiar, the language isn't, which means that I miss things through out the service. So each Sunday morning I know that I am going to have an entirely different experience than most of the participants.

Sundays can be exhausting rather that filling. Sitting 2, 3, or even 5 hours only guessing at what is happening, drains you mentally. Constantly watching to see how everyone else re-acts to something so you know what to do. Do I sit or stand now? Are we praying? Is this the sermon or just announcements about this weeks potluck? What passage are they reading? Is that even the Bible? I imagine that this was a common problem for the early church. New believers being brought into the synagogue or assemblies each week and not understanding the words being spoken let alone all the actions and ritual. Perhaps this is exactly the situation that Hebrews 10:24-25 is speaking about. 

So when my friends who I was visiting in Vienna, Austria said, "Sorry, our German isn't up to translating for you during the service." I just smiled and tried to assure them it was fine. I said, "I'm used to it. I just enjoy being in the fellowship of the body." I could have dreaded that Sunday morning like any other with its confused state and asking all those questions again. Instead, I've learned to love watching these services, to see the kaleidoscope of God's people worshipping in different ways, to see and hear how they fellowship together. When I stop looking for something to edify me, but how these people are being grown and edified, the service becomes something else. I find myself asking questions like this. How do they express joy here? Do these people really love Jesus? How do I see that love? How is their heart shown when they sing, pray, read or dance? How does this body of believers reveal Jesus in it's fellowship?

I enjoy being in the fellowship of the body, because, even though I don't know what is being said and usually make a fool of myself by standing at the wrong time or singing during someones solo, the body is more than just a bunch of people. They make up the body of Christ. So why would I want to be any where else?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Depths of Dominoes

In April, I got to visit with Tom and Lisa Seward  in Kadiolo, Mali West Africa.  Besides being lighthearted and fun people they have a ministry that is often times hard to express in words. They work at building relationships and anything from blackboards, errands, motor-scooters, and games of dominoes are options for entering into deep relationships with people to impact and change their lives. One of the most noticeable things about Tom and Lisa is how well they fit into this ministry. From their past life, experiences, to their mannerisms and just view on life allows for and aids them in building relationships. And yet they don't see themselves as special. They simply see themselves as willing to serve and use what they have where God has placed them. (See "Super Christians a.k.a Missionaries" for more on that subject.)
The challenge of making this short documentary was to explore how they do this and what it takes to experience the depths of these relationships, while presenting the subtle question of, "Why couldn't you?"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Visiting Niemene

      Coming into a remote village like Niemene, you can feel the difference to larger cities, or villages that are closer to main traffic routes. After a few hours, you still feel the difference; but you can't quite place your finger on the what it is exactly that makes this place that way.
     The noise is the same. Motos running everywhere, children screaming, animals bleeting and crying, and at least one if not two or three radios playing different music at the same time. The amenities and architecture are the same. Squat pots (glorified holes in the ground) for toilettes, no running water, bare wire electricity in cement cinder block buildings standing next gardens and fields for planting.
     Still the feeling persists. This place is different. And then as you are walking around meeting the principal of the primary school, the elders of the church, and finally the Chief of the village; it hits you.
     In the first 3 hours of your visit to Niemene, you've waited in a boutique for 30 minutes getting directions to the church from the 5 people who have been there all day, been picked up by a stranger who turned out to know your friends and took you to their house, visited the pastor, visited your friends house and family, visited all the notable persons of Niemene and greeted every other person along the way. The list seems too long for the short amount of time, but not once in those 3 hours was their a sense of rushing, no hurrying to the next thing, simply a calm peaceful movement from place to place, person to person, meeting to meeting. Anthropologists call this an event vs time focused culture meaning that people finish one event first regardless of the time, be it 15 minutes early or 3 hours late. In other words here in Niemene and in other small villages, the pace is different.
      But for me there is more than just a difference speed to life. There is a reminder to slow down and breathe, to see people and hear their stories, to leave the production schedule and its demands behind and enjoy the moments right here. This pace, while slower, leaves more room. More room not to be filled with more activities and things, but to do things differently, to appreciate each event, person, place, action, and view as full gift. This slower pace allows and even creates fullness and richness of life. And in my life which already seems to full, this is a much needed reminder.

Super Christians a.k.a. Missionaries

     Every missionary, I know or have met, cringes at the term, “Super Christian.” And many believers in the US don't like the term either, but use it none the less. As if, just by serving over seas, that person has some how become better, more spiritual, faster, stronger, like the 6 million dollar Christian man. Missionaries humbly defend, “I'm just like any Christian. I'm not special and definitely not perfect. I'm just doing what God 'called' me to do.” I even know one missionary who refuses to use the word “calling,” to avoid the inference that God has given them a uniquely, special, and more important task.
     Through out my travels and productions working with missionaries, I can confirm that they are not perfect. I've never met a more motley, disarrayed, diverse, damaged, and down right weird group of people than missionaries. Just live in their homes for a few days and you'll see that very clearly.
     And still people persist, as did one visiting pastor from the United States. He came to help lead a spiritual renewal conference for missionaries, (a conference which by its very existence and necessity points to the fact that missionaries are no different and also need to be refreshed, renewed, and encouraged as others). After a time of sharing prayer requests and praises, He applauded the group, “You all are amazing. Listen to yourselves. You just praised God for the church you built this weekend, and for the fear God removed when you husband took a team into the jungle for a month. When we have a prayer time at our church, people stand up to praise God for helping them pass a test, and that their Nana's coming to visit next week. You guys don't like to to admit it but you are super.”
      The difference is notable, but not so great in reality. There is really only one difference between these missionaries, these so called “Super Christians,” and the people that fill the pews of many churches in the states. Willingness. In all the missionaries, which I have met, that is the one constant in their stories. Some are skilled and other aren't. Some are passionate about evangelism and some dreaded leaving the states to serve over seas. Some work in education, others in technical labor, and others are glorified taxi-drivers. And yet all are willing. Willing to be used by God. Willing to go. Willing to let God change them and mold them through hardship and suffering. Willing to leave their friends and family to follow Christ. Willing to give up what they can't keep in order to gain what they can't lose. Willing to have their heart broken for the things that breaks Gods. Willing to lose their own identity in order that Christ may be seen in them. Somewhere along their life they said, “Okay God, sure, yeah I'll follow you.”
     All the perceived superior spirituality of missionaries is the reward of their willingness, of that simple answer, yes. So... if that is the only difference; I have to ask the question, “Why aren't their more 'Super Christians'?”

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June Newsletter

I'm back in Cote d'Ivoire. It's been a crazy couple of months filled with production, travel, and all sorts of adventures. After 3 months of being “on the road” it's good to return to a familiar place and reconnect with people here.

What Hasn't Happened

The last three months have been a whirlwind of production and travel. Certainly great things have been happening, but it's the events that haven't happened that stand out to me and I'm most thankful for.
I haven't been robbed.
I haven't gotten Malaria.
I haven't been too lost.
I haven't had any equipment fail.
I haven't run out of energy.
I haven't missed any flights.
I haven't been lonely.
I haven't run out of money.
I haven't been worried.
I haven't been injured.
I haven't been discouraged.
I haven't lost heart.
I haven't been attacked by bandits.
I haven't gotten on the wrong bus.
It is easy sometimes to only thank God for the things we see Him giving us, but I'm learning that He is present also in the things which don't happen. There are thousands more things that haven't happened to me, that I am thankful for. 

Restored, Refreshed, Refilled

This past month I got the opportunity to return to the US and participate with in my friend Stephens wedding. Knowing that I was going to be back in the states for this event, I planned extra time to visit friends and family. Over the course of three weeks, I traveled over 5000 miles not including the trip to and from Africa. And yet, I am amazed at God's grace to give me exactly what I needed through this trip. You can read more about how god Restored, Refreshed, and Refilled me over on the blog or go to my Instagram to check out pictures from the trip.

Looking Ahead

For the month of June, I'll be staying here in Cote d'Ivoire. During that time I'm going to be editing many of the videos shot in the past months as well as shooting 3 new productions. There just doesn't seem to be enough time. And yet I continue to finish projects on time and share stories.
The summer months don't let up on the schedule. In July, I'll be traveling to Europe to again work with a leadership training camp. The camps take place in Spain, Switzerland, and Austria offering leadership formation to teens from around the world. I've been working with this organization for 5 years now and always look forward to seeing those people again and catching up each year.

I can't overemphasize how important you are to this project. Knowing that you are part of this project keeps me motivated and encouraged to continue working hard to tell these stories. Thank you.
Your Fellow Servant,

And I would walk 5000 miles...

This past month I got the opportunity to return to the US and participate with in my friend Stephens wedding. Knowing that I was going to be back in the states for this event, I planned extra time to visit friends and family. Over the course of three weeks, I traveled over 5000 miles not including the trip to and from Africa.

Starting in Louisville, KY, I visited with Stephen and Ashley (his bride to be) getting to know them as a couple. Next, I drove down to Columbia, SC to visit my sister's family. After a few days of wrestling and playing with my nieces and nephews I drove on to Charleston to see my parents new house. They moved this past year and it was fun to see them in their new environment. For the weekend, I jumped on a plane headed north to Chicago where I was able to see many friends and also attend my church. Being able to share a greeting with the church there reminded me how much I miss those people and how much it means to me to have them behind me praying for me and encouraging me along the way.

With the wedding fast approaching, I flew back to Charleston and then drove back up to Louisville where I helped Stephen and Ashley get all the last minute details in place. The wedding was perfect. The weather, which had been threatening rain, cleared out for the entire day. It was so good to be part of this important day for Stephen and Ashley and be able to serve them in a million little ways. 

After the craziness of the preceding two weeks, plus all the activities of preparing for a wedding, I needed a little R&R. So my brother and I went rock climbing and camping in Red River Gorge. Karena, the maid of honor from the wedding, also got to come along; and even though she had never been climbing before she did a great job. It was a great week of resting, breathing in God's nature, and relaxing.

As I look back, I am realizing God's grace to me in giving me exactly what I need when I need it. Being able to see friends and family who I hadn't seen in almost a year, restored me. Getting to serve Stephen and Ashley, refreshed me. Climbing and camping in the gorge, reminded me of God's creativity. This trip was a step away from my normal routine of travel, produce, edit, travel again; and in these weeks as crazy and busy as I was, God gave me new energy to dive back into this project and continue the work of telling these stories.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What Hasn't Happened

The last 2 months of production have been a blitz of shooting and travel. Meeting new people, hearing new stories, and shooting great footage. Certainly some great things have been happening, but as I look back on these weeks it's the events that haven't happened which amaze me. This is what hasn't happened:

I haven't been robbed.
I haven't gotten Malaria.
I haven't been too lost.
I haven't had any equipment fail.
I haven't run out of energy.
I haven't missed any flights.
I haven't been lonely.
I haven't run out of money.
I haven't been worried.
I haven't been injured.
I haven't been discouraged.
I haven't lost heart.
I haven't been attacked by bandits.
I haven't gotten on the wrong bus.

I often thank God for what I see Him doing, the actions He makes evident and visible. I have to ask myself the question, Is He present in these absent events, these “ haven't ”events? Do they bare His fingerprint in the same way as the visible actions?

This past week I got to go rock climbing. Not true sport climbing, just low bouldering, since I was going on my own. Beneath the light house of Dakar are sandstone cliffs meeting the crashing of the Atlantic to form some of the most interesting rock formations I've ever seen. Each day for the past week I've been scrambling around on the rocks, cleaning off sand and salt left by the waves to make some simple bouldering routes. On my last day, as I reached the top of one of these routes, about 10 feet up, I flexed my legs to stand up and prepare to climb back down. As I pulled with my arms and pushed with my legs the rock I was holding snapped, sheering off the cliff face. I spun mid-air to try and land on my feet as best I could, but the landing area was uneven rock covered in thin layers of sand and salt leading down another 15 feet to the water and the sharper rocks that the waves had carved. My feet slid out from underneath me, but I was able to scramble and catch myself with only mild scratches to my lefts and hands. I brushed my self off and kept climbing.
It wasn't until later that I realized the precariousness of that situation. It could have been much worse. I could have hit my head and slid into the water or broken a leg been stranded alone with no way to get back to help. But that didn't happen.

At different times in my travels people have give me warnings to help prepare me for the risks and probabilities. Get insurance for When, not if, you have something stolen. Learn the signs of Malaria, so you can diagnose it When you get it. Double check your itineraries and show up early because flights get cancelled all the time. Be ready for, fill in the blank, because that's just life here. I think you get the picture. The list of “haven't happened” may seem a bit far fetched in the US but for those I work with in West Africa they are inevitable realities. But they haven't happened to me, and certainly not because of my awesome vigilance and preparations. These things are as out of my control as a rock breaking away from the cliff in my hands.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Production Re-Cap - IBB

Families are living and learning together at IBB.

The last few months I've been on a production blitz shooting 8 different videos in 3 different countries. It's been awesome and looking at the images captured gets me excited to finish these videos and share these stories.

One of the pieces that I'm excited about is the video shot at IBB (Institute Biblique de Bethel) in Korhogo, Cote d'Ivoire. IBB is a Seminary for Pastors and church leaders. They focus on holistic education knowing that the entire life of the pastor and his family is used by God to minister in their communities. I've shared a few frame grabs from the raw video on Facebook so check 'em out.

Now the task is to take the 8+ hours of footage captured and turn that into a 5 minute story. If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. Not only that, but we are producing this video in 2 version, English and French, adding translation to the already heavy load.

That's why I'm glad to be working with Jeff Frazee, another WV missionary in Mali. Jeff is a trained photo Journalist and is working with an award winning drama team in Mali to help them learn how to take their 300 scripted radio dramas and turn them into video content. Jeff and this team are going to be editing these videos, giving them a real project to work and learn on. Its another unexpected and exciting outcome of the project. This story of how Pastors are being trained to impact and change their churches and communities in Cote d'Ivoire, is impacting the Drama team in Mali as they learn to produce their own videos.

That's what this project is all about. Telling stories of Change to create Change.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Production Daze

I'm starting to settle into a routine, well as much of a routine as can be had. Traveling in Africa always has its own challenges and living here also brings new adventures my way all the time. Production, even in the best of cases, is a constant state of shifting schedules, running to catch something happening only once, or just waiting for people to show up. So when I say routine that doesn't look like your normal 9-5. Most days look something like this.

6:00 am - Wake up and head immediately to the shower or bucket bath in some cases. Night-time temperatures are still in the 90's so even in sleep you can work up quite a sweat.
6:30 am – Make coffee and breakfast. Thanks to friends and family I have a supply of coffee so that in any situation I can figure out how to start my day with a cup of joe.
7:00 am – Producers Meeting. This is what I've come to call my morning devotions. It's a time when I, the producer, can connect with my “Executive Producer.”
8:30 am – Start work. This often begins with reviewing the schedule for the day. If nothings planned to be shot I'll look at the current projects in Pre, Production, and Post and make sure everything is on track.
9:00 am – Dig In. The mornings are usually the most productive for me. So I try to schedule most of my shoots in the morning, when it isn't so hot (ie. less than 110 F). If I'm not shooting, I'll dig into editing. I try to focus and spend the next 4 hours shooting or editing until lunch.
1:00 pm – Break Time. With the temperatures rising and my focus dwindling, I take a break to eat lunch. This is the hottest time of the day, the perfect time to take a nap and just lie in front of a fan.
2:30 pm – Back at It. Depending on how productive I was in the morning, I may continue what I was working on in the morning. Often though, the afternoons are given to Pre-Production. This means writing treatments, scheduling shoots for the coming weeks, making travel arrangements, or doing emails if I can get internet where I am.
6:30 pm – Clock Out. To stay on schedule with all my productions and to keep me sane, I'm finding it helpful to put in 8 hours of focused work and call it a day.
7:00 pm – What's for Dinner? This always looks different. Sometimes it is eating with the people I'm working with or making my own food. I'll share soon some of my successes and failures, in a future blog.
8:30 pm – Decompress. The amount of stress that can build up in this lifestyle of travel, work, adventure and uncertainty is pretty up there. All work and no play makes Drew very irritable. Evenings are split between reading (I'll read about 1000 pages per month), playing games (with others if they are around or on my ipad), or exercising (right now I'm prepping for a climbing trip in May).
10:00 pm – Shower Again. It's a habit I picked up while living in Brobo, but now that it's “Hot Season” it's essential to shower again before bed to get rid of the build up dust and sweat from the day.
11:00 pm – Sweet Dreams. It's nice heading to bed tired from the day and feeling like a lot was accomplished. Don't believe me try it some day.

That's the schedule I shoot for, but as the saying goes, “Tout vas changer!” (Everything will change!)

Riding the Bus – Why Me?

On April 27th, I boarded a bus to travel from Bouake, Cote d'Ivoire to Zegou, Mali. I had been told that the trip should take from 6-8 hours.

At the suggestion of friends, I bought my ticket the day before and arrived at the station a half hour before the scheduled departure of 8:30 am. Being the only “Toobab” (white guy) in the station, I was quickly called out by a man, who I can only describe as the “Conductor.” He was wearing jeans and I Cote d'Ivoire jersy, but despite the lack of uniform this guy made made everything happen. He showed me wear to wait and when it came time to load the bus got my two bags loaded in safe spot. If anyone had questions they went to him and got it sorted out quickly.

Around 9:15, they started loading people onto the bus by calling out the names of each passenger according to the seat number they had purchased. My name is a little hard to pronounce in French so they called something like this, “Ace Jrui.” When I took my assigned seat, #33, in the middle of the bus, they moved me up to “first class.” By first class I mean the front of the bus where I could at least stretch out my legs and get some breeze to help cool things down.

We were under way by 9:45. For the next 2 hours we moved along consistently all be it slowly, stopping only once to let people out and for the engine to cool. As we came into Niakara and stopped at a security check point, the driver couldn't get the bus into first or second gear. He managed to get the bus moving again using 3rd, but when we stopped for “lunch” they tried to work out the problem. At every stop of the bus, vendors swarm to sell water, bananas, peanuts, cakes, fruit, and all sorts of “fast food.” For about 500 CFA ($1), I bought peanuts and bananas, which I shared with my seat mate.

Around 1 pm, we started down the road again, but the engine was still having trouble in 1st and 2nd gear. We stopped once again, when steam started pouring out from under one of the passengers seats, where apparently the radiator cap had come loose. After refilling the radiator, we moved on. At 4 pm we pulled into Ferke, a trip which usually takes about 5 hours by car.
Once we were underway again, I called my friends in Mali who were going to pick me up and updated them on the situation. They let me know that because the bandits in their area had recently been very active, it wasn't safe for them to be traveling at night so if I arrived after dark, a Malian friend of theirs had offered to come pick me up. They also said that it should take 2 about hours to get from Ferke to Zegoua.

The bus continued to struggle along, stopping twice over the next 2 hours to refill the radiator or mend something. Around 6 pm we pulled over again in Nielle. As I got out with everyone to stretch my legs, I looked under the bus and could see oil pouring out of the engine. Not dripping, but pouring. For the next hour the driver, the mechanic that was traveling with us, and several other people worked on the engine. The driver told me that they had called ahead to Zeguoa to send them the part that they needed and once they found it would send it down to us.

With no estimate on how long that might take, I bought dinner. After finishing my spaghetti sandwich, I settled down to wait with everyone else. I talked with a lady from northern Mali, about the war and how it had affected life there. I chatted with a Senegalese guy who was on a tour of West Africa and had come from Nigeria to Ghana to Abidjan and was heading to Senegal.

Around 9:30 pm, I noticed that people were unloading the luggage from the bus. I asked the driver about this and he told me that the bus company was sending a new bus down. A half hour later the bus arrived, and everyone set to packing the bus. I got my luggage in and then helped a older lady load boxes of what I think were batteries under her seat.

With everything loaded and all the people in their new places on the bus, I again had been able to snag a prime spot in the front, the new driver got in and made an announcement. I don't know what he said, because he didn't speak in French, but one of the local African trade languages. Assuming it was just an explanation for the delay or instruction for the boarder, I settled in for the rest of the journey. As soon as we got back on the main road though, we turned left off of the road and started into the center of Nielle. I turned to the guy next to me and asked, “Umm, Where are we going?” He didn't speak very good french, but was able to get some else to explain that the main road was closed ahead because of bandits. We would be spending the night in Nielle and then continue on the rest of the way in the morning. It was at this point I found out that Nielle is 25 kilometers from Zegoua.

The bus stopped next to a couple of trucks which were parked in the center of town and every one started spreading out for the night. I asked around about a possible hotel or some place to stay, and the lady who I help load her boxes onto the bus said that there weren't any hotels in town but I could just sleep on the porch of the mosque along with everyone else. So I did. Or at least I tried to. Sleeping on a dirty concrete floor with mosquitos biting you and waking up every time some walks by doesn't really lead to deep sleep. It wasn't until the next morning that I fully realized what sleeping in a Mosque meant. At 4:45 am, I was woken up by the call to prayer. I've grown used to hearing this call made in the distance from somewhere, but this morning I heard it right next to my ear.

Eventually, everyone woke up and after getting some breakfast from a local coffee shop (think wooden lemonade stand with a coffee machine) we headed down the road. Less than 15 minutes later we were at the Cote d'Ivoire Mali border. There are 4 stops in this 2 kilometer section, 2 customs offices and 2 immigration offices. One each for leaving Cote d' Ivoire and entering Mali. At each stop, we gave our documents to an officer who depending on our type of visa pointed us to a different line. Because I was one of the only passport carriers my line was pretty short and got through all stops quickly and easily.

At the final stop, Mali customs, I asked the driver to get my bags out from under the bus since this was my stop. After digging them out from one of the inside compartments, I carried my bags over to an official who looked them over and quickly waved me on.

I met my friends who were waiting for me and we got into their car. I had made it to Zegou and my bus trip had come to an end. It was 10:30 am April 28th. The bus trip which was supposed to take 6-8 hours had taken 27 hours.

Through out the course of this trip a question kept rising to my mind. “Why me? God, Why is this happening to me? Out of all the people in the world you picked me? Why are you making this happen to me? Why do you keep giving me stuff like this?” (You might want to re-read that, but this time replace the sarcasm and bitterness with genuine gratitude.)

God continues to give me amazing experiences and the grace to see things His way, to see events that might be considered problems or errors as gifts. I mean really how many people can say the've slept in a mosque?