Families on Mission (Ukraine)
How does one summarize 10 days spent across the world in a country so fundamentally different from what I’ve grown up in? It’s as if I boarded a time traveling plane and went back 30 years to document a "modern" culture that to me feels like ancient history. Pictures. That’s the only way I can share all that I experienced. However, this wasn’t a typical missions trip. I went as a missionary to the missionaries. I know this is probably not what you want to be reading if you are brimming with love and engaged to be wed, but perhaps it’s good to take a break from the wedding blogging mayhem and open your eyes to a picture that’s bigger than you and at the same time may include you.
I will break it down in 3 posts over the next couple of days. The first I will focus on the families of the missionaries that I had the honor of capturing. These are people who have given their lives for those who so desperately need the message of hope. Second, I will touch on the Fall in Love Workshop I hosted for 6 young budding Ukrainian photographers. Lastly, I will share the vision and heart behind the Halle Project and let you know how you can get involved.
But first, I need to start at the beginning; my beginning…
I fell in love with photography 15 years ago while traveling Europe on a summer’s missions trip. In my youth I believed I was called to serve God and people through either missionary work, family counseling or pastoring youth. When my direction suddenly changed to wedding photography 8 years ago, I was confused as to why I would be called to a career rather than a life spent in sacrifice towards a greater purpose. I had to allow God to redefine the word “ministry” and help me see that I can serve Him and people in any occupation, any activity; every day. Since then, I’ve seen my passion and gifting in photography grow and flourish. I’ve captured countless love stories and I’m running my business always striving to increase the value of my product, the artistic quality of my work, and the standard of excellence in which I operate.
I always hoped that one day I could return to the mission field to use my new found love and gifting in photography to serve those in need. My 3 friends, Tyler Wohlford, Benjamin Potter, and Andrew Barefoot have created a non-profit mission called Halle Project to do just that. I had the honor of joining them on one of their first trips together to Ukraine. This was no ordinary missions trip for me. I’ve traveled to Mexico a dozen times building houses, churches, playing with orphans. I’ve ventured across Europe spreading a message of hope and love through street evangelism. This trip to Ukraine was the first time I’ve gone to not serve people, but to serve those who have given their lives to do the above mentioned. Our focus was to bless those missionaries who have left the comfort of home for foreign soil, a new language, freezing cold weather, and strange tasting food. Their work often goes unnoticed and misunderstood to the very people who have sent them out. We asked them to share their stories, their hearts purpose, their vision so that we could give them something to remind those who love them to keep praying and continue supporting their mission.
Ukraine is a cold and hard place. It’s people are still living in the wake of Communist oppression. They have only been a (corrupt) democracy for 20 some years and are full of potential but not necessarily aware of all that lies within and what could lie ahead. In the 1930’s, Russia crushed the people’s spirit by a forced famine and randomly selected genocide (if I can call it that). They murdered anyone with an education or the appearance of intelligence, including people who wore glasses. The government declared ownership of everything, land, food, air, houses, churches, religious artifacts. They moved people across the country from East to West and West to East. They placed people in new jobs, gave them all the same wage, and controlled everything. They had the farmers collect the food from the fields and then exported most of everything out of the country to break their will. It worked. Millions perished in the famine and the old timers still remember a time when this family lost 3 and that family there lost 5.
“Without hope a people perish”. Communism crushed what was once a beautiful people, robbed them of their hope, and sent countless to their grave.
We met up with several missionary families during our stay there who are not bringing the culture of “the West”, but bringing the hope and love of God to a people who have been without for nearly 100 years. Today’s generation is beginning to dream, slowly gaining vision, and becoming motivated to change the climate of their country.
These are the Missionaries. Most of them have never had professional photographer at their weddings or of their families. Regardless of whether you share the faith from which these people work I hope you will be encouraged and challenged by the sacrifice they have made and the change they are bringing to a place so desperately in need.
Jake and Anya:
Conor and Koren:
Danny and Liese:
Micah and Christy:
Wayne and Olya: