Photography as mission: using the camera to cross barriers

Bringing my camera to Chile on my mission trip was a no-brainer for me. I scrapbook like crazy – and approached this mission trip just like any other adventure. But I didn’t expect the camera to be the tool it quickly became.

My team spent a day visiting the Chilean countryside, the highlight being an elementary school serving the local indigenous population. Spanish is their second language, just like for us; that fact united us as we each stumbled over words to communicate. But the camera became a unifier even faster as I snapped photos across classrooms. Any sign of hesitation disappeared as they realized they could see the pictures instantaneously.

This made me realize the importance of photography as mission. Journals and stories are significant – but as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Read on for three ways the camera can cross many a barrier.

This stock photo captures similar reactions to my experience as the students were just as curious about the back of the camera as they were the front!
This stock photo captures similar reactions to my experience as the students were just as curious about the back of the camera as they were the front!

Photography as mission

The advent of the digital camera makes anyone an immediate photographer. No longer must you worry about whether a photo comes out blurry or crooked; instant results allow you to retake the shot, or straighten it in an online program later.

Not sure if something is photo-worthy? The best advice I ever received is simply to take the picture. Similar to the above – you don’t have to worry about wasting film on a shot. Technology allows us to capture more moments than ever; take advantage of it. It costs nothing, and I’d rather err on the side of taking the picture than wishing I had.

You don’t have to be a professional; you just have to push a button.

The camera as conversation starter

Hesitant to join in an activity, or speak to someone when you don’t know their language? The camera becomes your dictionary. Hold it up with raised eyebrows, and it instantly asks your question for you. Share the photo immediately after, and smiles abound – for both of you.

Kids often love getting their picture taken!
Kids often love getting their picture taken!

The camera as memory maker

My church hosts a celebration several weeks after each global-encounter (short-term mission) trip. This makes a fantastic opportunity to share the trip with your supporters and make it personal to them; they are able to see the effects of their partnership in real time.

Photos are a great tool to prompt reflection, remember the little moments, and also share your experiences more powerfully with friends and family back home than simple words could.

Photography on mission: Pictures often speak louder than words could.
Pictures often speak louder than words could.

Photography captures heritage

Many times I wish the biblical heroes had cameras. Can you imagine if a photographer were present when Joseph reunited with his brothers? Or when the first tabernacle was built, or Solomon’s temple, or the empty tomb?

Mission trips occur in locales often very different from our own. The camera captures rituals, lifestyles, simply life in a normality miles away. Of course – use that fact, and your camera, smartly. Mission trips are not pleasure travel (something I have to remind myself). They are purposed travel, to be a blessing and share Christ.

Honor the people you are serving in how you use your camera. Be respectful of their heritage and beliefs, and capture those moments humbly; if they don’t want pictures, set the camera aside. But as they are willing – enjoy every minute, camera in hand.

Photography as mission: use the camera to capture life where you are.
Use the camera to capture life where you are.

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