I thought I had an idea of what life in Nairobi, Kenya would be. I’d read missionary letters, heard their stories, enjoyed the church presentations. But nothing prepared me for what I experienced when I landed in Nairobi during my sophomore year in college and saw the city, heard the language, witnessed the filth, smelled the diesel fumes, experienced the traffic jams.
I am a photographer; a photographer to the very core of my being. I see the world as a series of snapshots, a compilation of images to compose, collect, and remember. As I coped through those first days of culture shock, I almost forgot that imperative truth about myself. I tried to see the world without my camera and process what I saw without a digital memory. It didn’t work.
Although my passion for photography began in early high school when I started taking photos and winning competitions, I didn’t understand its purpose until I went to Kenya the first time and realized that everyone has a story to be told. Especially missionaries. They need their supporters to know what’s happening on the field. But the missionaries don’t need to be spending time away from their primary purposes in order to take the photos, create the videos, and tell the stories. And that’s where I come in.
Each time I pick up my camera, I am not only taking a photo to add to my collection. When I am creating a photograph, I am telling a story and reflecting the beauty God created through that story. Using my camera, I can tell the stories of Uganda and Kenya and Mexico and Canada and Vietnam. When people see my photos, my goal is that they see the story and – mostly – that they understand just what is happening on the other side of the lens. Ultimately, I want the viewer to relate to that story and be impacted by it.
When I went to Uganda a few years after Kenya, I didn’t realize what it would be like to live with no running water, no electricity, no internet (gasp!), no cell phones. And yet that’s how it was for us during the first month we lived out at the new ministry site — until our story was told, that is, and generous folk started donating money and resources to install solar power, provide battery-powered tools, and add water tanks to the property. You don’t understand the power of an indoor shower until you try sponge bathing under the stars for a few months. Truly, it’s a powerful appreciation that develops very quickly.
I take photos so I can tell stories. I tell stories so that people can understand the missionary’s life. I understand the missionary’s life because I’ve been there. From both sides of the picture, I can tell the stories through camera and word. I can be the conduit of information. I can take photos that tell the supporters why their missionary stays in the foreign land.
But I can’t do that every day. As much as I might like to, traveling the world is just not realistic right now. I can’t just hop from country to country all the time (I’ve tried). But I tell stories every day. I take photos of newborns, of families, of the newly engaged, of the recently married. With every photo shoot I complete, I’m telling another story. A story of love… of joy… of beauty.
Although traveling to foreign countries is the “fun” part and the ultimate goal, telling the story of love is a daily opportunity. I know that taking photos in my own neighborhood for a missionary heading to Haiti or New Orleans is fulfilling my purpose. I know that the story of a new family beginning life as a unit is a series of photos that will be treasured for generations. Both stories are equally important. How do I know that? Because God created us each to fulfill our own role in His story.
Everyone has a story that is waiting to be told — often, these stories go on without notice. People go on without notice. But here’s the thing: the love stories that I tell are powerful reflections of the Ultimate Love Story that I want to spread.
When I’m telling a love story as the couple celebrates their wedding, I’m reflecting the love of Jesus that they are demonstrating to each other.
When I’m telling the story of a missionary in Africa, I’m showing how they are living out the love of Jesus for the world.
And that is why I’m a photographer.
Because there is a Love Story that needs to be told.
Jennifer is adventuring through this journey called life and savoring each moment along the way; usually, that means taking a photo of it. See more of her photos—and read the stories behind them—on her blog at jennimarie.com. (Editor’s note: Jennifer is the photographer behind our YLCF logo photos!)