Friday, November 7, 2014

Our Story - pt 3


During their time together in Europe, Karena and Drew had come up with the idea of meeting in six months for another grand adventure. The original idea was to road trip with friends to Key West, Fl. But because of work schedules the trip was canceled and their reunion pushed back until February. Secretly, Drew had been dreaming about sailing with Karena and sharing the joy of emerald seas and white sand beaches. So when his parents offered to take him and Karena sailing in Belize they jumped on board. Karena's only hesitation was having to by new swimwear. During their ten days at sea, Drew was continually impressed by how eagerly and excitedly Karena dove into every new activity, including but not limited to: snorkeling, surface diving, navigation, sail trimming, cooking, and eating lion fish.

Working Together

Most couples do not have the opportunity to work side-by-side. Drew and Karena got to do just that for 3 months during the summer of 2014. While working as a camp counselor and videographer respectively, Karena and Drew were able to put into practice many of the ideals they had talked about long distance. In the fast paced, stressful, and exhausting camp environment Drew learned how to support and encourage Karena as she jumped off cliffs, rappelled down waterfalls, and worked outside her comfort zone. Karena was in her element as she was able to listen and care for young teens, helping them push outside their own comfort zones. Drew and Karena were able to make friends together with the other staff members. Some the best parts of that summer where the days between camps eating, hiking, playing games, and making lifelong friends.


On the morning of June 19th, 2014, Drew kept pressing Karena to hurry up so they could get going on their short vacation in Barcelona. Having just arrived the day before and a little
jet lagged, Karena did not feel the same pressure. Trying to appease Drew, she offered to just go without doing her make up. His out of character response of, "No you should go ahead and do it" seemed odd to her but didn't tip her off that this day was special. They picked up a few ingredients for a picnic lunch and agreed to find a nice park to enjoy their meal. They happened upon the beautiful Parc d' Municipal. Each time Karena spotted a place to sit, Drew would object that it was too close to the lawnmower, other tourists, didn't have enough shade, or basically wasn't perfect. Eventually, they found the right spot, and started to unpack their lunch. Drew said he wanted a "feet" picture. So he reached into his bag for his camera. When he brought out the ring box and asked her to marry him, Karena was so shocked she almost forgot to say yes.

Our Story - pt 2

Via Ferrata 

Fear shone in Karena’s eyes as she stared up at the metal rungs fastened into the cliff known as the Tour d’Ai - Via Ferrata. After a 45 minute hike to the base of the climb,
her fatigued mind was trying to figure out the safety system and harness.  She stared up at the route, which ended at 7,650 ft elevation, took a deep breath and with Drew’s encouragement, started to climb.  With every rung her exhilaration increased.  Drew followed and took in the awe-inspiring journey while enjoying Karena’s contagious excitement.  After completing the last segment of the climb they took a few minutes to enjoy the view of the Alps and Lake Geneva from above the clouds. then the storms started rolling in. Their run down the mountain was an exciting finish to their grand adventure.


Even though their meeting and first date had gone so well, Drew was still hesitant about how the relationship would grow while he was traveling in Africa. They exchanged a few emails over the course of the next two weeks and then planned their first "Skype Date." That first call lasted over 4 hours and would become the norm for the rest of their long distance dating. Over the next year, they spent thousands of hours connecting through
conversation games such as “second thought” and “ask a question.” They would end every conversation by praying for each other, their families, friends and particularly their relationship. Bad internet connections, dropped calls, power outages, inconvenient time differences, and opposing work schedules were just a few of the hurdles overcome by Drew and Karena with help from their new and sometimes annoying friend Skype.


Karena was on the verge of tears as she sat in the middle of LaGuardia airport looking at the departures board flashing canceled. An ice storm in the south and an impending blizzard in NewYork was canceling thousands of flights. After 8 months apart, Drew and Karena had planned to meet in Charleston for Valentine’s Day. Now it seemed impossible. While talking with her Dad, he said, “Hang up the phone and go find Drew at JFK.” Wearing a sundress and jacket, she braved sub-zero windchills and the NewYork bus system to transfer to JFK. As she arrived she realized she had no information about Drew'sflight or where in the airport he would be. As she walked through the doors she stopped and saw Drew sitting on his suitcases. Shocked and confused, Drew was unsure whether to scream with delight, tackle her in hugs or just stare at the beautiful sight. Thanks to some friends of Drew's, they were able to find housing and spend the evening sight seeing. Sometimes un-expected delays end in a perfect Valentine’s Day date.

Meeting the Parents

The flat plains of Kansas rolled by as Karena and Drew sat on the Amtrak train back from Kansas. In three weeks, they had traveled from Charleston to Louisville to St Louis to Garden City and were now heading back. Along the way they visited family and friends.
It was the first time they spent time together with their families. It was a time of growth and learning as they played games, laughed, heard stories, and occasionally slipped away for a few quiet moments together. Hand-in-hand, they talked about how different each of their families were. Drew's family with their plans and 
questions countered by their competitive card games. Karena's family with their laid-back, play-it-by-ear attitude and constant playful joking. Though their families operated very differently, they both noted how grateful they were for their upbringings. Because of their families, they had developed personalities and viewpoints that made them fit together so well.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Our Story - pt 1


If you missed the news, I'm married. On October 19th, Karena and I were married overlooking the beautiful Red River Gorge area of Kentucky. Pictures from that beautiful day are still on there way so in the mean time I thought I would share another part of this wedding celebration. Instead of table numbers and assigned seating, Karena and I wrote short stories of our relationship over the past year. We encouraged our friends and family to go to each table and read the stories that have become part of our story.

How We Met
Ashley and Stephen were getting married.  Their chosen ‘maid-of-honor’ and ‘best man’ were both single (and quite content) at the time.  However, Stephen and Ashley saw an opportunity, one that every engaged couple wants:  a chance to play matchmaker.  So they started dropping hints and putting devious schemes into action.  Drew and Karena found this slightly annoying but decided to be nice to their friends and go with it.  After a week of running errands, escaping to the gym together, and cleaning up the Speer’s wedding, sparks started to fly, much to Ashley and Stephen's delight.

First Date 
On a whim Drew had invited Karena to come rock climbing with his brother Ryan the week after Stephen and Ashley's wedding. She had impressed him with her natural skill during a visit to a gym in Louisville to de-stress during the chaos of the wedding prep. But nothing prepared him for seeing her climb routes with determination, courage, and a little bit of stubbornness. After a long day of climbing, they sat down to Miguel’s Pizza and Ale81. Instead of paying for flowers on this first date, Drew paid for Karena’s shower after two days of camping. When he had invited Karena to come, he thought she would be there for only a day. Four days later they were saying goodbye and remembering all the adventures climbing, hiking, dancing under the stars, and the occasional drive through the tranquil beauty that is the Red River Gorge. As Karena drove away, Drew's brother Ryan said, “Cool girl, but next time you want to go on a date with her don't invite me.”

Drew offhandedly mentioned that Karena should fulfill her dreams of travel and visit him in Europe.  Karena dismissed this idea but it came up in conversations with her good friend, Kersten.  Kersten’s reply of ‘you need to be spontaneous and do this. Here is some money to start your travel fund’ shocked her.  As did the response of the Marra family.  Pete Marra offered airline points which covered the cost of the flight.  As a result, Karena landed in Madrid, Spain one month later.  The following days were Drew and Karena’s second date exploring the ancient coastal city of Malaga, Spain, the third date in Montreux, Switzerland, and a week spent together in the Swiss Alps.  After that there was no looking back.

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Fathers Legacy

My father has accomplished many great things in his life. I would like to take a little time to share some of those and point out his highest achievement yet.

Career - Service and Leadership
Some would point to the awards and accommodations he earned while working in the Kentucky National Guard these past 30 years. Take one look around his office and you see award after award, which speak of his excellence as a soldier, leader and officer. He has been a mentor to many young soldiers, helping them along the way. In his service, he earned the respect and trust of his colleagues in Kentucky and across the nation. He is an exemplary leader constantly encouraging his peers, colleagues, and friends to lead better. Perhaps most impressive is the attitude he takes after having received these accolades. He remains a servant. He does not expect praise or even enjoy rewards and prizes but continues to faithfully do the work before him with humility. He always sought how he might serve those he leads. This is the true mark of a leader and a lesson that I am proud to say my Dad taught me.

Marriage - Love and Sacrifice
In listing my Dads accomplishments, you cannot miss his marriage. If you have met my parents there is no question that they love each other. The way he looks at her and smiles a secret smile that only they share. It's captivating. I wasn't there, but I am sure it is the same look he had in his eyes on their wedding day. And this is no accident or just a coincidence. It took intentional work to guard that love and develope it into the kind of love that make other people jealous and ask how did you do it? I asked my Dad once that very question. His answer is in itself a testament to his legacy, "It wasn't easy but I had to learn how to love her more than myself. I had to love sacrificailly, giving up my wants to put her first, to listen to her wants and needs, and it's exciting because as we've both grown as our relationship has developed and changed. I'm still learning how to love her today."

Family - Fatherhood and Manliness
My Dad likes says that the best thing he could do for his kids was make sure they knew he loved their mother. As a kid, I didn't appreciate watching my Dad come into the kitchen after work with flowers and "smooch" my Mom. As an adult, I recognize the truth and wisdom of this. If you question the impact this might have on kids, take a look at my siblings and I.  My sister is a wife, mother, and amazing woman. She loves her husband and kids with grace, intelligence, and a sense of humor that looks for new ways to bring joy into her loved ones lives. My brother is a member of the National Guard, following in my Dads footsteps, and working on a Masters in IT Management. Much like my Dad he pours himself into the work given him, and always pushes himself to be the best he can. And me, well, somewhere along the way someone forgot to tell me that I couldn't make my dreams come true. I like to give my Dad credit for that.

Dreams - Perseverance and Faithfulness
My Dad is a dreamer. He has been dreaming of sailing for over 30 years. Most of those years he lived in a land locked state and wouldn't even touch the water. A lesser man would give up that dream and look for something more practical. My Dad held onto his dream and nurtured it. He talked about sailing, read about it, and would plan future trips long before he had a boat or even the time to go sailing. Now he sails with the love of his life several times a year and is looking at buying a second boat to live on. If you ask him if this is what he dreamed of 30 years ago, he probably would probably just smile and show you the pictures from his latest sailing adventure.

As vast and impressive as these achievements are they pale in comparison to his greatest achievement in life. 

Rodney George Hayes is a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.

It is the core of my Dads person. Not his service, leadership, love, family, dreams or character. No, the character of Christ has prevailed in his life. It has enabled him as a soldier and serviceman, looking to Christ as his example of a servant leader. He learned to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. I remember my Dad singing an old Phillips, Craig and Dean song. "I want to be like You (God the Father) cause he wants to be like me." I can proudly say that I know better what Jesus is like as a friend, servant, and Father because my Dad imitated and emulated Him for me. His dreams are as big as the God he loves and through his faith he finds the perseverance to hold onto them when life would have him despair.

My Dad will be the first to read this and note that he isn't perfect. He is just another sinner who lives in the grace that Jesus poured on us all when He paid the penalty for our sins. So I'll put it this way, my Dads greatest accomplishment was nothing that he did or earned, but rather a gift he received. He has used that gift well. I pray that I may do the same, because I want to be like Him.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Story

“Telling stories of change to create change.” That was the simple idea that started this project over two years ago. The simple idea that by sharing stories of how others were being changed and working to change that others might be invited into it. Admittedly, I went into this looking to change others. I had no idea how much these stories would change me. 

Nearly 40 different videos have been produced, but that number could be multiplied 100 times and not begin to scratch the surface of the stories I have heard. For every video I've produced, I've met dozens of people and as I work along side them, they share their stories. Not all of these stories make good videos. Not all of them can be told in a blog. Most of them are simple stories, the kind that nobody thinks about, just the stories that we share with people as we go about life. Those stories which inevitably turn into conversations that become grand moments of realization, epiphany, and that bring to light truths you have known but never had the words to express. 

For every country that I travel to, there is a story to that land and its people. I try to learn as much as I can from people about where they live, hearing their stories about growing up there. The problems they have and the dreams they hold to. The history of the government and economy and how those things have shaped and been shaped by the cultures of their people. As I hear these stories, I relive the history of each culture and people learning lessons from their success and struggles.

Through out all that time, I'm taking pictures and video. Capturing the sights and sounds of the places and people. Gathering the materials needed to tell some of the stories that I have heard. I believe that video is a powerful story telling medium because it can capture and represent the little nuances of a place and person. I try to make each video do that, and to do that I take in as much about each person and place that I can. Inevitably, they each get under my skin and touch my heart. 

After collecting the hours of video needed to craft these stories. I sit down in front of computer and try to communicate all that I've learned in 3-5 minutes. It's a mental task, the review of every interview, shot, scene, and person to see if they will fit the particular story. As I sit in the editing room, I relive each moment again and hear the words of my friends from each place. Watching and rewatching, honing until only the story remains; but with each review the stories sink in deeper. I have the privilege of not just getting to hear and see their stories once, but to relive them dozens of times as I edit. 

Inevitably, the majority of the stories which I have heard are cut out from the videos. There isn't time to tell them all and many distract from the main messages trying to be communicated. I imagine this is one of the reasons that directors release their own version of films, behind the scene, and “making of” stories. The final released version doesn't tell it all. Their are personal moments that have been left on the editing room floor, and in those piles are perhaps the moments that were most memorable and impacting to those creating it. I know that happens with me. My favorite moments, shots, quotes, conversations, stories, don't make it into the final cut, but in the “making of” story of my life they are central.

I go through this process with each of the stories I've told so to stay that I've been impacted by them is an understatement. I've been “changed” almost seems too weak a word. I've been transformed.
If you were to look at me you might not be able to identify any changes. Maybe even if you spend time with me you might see the transformation, alteration, and growth. The changes have been subtle. Like my videos, I've gone through an editing process. 

Perhaps the best way to say it is this:

These stories have changed my life by revealing the truths of this world
and giving me a way to share them.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stage Hand

There is a struggle within me that has always been present. Even as a child it was there and through out my life you can see my differing answers to the same question. What is my place? What is my role?

Shakespeare said, "All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Through out my life I've passed in and out of stage productions so the metaphor is familiar. But what is my part? Am I a lead? A chorus member? An extra passing in the background? Is my part advancing the plot line? Adding humor? Revealing the mystery that has been building?

In High-school and college I took the stage in several productions playing different parts, even taking the lead as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. In How to Succeed in Business, my part was as a member of the chorus, but I spent hours developing the character figuring out how he should walk, stand, and even talk though he had no lines. favorite role by far was my first play, The Best Christmas Pageant. I was eight or so and my older brother and sister were excited to try out and get important roles. And me? I went to the auditions and tried out with all the other young thespians. On my audition form under desired role, I excitedly wrote my request: Stage-hand. At eight years old, I donned all black and moved props on and off stage. Watching the play from back stage and on opening night sticking my head from behind the curtains to watch the scenes unfold, seeing what I was part of.

The struggle within myself, present even at that early age, is still here today. Is my part on stage or behind? Something within me longs to take the stage and the spotlight. To feel the glory of the crowd seeing my performance and receiving their accolades. At the same time, another part looks to stay in the wings, waiting for the lights to dim before moving onto the stage, arranging things for the next scene, and quickly sliding off before the audience sees, to remain unseen unknown.

In these productions, the same struggle emerges. With each video that is released, I look for the praise of others. I watch the comments and track each view. At the same time, I dig into each production without anyone seeing the hours spent in preparation for each day of filming, the late nights spent editing, and hours sitting in airports.

The struggle continues. One day giving my lines on stage and the next playing the stagehand. One day in front of the camera in a video update the next editing. Each day the question must be asked, "What is my role? What is my part today?" Regardless of the answer, no matter how many times it is answered differently, there is joy in knowing that I have a part. Like that eight year old looking from behind the curtain, I smile each day I can peek behind the curtain to see that my part, small as it may be, is connected to something bigger.

Friday, April 11, 2014

To All I've Met and Left

Today, I've re-read the words of Paul in Phillipians Chapter 1. I was reminded of you. Our time together was short. At times you may have thought it was too long. Still in that short time we shared, you giving to me your insider perspective and I looking in from outside. You offered your insights and thoughts, and I offered mine. We shared meals and laughter and stories. We have shared pain and joy at news received from far away. The time was sweet but too short to share so much.

Today we are not together, and I find Pauls words reflect my own heart.

"How I long for you with the affection of Jesus Christ."
Strong words I know, yet true. I long to be re-united, to sit and listen to your stories, to share your favorite meal, to meet your neighbors, and again share life. I do not wish to go back, to return to the past. No, I long to be re-united after this time has passed to discover how you have grown and changed.

I've been back in the US for almost 6 weeks, as I write this, back in my "home." In that time I've reconnected to many people who like you, I've shared with and am now away from. "Home is where the heart is." But how can a home be spread all over the globe like my heart? How is being able to see these friends and family each time like a "homecoming?" That answer I think lies in Pauls words. He has left part of his heart with the Phillipian people and so he longs to come "home" to them. I too have left part of my heart with you. You, with your unique personality and life lessons, touched my heart and took some of it with you. 

And now, as I travel and re-connect with pieces of my heart again, I discover how those pieces have grown and changed. The pieces I've left across the globe do not sit idle while I am away. They are living so when I see them again they will not fit exactly as they did before. Even though they don't match as they once did, they will always be part of my heart. 

So it is with you. Even though it means my heart has become this almost Picasso like sculpture of mismatched and mis-proportionate pieces, I am glad pieces of my heart are with you. And I pray growing with you.

"And this is my Prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight."

Your Fellow Servant,

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Part of the Road - Repost

    I've done it more than I would like to and know that there is stilll more to come.  Saying Goodbye. With my travels and work, I meet people, work with them for a while and then have to leave. We say, "Goodbye. I hope to see you again... maybe... sometime." The truth is that I don't know if I'll ever see them again. I went through this same process with the JC team last week. For the next two months, I will be living in an Ivorian home and at the end of that time, I'll say goodbye to this family as well. Only to move on and repeat the process. More adventures and new places and people. More goodbyes.
     To leave here in Cote d'Ivoire is a long process. You go to everyone you know and spend time with them, share a meal, or just sit and talk. Eventually, you "ask for the road." You explain why you must leave and answer any questions. When will you return? What will you do? Will you get a wife? How will God use you? After everyones questions have been satisfied, they will "give you the road, but only part of the road." This subtle distinction carries a world of significance and import. The thought is that if they give you all of the road you will never return, but with only part you will certainly be able to find your way back to them.
      It can be hard to leave people, to say goodbye. Especially if those people have had an impact in your life, as most people worth saying goodbye to have.I have friends who refuse to say the words, "Good-bye." Ever.  I don't like goodbyes. They are hard and filled with awkward spaces where words should go but never seem to fit. But I think that maybe the Ivorians have something in their way of saying goodbye. Something that seems to making leaving not so permanent.
      As I travel the road, meeting different people and allowing them to speak into my life, if I only take part of the road, perhaps I'll find my way back to them again.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Past, Present, and Future - January Newsletter

The Past
January is always a month of reflection for me. With the business of holidays, parties, and what not during December, reflection is difficult. This year as I have looked back at 2013, one clear idea appears.

“It Works! Eurika! It Works!”

This project, which started just as an idea with many questions to be answered along the way, really works. I wasn't always sure that it would. At the begging, I didn't know if I could produce and travel at the same time. The amount of logistical details to work out on top of the creative and technical needs seemed almost impossible to me. But the past year has give me invaluable experience. I've learned little tricks to same me time and improve the quality of each production. All the these lesson have resulted in a score of videos.

In the past 12 months, I have traveled to 9 countries and produced 30 different videos about life in Africa, the people who live and work here, and about the change that is happening here. These films are just starting to be used and shared across social media. I've been encouraged by the positive feedback they have been receiving. If you haven't seen them all you can view them at

The Present
Some of these films have yet to be released, others are still on the editing table, while others are finished but will not be distributed across Social Media for security reasons. This past month I have spent nearly all of it editing, trying to finish these stories so you can see and share them. To help you do that for the next few months I will be posting a new video each Monday. So keep an eye out for each #MissionMonday video and share it with your whole network.

If you are interested in viewing the videos which will not be distributed publicly, I will be creating DVD's with all of the videos from this past year. Every video, from 9 different countries along with all of my Video Updates and bloopers. These DVD sets will be available starting in June for $15. If you would like a copy please send me an email with your mailing address and how many copies you would like.

The Future
This next year is shaping up to be another exciting year of productions, travel, and adventures. In between editing sessions, I've been able to have pre-production conversations setting up the next couple of trips. This February, I will be heading back to the US of A for a few week for a little R&R catching up with friends and family. After that I will be heading to Mozambique, South Africa, and Rwanda for production shooting. As I've been going through the pre-production process researching the stories and getting to know the people I will be working with, I've started to get excited for these new stories. I'm looking forward to bringing all the skills, techniques, and lessons I've learned over the past year to these stories in the hope that they will be effective stories, creating change in the audiences that view these powerful stories.

Your continued partnership in this project is part of that. I cannot express how important it is to me, to know that you are behind me, supporting me and this project. Thank you. I hope that you are as excited for this next year as I am.

Your Fellow Servant,

A Wedding Story

When my grandfather was first teaching me about photography, he told me about working at weddings every weekend as part of his photography business. Sometimes even two or three in one weekend. He told me how with a simple 35mm lens and an Olympus OMG he would run all over capturing the moments that people would collect in albums and show for years to come. He told me that doing that Photography work had taken something he “loved” and made it a “job.” After years in the industry, he didn't want to pick up the camera at family gatherings because he was tired of holding the camera. He said, “If you really love photography then don't become a photographer because it will ruin your love.”

I believed him. It is part of the reason why I decided to study Video production and film making. It was a way of working with visual media and cameras with out being a photographer. I have avoided doing weddings at almost all costs. Even when I could have easily gotten into filming and photographing weddings, I avoided it because I wanted to keep my love for photography intact, separate from work, to keep it sacred.

In the past year, I've shot 35 films in a dozen different countries. Picking up the camera to make a video is work. On average, it takes me between 60 and 100 hours of work for each video I do. But there is no doubt that I love it. Not because it isn't exhausting or because the weight of the equipment is so much lighter today. Not because the locations are exotic or the images and scenery captivating. No. I love it because it isn't about the camera, the images, or the photography. The technical stuff is all used to tell a great story. I wonder if Grandpa G knew when he told me about keeping work and love separate that it would lead me to this work? I doubt it.

I doubt that he knew 15 years later, I would be shooting a traditional Ivorian wedding. As I shot this joyous and unique celebration, the memories of Grandpa G were very close. Nor do I think that he thought back then that his photography lessons would get me here. I am certain that this wedding was like none he had ever photographed.
But the stories he told me of the energy needed to direct and position people in each photo took on a new meaning as I tried to do that same thing in a foreign language. His advice on how to position people all while making them comfortable, moving their hands to avoid “sausage fingers,” and adjusting the tilt of their head ever so slightly to catch the light in just the right way was used a thousand times if I used it once. The lesson that “Film is cheap. Keep pushing the trigger until you get it right,” kept me shooting all day long. At every moment, I was on my toes looking for the right shot because he had said, “Each image should tell a story. Scenery is beautiful but put people in the shot to give it character.”

Now as I look at the finished and edited photos, seeing the smiles and thinking of how these images will be shared, and the stories that will be told along with those images, I can't thank Grandpa G. enough for what he gave me. He didn't teach me how to make photographs.

He taught me how to tell stories.